To stay in touch across the miles, a long-distance friend and I recently completed an impromptu virtual book study. We chose a book that discussed the role of a wife and complementarity in marriage. It was enlightening! One of my key takeaways was that as a wife, it’s my job to receive well from my husband. In practice, this often looks like accepting the gifts he gives me, even if they aren’t exactly what I would have picked for myself, simply saying “thank you” to his compliments instead of downplaying whatever quality of mine he has chosen to highlight, and appreciating his little gestures of love, like opening a door for me or taking out the trash. The point is that choosing to receive well builds intimacy and joy in our marriage. Trying to control him by dictating the terms of his gifts – this does the opposite.
To receive a gift well requires some vulnerability on the part of the recipient. I cannot manipulate the gift to my liking, or else it wouldn’t be a gift at all. I simply must allow the giver – whether my husband, a friend, a family member, or ultimately, God – to judge for me what he or she (or He) thinks is best. This requires me to release control and to allow the other person to love me as he chooses to.
If this premise about receptivity applies to my spousal relationship, I believe it also pertains to my pastor, clergy, and to my parish community. Even so, I can’t deny that in the past, my parish and clergy, in their limited human nature, have caused pain. For example, my former parish was one of the worst offenders when it came to Mother’s Day mass. The pastor boldly carried out nearly every practice that Springs in the Desert recommends against; mothers stood during the homily and received flowers and saccharine sentiments about how motherhood is the single greatest experience in life. I dreaded it. I once suggested some changes to these customs to the deacon. He responded that changes were impossible, since the elderly ladies in the parish would be distraught (I think these ladies, like me, could have used a lesson in receptivity)!
It’s true that this was all very painful, and I pray for (and work toward, where it’s within my capacity to do so) change in parishes like this. But it’s also important to consider where my focus lies. I could choose to focus on that pain. What is harder – but more effective if I want to experience intimacy and joy in my parish community life – is to recall the times I have felt supported, cared for, and even loved. I learned on a Springs in the Desert podcast episode that my thoughts shape my experiences and opinions; so, which thoughts am I choosing to “water” when it comes to my parish and clergy?
As I look back, I see that the Lord gave me many gifts through that imperfect parish. This isn’t surprising, since it’s so often the case that, on this side of eternity, the good and the bad are bound together, like weeds that sprout alongside beautiful flowers. It seems to me that the Lord is often at work through imperfect people and messy situations.
For example, that same deacon, upon learning of our infertility while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, prayed fervently for a miracle for us and another couple during our visit to the Milk Grotto. The other couple later conceived, and we did not, but God gives different kinds of miracles (when I received news of the other couple’s pregnancy, I felt joy deep in my bones that I had not experienced since our infertility diagnosis. That was a miracle).
Another time, while on a women’s retreat, I related my story to a group of compassionate listeners, fellow parishioners. I received their hugs, their tears, and even their remarks of, “don’t listen to that doctor! Let me tell you about my friend who conceived after 20 years of marriage…” These were tremendous gifts. I could’ve critiqued these women, and let them know about the seriousness of our diagnosis and the near-impossibility of such claims, but what would that have done? Instead, I look back at these memories with gratitude. Through these women in my parish, the Lord provided me a space of encouragement, listening, and love.
The most profound gifts I’ve received have come through the sacraments, especially Reconciliation. It’s so easy to focus on those confessions when a priest “introduced” me to Natural Procreative Technology or promised miracles, if only I prayed hard enough. It’s true that I’ve received such statements, but I have also received profound encouragement from the Lord through His priests, even if not in the way I expected. Once, during an Advent confession, I was brought to tears when reminded of how St. Elizabeth, who was childless for many years, understands me deeply. I was encouraged to trust God because when all seems lost, the unveiling of His marvelous plan is just around the corner. During another confession, the priest prayed over me for healing of old wounds that had contributed to envy and comparison to other women in my life. I could name other examples of the simple encouragement and prayers that I’ve often received, and I bet you could too.
So, I encourage you, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, to take time this month to make your own list. Even as you pray and work for greater awareness of this cross within your parish community, consider in your heart, what gifts have you received along the way?
Allie has been married to her husband James since 2016 and writes from Central Texas, where she volunteers in several capacities at her imperfect and wonderful parish.