When I was a kid, my parents supported my book habit with the Scholastic catalog. Receiving that catalog was magical, and more so when the orders arrived at our classroom. On the bus ride home those days, everyone would compare what they received and marvel over one another’s books.
On one bus ride, I was sharing my spoils with my friend Cindy. She was particularly interested in this new kind of rub-on sticker sheet. They were classier stickers, nicer than adhesive, and could be rubbed on anywhere with the enclosed popsicle stick. “Can I have this?” Cindy asked.
I liked those stickers, too, which would be a new addition to my growing sticker collection. But she’d asked nicely, so I said, “Okay.”
Of course, Mom immediately noticed the missing item. I felt weirdly guilty about their absence, because sharing is good. But she drove me directly to Cindy’s house, explaining it’s okay to say “no” sometimes. Cindy gave back what was left of the sticker sheet, though she’d already rubbed off most of them. That hurt—I had a collection, and used my stickers sparingly. She’d wasted them on nothing.
I’d like to say my excessive generosity changed at that point, but I still mentally replay Mom’s “It’s okay to say ‘no’.”. Even if they ask nicely, you don’t have to give things away. Sometimes being generous is part of God’s mysterious plan, even if it’s something you don’t want to do at first. So how do I know the difference between Godly discomfort—the kind that provides spiritual growth—and things I really shouldn’t be doing? When do I hold onto my sticker sheet, and when do I share it?
The easy, and most obvious answer, is to pray about it. But sometimes I already have an answer in my head before He replies, justifying whatever I think He’s trying to reveal. This is especially true if it’s for someone else’s benefit. But there’s where generosity gets twisted. It’s not true, Godly generosity if I’m sacrificing the good He’s blessed me with. Over time, I started to believe that other people needed my time, money, and love more than I did. I generously gave not just part of myself, but all. That ultimately leaves little self behind. I’m pretty sure that’s the complete opposite of His plan.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
—1 Corinthians 3:16
I’ve always considered my love for others a blessing. If I remained bound to Jesus—who is perfect and endless love himself—he will fill me with love to share with others. But… I am not God. When a human being gives and gives and gives, she will eventually run out. She’s desecrated her temple, whether intentionally or not. Even with the best intentions, this isn’t of the Spirit. God Himself says “no” when it’s against His will, but it’s really hard to hear that sometimes. And hard to say, too.
If I don’t put God first, I have nothing to give. Instead of praying about it, I’ve decided what God wants me to do. I convinced myself that if I’m being generous or helping others, it must be in His will. But sometimes it’s not. Maybe they’re supposed to get help from someone else. Maybe what they want isn’t what they need. I’ve essentially played God, which explains why I’m so tired.
I can’t un-share, just like I can’t get those stickers back. But I have to care for myself the same as I care for others. I’ll be honest—I drafted this post nearly two years ago. I was feeling pretty empty at the time, and the tank isn’t quite full yet. But I’m doing better. I’ve learned what happens when I ignore my own wellbeing, which isn’t in God’s plan at all. He loves me, and wants me to be my whole self. I can only do that by saying “no” sometimes. And that’s okay. Even if it feels weird.
50,000 words in one month. I used to participate in NaNoWriMo every year, preparing for weeks beforehand so I could start writing diligently on November 1. It’s been several years, but I decided this was the year to start again. I knew it would be difficult. I don’t have a lot of time to write during the day, and by five o’clock I don’t want to stare at the computer anymore. But I can easily crank out the required 1,667 words a day. I’ve done a lot more than that before.
I haven’t written anything lately, so I started easy. Instead of fiction, I’d get the writing gears going with a little memoir. I would map out my story of faith, the journey that brought me to the Church. It would be nothing like a final draft—in anything, my first drafts are more like outlines as I figure out where to go. It was fun for a couple weeks. I revisited the church of my childhood and all those pastors I’d connected with. I broke out my journal from Israel, comparing the entries against the photo album (and getting sidetracked flipping through the pictures). But when I got to the actual meat of the story, I… couldn’t do it. 14,000 words in, and I was home from Israel, basking in the light of my Holy Land journey. But I couldn’t remember what ultimately brought me to leave the church—and the people—I’d connected with.
My conversion story was harder to face than I thought it would be. When I think back, I remember feeling frustrated by what was being preached. I remember searching the Internet and asking vague questions so no one knew I was questioning. I remember when I stopped tithing. But I don’t remember why. I don’t remember what ultimately pushed me out.
Maybe I’m not ready to face it. Though it was a weird and exciting time, it was also painful. I’d made church friends who’d be left behind; I made a new Catholic friend who ended up hurting me. I didn’t know who to talk to, or what to ask. There was a week that I didn’t know the fate of my soul, because I didn’t know who was right. There’s a two-month memory gap between that Israel trip and my contemplating Catholicism.
But it is something I’d like to remember, one day. What I thought would be an easy writing project dredged up all this stuff. I wish I’d started my journal earlier. I wish I’d updated social media, or talked to friends, or did anything to chronicle that early journey. Even though those two months were obviously important, I may never remember the details. But I remember a lot from after that time, which is most memorable. I searched for the truth, read the books, and truly connected with God. That’s when my paper journal starts, and it’s really interesting to read it now.
When I sat in my first RCIA session, it wasn’t about Mary. Or the pope. Or relics. Or even the sacraments.
It was about Jesus.
—September 25, 2017
Those 14,000 words aren’t nothing, and I’ll hang onto them. It was fun to reminisce. But the rest of it is going to have to wait, I think.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s what people put their faith in.
I’ll admit to being fearful in the beginning. I don’t do well with the unknown, and the virus was a worldwide unknown. I actively touched nothing on the train. I wore gloves to shop that I immediately threw away. Whenever I went outside, I’d anxiously wait two weeks to see if I had symptoms. We didn’t know what to expect.
Over time, I went outside. I saw other people. I ate at restaurants and crossed state lines. “Flatten the curve!” they cried, and joyously watched the numbers go down. But people were still getting tested every time they stepped outside. More and more companies were producing masks. “Flatten the curve” became “not until a vaccine.” That’s when I realized that none of this would ever be good enough. It’s not enough for numbers to go down. It had to be eradicated, and then the world would be safe. Then, there would be faith.
There’s faith in a mask, which prevents the spread.
There’s faith in COVID tests, to ensure they haven’t caught it (often multiple times).
There’s faith in politicians, who preach promises of health and safety.
There’s faith in a vaccine, which makes the virus go away.
None of these are completely trustworthy. And what happens when there is a vaccine, but there aren’t enough to go around? Or when people can’t/won’t get the shot?
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”
I have no faith that a mask protects me from anything. I haven’t received a COVID test, because I never showed symptoms. (“What if you’re asymptomatic??!” Who cares?) I don’t listen to the news, and I won’t get a vaccine. I don’t have faith in any of this. I have even less faith in the people in charge, who reopen the country step-by-step like that’s supposed to protect us. They’re not protecting us. Staying cooped up indoors and wrapping your face in fabric is detrimental to your physical and mental health. I don’t need a doctor/scientist/”expert” to tell me that.
I have faith in God. He is the only constant, unchanging, compassionate One. Not to belittle Him, but it’s also easier. Life is full of scary unknowns. This isn’t the first time I’ve sat at home by myself, wondering what’s going to happen. It’s scary to move to a new town, cope with an ailing relative, or convert to Catholicism. But life doesn’t stop because I’m afraid. I lean on His wisdom and guidance to keep going. I won’t say I’m never fearful, because sometimes I am. But you can’t shut everything down.
But that’s what we’re doing. We’re shutting everything down to be careful. We’re past being careful. We’re steeped in this endless fear, because there will always be something else that needs to be done to feel safe. That’s no way to live. Don’t put your faith in manmade materials or ever-changing rules and regulations. Everything’s not going to be okay once a vaccine exists, just like everything wasn’t okay when we flattened the curve. These aren’t the things we’re meant to put our faith in.