Updated: Dec 12, 2022
By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist
Not all days go according to plan. Some situations and encounters test us. Whether it is in our families, our work, or our community, we are bound to confront situations that call for extra doses of patience. I call these “learning moments.”
As women balancing a number of roles and obligations, we try our best to manage all the areas of our lives. While we cannot control all that is before us, we can control our response.
We each have a different approach as we don’t always see a situation from the same viewpoint. Our lived experiences direct how we understand a given moment. The Spanish phrase “Cada cabeza es un mundo” (Each mind is a world unto itself) conveys the idea that everyone has their own perspective and thus their own way of responding. It is easy to respond on instinct, letting our emotions take the lead. I confess some situations make me angry and my thoughts are not kind or generous in those moments.
Along with the joys of family, friendships, and community, come the challenges of diverse perspectives, personalities, and temperaments. How we communicate with one another, for example, can be frustrating at times. A loved one may say something that we misinterpret or vice versa. How we respond determines whether we give peace and leave room for love to take root, or if we light hot coals for the path ahead.
Reacting with Peace
I find it takes extra effort to take a step back and think before speaking or reacting. With each passing year, I find my patience wavering. But knowing I strive for peace in my days, I recognize I must think carefully about my response. We are all dealing with different realities, and it helps not to take anything personally and to let go of what is beyond our control.
For me, prayer helps guide my response. A friend and colleague, Dorian Martin, reminds me often, too, of the power of meditation. I have also started incorporating three Gs — grace, gratitude, and generosity, which are rooted in the seven virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Each stage of the Family Life Cycle comes with rewards, challenges, and spiritual tasks. Let’s consider some prickly instances in our lives–such as caring for an elderly parent or a family member who is ill–and how we can pause, take a step back and consider the three Gs.
My mother, may she rest in peace, taught me by words and example of God’s grace and the importance of being grateful, and of the generous love we can offer one another. She was truly a woman of grace. She never uttered an unkind word, and despite her own burdens always took time for others.
It is a good exercise to define what the word means to you. For me, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God…. Grace is a participation in the life of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1996-1997)
In our lives, God’s grace can open our eyes and guide our response. As a gift freely given, we in turn can offer grace to others through our words and actions. In caring for an older parent, for example, we can learn to forgive them when they may be short-tempered and utter biting words. We can offer extra doses of kindness as we learn to understand the frustrations that come from aging. Imagine not being able to drive anymore and having to depend on others. Imagine not hearing clearly what others are saying. Imagine not having the strength to do all that you did when you were younger.
Our response to each day and moment determines our outlook. In his TED Talk, “Want to be happy? Be grateful,” Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast, a pioneer in interfaith dialogue, says happiness is born from gratitude, of “becoming aware that every moment is a given moment… It’s a gift.”
He adds, “There are many things for which we cannot be grateful, but there is no moment for which we cannot be grateful, because in every moment, even difficult ones, we have the opportunity to do something.”
Recognizing the gifts in our lives helps us to recognize our individual responsibility to be a gift for others. Let’s say we are taking care of an elderly father, or an aunt or sibling. We can give thanks that we are in a healthy state to be there for them and that we can walk together on this journey. It is easy to forget how important it is to cherish the time we spend with a loved one.
In his book, “The End of Your Life Book Club,” Will Schwalbe shares the story of the book club of two he and his mother Mary Anne started during her cancer treatment. He notes the value of their time together. “I came to realize that the greatest gift of our book club was that it gave me time and opportunity to ask her things, not to tell her things. Of course, the book club also gave us a welter of great books to read – books to savor and ponder, to enjoy, and to help Mom on her journey toward death and me on mine to live without her.”
As we grow in grace and are grateful, we can grow in generosity and forgiveness. Otherwise, if we are not careful, we can sink in the quicksand of judgment — finding fault or offering unasked advice or opinions or should-have admonishments — or we can let generosity take the lead.
Let us be prudent in our approach, choosing our words carefully, saying what needs to be said, but in charity. Instead of judging, or finding fault, how can we be unconditionally loving to others? We can recognize the good in others.
My friend Lois exemplifies the spirit of generosity I strive for. Whenever she faces a trying moment, she dives deeper and looks for the pearls. Let us do the same in our encounters and moments that challenge us. Find the positives. Come up with at least three good things about the person or moment before you respond.
Naturally, as caregivers, we might consider this an added task. But it only takes a few moments to remember that the roles may be reversed someday. The three things could include:
Remembering what our loved one did for us in the past;
Appreciating the joy of contributing to another’s well-being; and
Recognizing that difficult moments can sanctify us. Look at it as a puzzle.
Let your creativity explore new approaches to a situation. As a bonus, and to avert burnout, we can promise ourselves a break or a special treat when we approach situations from a more loving perspective.
Yes, we will face trying moments in our lives that will ask us to contend with our emotions, acknowledge them, identify where they stem from. But don’t rush to action. Take a deep breath. Pause for a bit to hear, to see, to move as God calls to us. Consider the grace, gratitude, and generosity of your response.
What moments have tested your patience? How did you respond? How did it make a difference?