Welcome to the CatholicMom.com Book Club! We're reading Don't Forget to Say Thank You by Lindsay Schlegel. The subtitle of this book drew me in right away: "And Other Parenting Lessons that Brought Me Closer to God." I am a parent, and it is a humbling, humbling experience, let me tell you. Well, you may know that already based on your own journey! We're all in this together, yes? Even if you are not a parent, you are likely reading this book because you would like to draw closer to God. We're all in that together, too. And Lindsay Schlegal does a beautiful job of sharing wisdom with us both on growing in our faith and on growing as a parent. For each chapter, she provides us with a lesson she has learned from her own parenting experiences, her personal thoughts and anecdotes, reflection questions, a prayer, and a friend in the communion of saints that we can call on for this particular lesson. We begin with a lesson on paying attention, which in parenting-speak goes something like: "How Many Times Have I Told You This?" I relate to this particular parenting frustration quite a bit, as it seems to me that, especially with my twelve-year-old, I can repeat something multiple times and yet he will still claim to have no earthly idea what I asked of him, yet he will somehow manage to overhear a whispered conversation between my husband and I while we are driving on the highway with the radio playing loudly. Selective hearing is a powerful thing, it seems. Lindsay relates this lesson on paying attention to allowing our minds to wander at Mass. Uh oh, did you get a pit in your stomach when you read that part the way that I did? Apparently, it is no different for adults than it is for children!
"I hear that I should not worry about what I will eat or wear -- simply look at how the birds or the lilies are cared for -- but I make a mental grocery list anyway ... I hear that I just love my enemies and forgive more times than I can count, but instead I rehash that conversation that upset me and imagine what I should have said." (pp. 2-3)
Remember what I said about humility at the start of this post? Check! I become frustrated with my son for not listening, yet I do the exact same thing to my Father. Lindsay also points out that even if we manage to put our mental grocery list aside for the duration of the homily, we need to do more than simply *hear* the message at Mass. We need to *listen*, and listening is an active exercise that requires a response. To manage this successfully, our hearts need to be ready to embrace the message. If we attend Mass with a decided lack of enthusiasm, and sit distractedly during the liturgy, making no effort to steal meaningful moments of focus between minding our children, it is no wonder that we leave Mass just as emotionally drained as when we went in.
"If this is all I'm putting into Mass, it shouldn't be too surprising that I'm not getting much out of it." (p. 4).
Our Father wants and deserves our attention, so that He can guide and correct us. St. Joseph, pray for us in this endeavor! In chapter 2, we move on to a lesson in obedience, and our parental shout-out is: "Stop Whining." Oh boy. This is going to be another humble moment, isn't it? Indeed it is, my friends! Lindsay relates a story about her sons in which they committed to karate classes, but then lost the motivation to continue attending partway through the year. She encouraged them to persevere, because it is important to finish out our commitments, but also because the classes and discipline enforced therein were beneficial for their physical health and moral character. They may not realize this as they sit sulkily in the car on the way to class, but it is the case nonetheless.
"Just like my children, I fail to see the bigger picture. I'd rather stew in my frustrations than extend forgiveness when I'm hurt ... the little things in my life can seem as if they don't have a place in the larger story of salvation. I imagine that to me they are infuriating, but that Jesus doesn't care about them. He's got bigger fish to fry, and my details are insignificant, unimportant. The Cross is one thing; my life is another." (p. 13)
Lindsay makes the excellent point that God uses *everything* for good, even the minor challenges and annoyances in our lives! We too do not need to sulk about our frustration with the fact that certain things in our lives are not turning out the way that we planned.
"When through his grace I choose to be obedient to his call, the discipline I undertake prepares me for further challenges." (p. 13)
I absolutely love this conclusion! When things outside of our control swoop in to dash our plans to smithereens, we can either wallow in our own bad temper, or we can choose to trust in God's plan for our lives, and discipline ourselves to take the correct and logical course of action, as directed by the moral compass of our faith. We need to do this on a daily basis, but on a larger scale, Lindsay points out that Advent and Lent are excellent opportunities to grow in discipline and obedience. Our Blessed Mother can be our guide during these times as we try to grow in character and holiness! In chapters 3 and 4, containing lessons on "On Accepting Our Crosses" and "On the Power of Prayer," Lindsay shares her own personal and painful experience with pregnancy loss. She and her husband lost their unborn child to miscarriage, and the emotional toll on both of them was understandably significant. As our parenting cue for chapter 3 instructs, "No One Said it Would be Fair." Indeed, life is not always fair, and at times, it can be difficult to bear. When something tragic happens to ourselves or someone we love, it is easy to let hurt and anger reign in our hearts.
"Holiness is determined not by which cards you're dealt, but by how you choose to play your hand." (p. 26)
Instead of dwelling in our own devastation, we can choose to move forward in love. This is never going to be easy, nor is it something we're likely to succeed at with 100% accuracy, but it is what will ultimately bring us peace and healing.
"... fairness isn't what we need. Love is what we need. Often that means taking action, making things happen, and serving others." (p. 28)
Prayer should be our constant companion during times of great turmoil, and Lindsay recommends St. Anthony as our intercessor in the communion of saints when we find this task difficult. As the patron of lost things, he can help us to find again our hope and faith in the Lord. This is brilliant; I love St. Anthony in this variation on his role! Finally, Lindsay leads us through a lesson on caring for our bodies. It is important to "Eat Your Dinner"! As parents, we tend to neglect our own needs when we are caring for others. We should not lose sight, however, of the fact that caring for our own nourishment and physical wellness is not mere vanity. It is a way to strengthen ourselves and allow our bodies to do what they were meant to do.
"When I changed what I was putting in, I changed what I was giving out. I was more patient with the kids and happier in my own skin." (p. 42)
Serving others is another way of drawing closer to God. In order to serve most effectively, we need to take care of ourselves. St. John Paul II can be our guide in this, as he wrote extensively on the Theology of the Body. He is the perfect intercessor for our own need for physical wellness! To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:
  1. What are some ways that we can be proactive in preventing our own mental distractions at Mass, and thus more clearly listen for God's voice?
  2. Have you had an instance of redemptive suffering in your life in which you grew spiritually following a tragedy? How does this instance compare with a situation in which you were unable to accept a cross in your life?
  3. In what ways can physical nourishment be an active prayer of thanksgiving for our physical form?
Next week, we'll cover Chapters 6 through 10. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Book Club page.
Copyright 2018 Tiffany Walsh