When I was a small child (maybe three or four?) my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said I wasn’t sure. She said, “Do you want to be a mother?” and I replied, ”Oh, no! I want to do something important.”
What a knife. My poor mother.
I thought of this recently listening to a podcast that featured Kate Bowler who was sharing how she journeyed through being diagnosed with cancer and parenting her child. The question was asked if she took time off from her work. (She didn’t.) She replied, “I just needed something really meaningful to do. I didn’t want to crochet. I mean, God bless crocheting, but I wanted to do something hard. I like the feeling of doing something hard.”
What a knife. Poor crocheters.
My opinion is only my opinion. I am not an expert on anyone’s pain, but my own. And even then I understand only part of the time. However, I feel in my marrow that however you are processing your pain that process is the “something hard” and whatever cross the Lord asks you to carry, that is the “something important.”
Learn to knit socks or pray the Rosary in Latin or take up trimming bonsai trees or volunteer at the local soup kitchen.
There is no judgement. Feel your pain. Do what you need to do in order to be present in it.
If that means you write a book, write it. If that means you learn to bake sourdough bread like everyone who stressed baked through lockdown, bake on. If you hit the gym or climb a mountain, the important thing to realize is that it is the important thing.
Sometimes the hard thing God calls us to is getting up each day, drinking our coffee with gratitude, and surviving. Survival is the hard thing.
Rilke says, “Almost everything serious is difficult and everything is serious.”
This idea that we need to do hard things at the same time define what that means so narrowly, can quickly become spiritual laziness, so intimates Merton, ”Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me…” (New Seeds of Contemplation)
Do hard things.
Do important things.
Ride a bike, play in the sprinkler, learn to make sauerkraut, read all the great books you can find, watch foreign films with subtitles, send your friends memes to keep the communication open when you otherwise can’t, go to Adoration and cry (or take a nap), journal pages and pages to fill all the notebooks you have lying around, write haiku, get up early and watch the sunrise every day, stay up late decluttering your attic. Do the things God puts in front of you and resist the urge to do the things the world deems as important simply because the world says they are. The world is no judge whatsoever of what is truly important. Or hard.
When I was a child I learned to cook because I loved it. But also I learned because it was one way I could control my little world. When things were bad or stressful or scary or when I felt alone or confused, I cooked. When I discovered this coping mechanism I was 10 years old. And I was stressed. And so I made baked chicken, rice, potatoes, broccoli, pudding, and chocolate cake. All at one time.
When things were really rough in my marriage I would make heavy elaborate food to soothe the beasts (real or imagined).
Then the day came when I was strong enough to take charge of my world and had fewer beasts to soothe. And I cried.
In conversations with my therapist I realized I was crying a lot for no apparent reason. She said, ”Consider that you are mourning and letting go of that person you created to survive. She served you well, but you can let her go now.”
I still cook, but more often now from a place of peace and not anxiety. However, I do not for a moment forget how that means of coping was important. And hard. And exactly the tool God gave me in that moment that I needed it.