Cultivating Charity and Practicing Prudence: The Friendship Project Book Club Chapters 3 and 4
When we were assigned our chapters for the book study, I have to admit I laughed out loud. Charity and Prudence: thanks, Lord, for picking the two things I seem to struggle with! It’s as if Michele and Emily wrote these two chapters just for me! They spoke to my heart, reminding me of my own journey with these virtues and how I still have so far to go in being faithful to the Lord.
Do you ever feel like whatever the Lord is working on in your life seems to be everywhere? You ask to learn patience and suddenly the street you take every morning is under construction. For a while now, I’ve felt the Lord tugging at me to be more charitable to my children and in my parenting, and more prudent when making decisions on how I will spend my time.
I pride myself in being the friend who says yes! I’m the one people can call when they need an ear to listen, or need a meal dropped off or an errand run. I love volunteering and somehow instead of just helping out, I tend to end up running things. When I simply wanted to suggest my son’s preschool do an auction table at their next event, I inevitably ended up chairing the raffle! I created the signup sheets for auction items and volunteered to make the baskets. I said I would set up the tables at the event, making ticket boxes for the raffle prizes and creating the silent auction bidding sheets. Now don’t get me wrong; I love doing this! I love being helpful. Selfishly, I love the praise and thanksgiving that comes from helping other people, but I’ve realized I can overcommit. I sign up to volunteer to much or host too many events at my house, and instead of waking up enjoying my kids, I’m running around the house straightening up and yelling at them to pick their stuff up off the floor.
The defining moment for me came when I was hosting a weekly Catholic moms’ book study at my house on Thursday mornings from 9-11. Every Wednesday night I’d start to stress, looking around my dirty house. I’d wake up Thursday morning, and by 7 AM I’d start in, cleaning the dishes in the sink because heaven forbid my friends see my breakfast dishes. I’d clean off the counters with all those paper piles that had contently sat there all week, because I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t on top of my kid’s school paperwork. I’d make my kids clean and organize their playroom (before the other kids came and dumped out every toy), because I wanted to show the other mom’s how great all of my organized toy bins looked. Usually, however, the kids ran to the playroom and started throwing toys before the moms ever saw it!
I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, barking orders at my kids from 7-8:55 and then the doorbell rang and I threw on the smile and welcomed everyone into my home, trying to look totally relaxed and calm. The moms raved about how clean my kitchen was and started comparing themselves to me. They belittled themselves with how dirty their house was, and how there was laundry and dishes everywhere. They decided there was no way they could ever host anything because their houses weren’t clean enough. How awful I had made them feel about themselves, and I tried to reassure them there were dishes in the sink earlier. Even better than that, I assured them not to worry about cleaning up at 11 because they all had little ones that needed to head home for lunch and naptime; besides, I didn’t need them putting the toys in the wrong box; then I’d have to reorganize anyway. So the kids and I were left with a messier house than when we started. And this was all to host a Catholic moms’ group. I sat myself down one day and had a “Come to Jesus” talk. First I needed to be prudent. I needed to pray and discern if God was actually calling me to host this group or if I was calling myself to host it.
In Chapter 4, Emily presents the three aspects or steps to prudence, as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas. The first step is self-evaluation. This involves finding people who can help guide us in a decision as well as gathering all the facts we’ll need to make the most prudent decision. St Josemaria Escriva is quoted as saying “to be prudent the first step is to acknowledge our own limitations, so we must look for advice – but not advice from just anyone. We go to someone who has the right qualities, to someone who wants to love God as sincerely “
I needed to understand my own limitations and what I could and couldn’t do. St Thérèse of Lisieux is cited as an example of charity in chapter 3. She taught us to do small things with great love. I’ve heard she is quoted as saying, “You know well that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” I decided that if I was to continue, I needed to let my desire for the perfectly clean house go. I couldn’t subject my kids to my cleaning rant. They hadn’t chosen to host, I had. I started letting dirty dishes sit in the sink. I asked the kids if they could pick up things like dirty laundry on the couch so we could sit, but I let the playroom be however it was when they woke up. Above all, I needed to show my family love and respect, and if my pride in preparing for this group was going to hinder that, then I had to let the group go.
Michele reminds us that The Catechism of The Catholic Church, paragraph 1822, says “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” Through this one hosting event, I was learning what it meant to be prudent in deciding how I would spend my time, and how to be charitable to my family in living out the commitments I discerned to be prudent uses of my time.
Step two in steps to prudence is making an intelligent decision. Emily reminds us “the key to making a decision is to avoid making it based on our fears but rather in pursuit of the freedom and liberation Christ won for us.” If I decided I couldn’t host the group without stressing out, I had to be courageous about stepping down from the responsibility. I couldn’t keep hosting just because I was fearful of looking like a flake or letting people down by saying no.
The third step is persevering in our decision. Emily reminds us “when we second-guess ourselves, we just spin our wheels.” If I decided to continue hosting I needed to stand by my decision to choose loving my family instead of worrying about a clean house. If I decided to step down from hosting, I’d need to forgive myself and move on. I’d want to attend meetings at another’s house and be grateful for their hosting instead of entering their home and feeling guilty for not hosting it myself.
In the end I decided the Lord was calling me to continue to host. Hosting groups, especially women’s groups, fills my heart. I knew this was a gift from the Lord, as it brought me such joy and happiness to welcome these women into my home, feed them, study with them, and let them feel loved and cared for.
I wish I could say I instantly let go of the desire for a clean house. It’s been years since I started hosting that group and my husband and I host events all the time at our house. I’ve worked to take time initially when asked to host, to discern if it will be beneficial for my whole family. My husband is good about reminding me that if it will cause me too much stress, then I need to say no. My friends understand my struggle, so they will check in and challenge me if choosing to host is the best decision. I have also noticed that in sharing my struggles, as well as the fulfillment that comes with hosting with my husband and friends, that my friends are eager to help out in the planning and hosting so that the events don’t become too overwhelming. In sharing with them, I risked letting them think I was vain or weak. I had to trust that I had let people into my life who would support me, but also if they felt I wasn’t making a prudent choice, that they would redirect me back to the Lord.
About a year into my journey of letting go, I saw a friend at school pickup who looked like she really needed to talk. I invited her and her kids over for an impromptu playdate. There were dishes in the sink, laundry on the couch, toys everywhere – you know, a “real lived-in” house. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and as she left my house she turned and shared with me how grateful she was that I had her over and how good it made her feel that my house is dirty. She mentioned how she always wanted to invite people over but was too embarrassed by the state of her house and so she was usually lonely. I admit at first I was taken aback and insulted she said my house was dirty, but once I tamed my pride, I realized I’d done it! I’d decided a year earlier to let it go, to make people feel welcome in my home and to show them that my house looked just like theirs – and that was OK!
I believe being prudent about how we spend our time and talents requires us to also be charitable to the people we share our time and talent with.
To Ponder, Reflect and Discuss:
Are there times in your friendships that you find are especially hard to be charitable? If there is an area of your life that is a cross, i.e. infertility struggles, spousal relationships issues, how do you engage with a friend who just announced a pregnancy or seems to have the perfect marriage?
Who are the people you turn to for help discerning if a decision is prudent? Are there people you turn to when you’re looking for advice on specific situations such as parenting or questions of the faith?
If you discern that you’ve made an imprudent choice in your life, how do you go about resolving the situation and choosing to make the prudent choice instead?