Saturday morning John took charge of keeping track of the boys and managing the “I peed my unders!” mishaps as well as refereeing the “I don’t want to play with my brother!” and inevitable stomping-up-the-stairs-scream-crying-door-slamming-hide-in-the-closet outburst so that I could write a book review.
Whew. And having read that paragraph of a convoluted run-on sentence, you have some sense of what it felt like to stay locked in my little room at my little desk trying to form coherent thoughts about The Trivium, Thomas Nashe, and the media philosopher Marshall McLuhan.
My ideal workspace involves no children, but that scenario means dolling out cash that we’re always running short of. It becomes necessary, imperative even, to work through the pain. I’m overstating of course, but attention is a fragile thing. Somedays it takes exactly one hour to write a blurb; Saturday it took four.
I’ve become tolerably good at entering my own headspace and tuning out episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba, Super Why, or Scooby Doo. Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought that possible. I required and demanded silence. I don’t know how John or my previous roommates—namely my sister Cammy and good friend Kaete—managed it. I had this unspoken don’t-talk-to-me-before-ten rule they gamely tried to abide by, lest they be met by the cranky furrowing of my brow, or worse, my uncharitable habit of banging things (cabinet doors, dishes, etc.) around in a huff at being inconvenienced by some minor offense like leaving out the creamer.
Then I had kids; and as John likes to say, we no longer had the luxury of sinking (by which we mean that inclination to wallow in our own less than healthy mental proclivities). This is as much a matter of survival as it is any conscious change for the better (i.e., repentance). But it is a kind of proof for the way that the given can affect real (good) changes in behavior.
That said, the kids rampaging the house smashing and crashing and generally out of my control takes a whole different kind of mind control. I was heading for a sinkhole Saturday morning whichever way you look at it—I was critical and cranky, internally blaming everyone but me for my own foul weather. Before I could work I needed to write.
Okay, my work is writing, but I mean personal writing. I used to be an avid letter writer, then email composer. I’ve fallen away from both, but picking up the pen and working out what was going on inside of me (the weight of which I wasn’t even myself aware) settled me. A better word is acclimatize. Biologically, acclimatize means to respond physiologically or behaviorally to changes in a complex of environmental factors. A decent definition for human being, especially in our media driven culture.
In writing the letter, I was reaching out to another human being. I was choosing the renewal of a relationship rather than the wreck of another. The letter writing moved me on, nudging me away from self-destruction and the inevitably bad (hurtful) behavior that follows. It was a kind of revelation, this turning. I can recognize my habitual sins, but simply saying no to them—even saying no to the thoughts before they become sins—doesn’t stop the cycle. Only saying yes to something else will.
I wrestle with the problem of habitual sin, especially during lent, because that’s when I pay better attention. So I was glad to read this from Scott Cairns‘ The End of Suffering. The presence of it in my mind this past weekend was the beginning of a small recovery:
Those of us who struggle with habitual sins—and we know who we are—are very likely to break our hearts over the business of turning away from those chronic mark missings. Our problems with recurring sin, and the more general human problem of being enslaved by sin, is never solved simply by our rejecting that sin, no matter how many times we try, no matter how strenuously we struggle to reject it.
This is because merely rejecting sin—that is, focusing on not sinning—is finally just another species of infernal no.
“Just say no” is an insufficient principle.
The strongest man or woman in the world is not nearly strong enough to triumph over his or her sin simply by saying no to it. What we need is the strength-giving grace occasioned by our saying yes to something else, by our saying yes, and yes, and yes—ceaselessly—to someone else.