‘Turn your back on the Tempter when he whispers in your ear: “why make life difficult for yourself?”’
St Josemaria is my favourite saint. A Spaniard who didn’t beat about the bush, he gives practical, simple guidance. He is encouraging, but he is demanding. He believed every day work was the path to sanctification for many people, not unlike Mother Teresa who called Christians to ‘do small things with great love.’
You can imagine my surprise, then, when a priest from the Work, the prelature founded by this saint, responded to my confession with a single Spanish word: ‘descomplicate.’ Literally the word means to ‘uncomplicate’ – the very sentiment St Josemaria had said not to listen to in his words above. Don’t make life difficult for yourself, this priest said to me. ‘All these things you speak of – order, rules – they’re making your life very difficult. This voice that says to you, do this, do that, this voice is not God’s.’
This is so difficult for me. One of my favourite things about religion is that it provides a clear structure to order our decisions. It tells you what is right and what is wrong by proclaiming ‘the truth’ in no uncertain terms. In a world of relativism and being left to our own devices, religion has been a refuge for me, it has helped me to orient my own morality and world-view.
But what’s even more beautiful about the Church is that it does not allow for us to just follow the rulebook of the Catechism and then rest peacefully at night. It calls for us to do everything in good faith. It calls for us to hold a deep understanding of why we believe certain things to be right and certain things to be wrong. It demands constant study, deliberation, and dialogue.
As a mother, my day is filled with small decisions that seem to be of great importance. Do I sit down and write when the baby sleeps, or do I spend this time tidying the house so I don’t have to do chores while the children are awake, sacrificing time with them? Is it ok if they watch television? How long for? Are these toys still age-appropriate? Should I drop one of the milk feeds now? Is it too soon for daycare?
Even a small decision such as when to wash the dishes seems to contain the much bigger question: ‘when should I do this in order to be the best mother I can be?’ Which has me wondering ‘am I doing the right thing? Am I up to the task of parenting?’ as a constant bit of background noise in my internal monologue.
This is a huge struggle for me. That constant doubt and constant deliberation builds up into unmanageable anxiety, and quickly turns to loss of patience, anger, even despair at the normal challenges each day presents.
‘Stop hurting yourself with your own hands.’ The priest said, adding, ‘internally, I mean.’ I felt like crying as I remembered the few times I have broken down and felt an impulse to hurt myself with my own hands, literally. I knew it was the Holy Spirit who knows and sees everything that was sending that message to me.
‘Whenever you can rest, choose rest. You have two very young children, it’s to be expected that the house will look like chaos.’
This priest looks impeccable whenever I see him – his shoes are always freshly polished, his meditations are always typed out onto a sheet of A4 paper that is perfectly folded into an A6 size, as though he has used a ruler to flatten the folds. He places his few, shiny looking belongings – a phone, a beautiful pen, a watch that he takes off -- on the desk in front of him, in a neat row, whenever he is about to begin to share his words. He knows that order is a natural virtue that we are called to cultivate.
And here he was telling me that God was not asking me to bring order to the chaos around me.
‘God wants Sofia to be rested. He wants her to be well. If you are not looking after yourself, then you can’t love others. God doesn’t want you to be una mamma bravissima[an amazing mum] and to keep the house tidy. He isn’t that kind of father. He’s a good dad, who says ‘listen, Sofia, look after yourself. Rest. Do what you need to do to feel well in yourself. Make things easier for yourself. Because you can’t avoid things being difficult right now. Things are difficult right now. So you must make life easier for yourself.’