Finding purpose

Day 19 is Mission

It should be easier to find your mission, or your vocation, or your meaning when you’re Catholic, shouldn’t it? If you know your big picture goal (Heaven), it should be easier to find your little picture goal (vocation).

Why does it never work that way?

Or rather, when you are blessed to find your vocation (or vocations. I mean, mother is one, but there are others as well), why is it so hard to get to a place where you can fulfill it? I have a pretty solid understanding of why I’m here– wife and mother, and a certain skill set that jives with a certain job. And I don’t hold that job. I hold a job that makes me miserable, that drains my will to live and my ability to live out the other two vocations, and I work there even now because we need me to. How easy that essay makes it sound, to find what you need to do and just DO IT! Go for it! Your mission is everything!

Yeah, I bet its a lot easier when you’ve been working a six figure job for a while and you don’t have a family and you can just sell off all your fancy stuff and pay off the debt. Its a bit harder when you’re making a decent but not amazing salary, and you can’t do more than the aggressive payment plan with no extra payments, and you have to care for your kid and your husband.

That’s where the stress and the anxiety come in. That’s where its hard to keep going. That’s where your faith is tested and tested and stressed and faces breaking. It is hard to find someone who owns that, who says “Yeah, its difficult. Yeah, its going to be hard. It is going to take longer than you want it to.” Its a harder message, isn’t it? No one wants to hear that when their enthusiasm is new and shiny and beautiful. No one wants to feel like they’ll fall off the wagon the way a thousand New Years resolutions have before.

Here’s the thing, though. It is tough. Its a total mindset change, there’s no possible WAY it could be easy. Its hard, and it should be hard. Things can’t be easy just because they’re good. Was there anything easy about Christ’s mission on earth? Was there anything easy about the lives of the Apostles, of the Saints and martyrs we hold up? Of course not. And isn’t it easy to say that, like that should be enough? That’s hardly enough when you’re beat down, and the people at work beat on your mentally, and you just don’t want to clean up or whatever the world needs now. That’s the hard part.

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When the house is not a home…

Day 18? The house.

So I don’t have one.

The end.

 

Not really, no. Nothing is ever that simple. We have an apartment, in a good area, with enough space to create margin for us but not so much that its overwhelming or difficult to clean. We lucked into the place years ago and we already know that we’re going to stay here until we buy a home– if we ever do.

Its that whole pesky millennial student loan debit thang, compounded by the stagnant job market and earnings thang that economists keep tweaking about. And we could leave it there, if we chose. Right sized, right budgeted space.

I am, however, going to take this reflection in a different direction. Living in an apartment is, to a certain extent, already a minimal experience. You can’t change the color on the walls, or the walls themselves. You can’t change the kitchen, or update the bathrooms. All the little and big projects that eat up homeownership are non-existent. You can clutter up the space, no doubt, but you can’t change the space in a lasting way.

Its easier, in many respects, but its also not homey. I don’t find comfort in white walls and tons of blank space. Its not how I was raised, its not what I’m comfortable with. I have several styles I love: French Country, Italian country, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco. None of these are cozy in the hygge sense (and I have thoughts on that too).

We can hang pictures, and we have, along with a few icons. One of the books on my summer reading list is The Little Oratory, so I can figure out how to make a dedicated prayer space in this place. I have thoughts but none of them are coherent. Thing is, the house or apartment or townhouse isn’t a home without a certain atmosphere; without it, you have a showroom or a hotel, but not home.

So what makes the apartment homey? Could be the pillows and blankets, could be the lighting. I hold on to books and certain nostalgic pieces, which isn’t very minimalist in the contemporary sense, but does strike me as very Catholic. We should remember where we came from, we need to remember our ultimate home and destination. Its a weird headspace to be in– finding detachment from possessions while surrounding oneself with beauty and things that will assist in mindfulness and the ultimate goal.

A bear in his natural habitat… a Studebaker

Hey, it never hurts to start with the Muppets 🙂

You remember when you were 15 or 16 and you wanted a car SO BAD? A car meant freedom, meant being able to go places and do things, not depending on anyone for a ride hither and thither.

Fast forward a few years, and what a pain in the butt.

Day 17 is the CAR.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have a car payment any more, and you couldn’t pay me to upgrade unnecessarily. The annoying thing is that, for a one glorious semester, I was able to go places and do things car free, no worries. I studied abroad in Rome, and that city is walkable as all get out. And where it isn’t walkeable there’s a subway or a train system.

Sadly I no longer live in Rome; I’m back in America where the rivers of asphalt extend all over the place and you can’t get around outside of NYC or Chicago without a car. When I started to audit my day, to figure out where the time went, I found that the car gobbled up a decent chunk. It is necessary, sadly, given where we live and the absolute dearth of public transit. I’m not going to swap it out because I already own this thing, so that’s one good thing.

So now I really need to declutter the car. Its astonishing how much of a trap the thing is! I also don’t really know how to make the car a better environment for thoughtfulness and prayer, two things that really should be part of driving. If you have any thoughts, throw them at me!

When the TV isn’t the enemy

(We’re skipping day 15 because, well, who’s going to discuss the particulars of their financial situation in public? I mean really. Suffice to say, like most of my cohort, student loans dog my every move, and avocado toast is not my problem. Truthfully, I long for the days when avocados can be a regular part of my shopping list.)

Day 16 is Television.

Apparently the average American watches 8 hours of TV a day. F’real? On the average day, I have 2 to 2 and a half hours of free time, free time being defined as time not spent driving, at work, eating, preparing food to eat, or sleeping.

Seriously, where on earth does that time come from?!?!

So the suggestions are around getting rid of TV or internet or cable or whathaveyou. This is one of those areas I just do not jive with the average American. In all honesty that makes the task of simplified living so much harder. I can’t not eat. I can’t abdicate responsibility for my child, or myself, or my home. In the handful of hours left, I have a small window to do things I enjoy, or things that are good for me– reading in the former category, prayer in the latter, as an example. But when you have too much going on and its truly uncuttable, what then?

Would that my life were simplified simply by eliminating the TV. I did notice that I was filling odd 5 minute blocks of time with mindless scrolling and internet browsing, and I’ve tried to be more mindful of that, which is a challenge in its own right. Its related, but its not the same challenge. I don’t gain a whole working day when I cut that time– I gain 5 minute increments, generally in the office where I can’t do a whole lot else. Its finding what can be done in such small, limited blocks that is the challenge.

 

Me vs. the (digital) world

(I’m skipping a few days here– donating and selling are fairly straightforward, and if you’re unfamiliar with the Catholic concept of charity and donating objects, there are many explanations out there that would exceed mine.)

So it seems that one of the hallmarks of the modern minimalist the embrace of all things digital. Photos? Digitize them! Documents? Scan them! Music, movie? Why buy when you can stream or just have digital copies!

I have one issue with this: I am a technological black hole. Technology doesn’t like me, and I’m not terribly fond of it. For real, things blow out near me, and not infrequently. I can’t relinquish the physical objects for certain things– documents, DVDs, CDs, books– because if I did, I would lose them altogether after a period of time. If I know that they’re fleeting like that, why bother to keep them in the first place?

Well, because they have value or necessity. I am struggling with the minimalist push to have these things out of sight and mind, safely tucked in a cloud. I am also struggling with the minimalist push to only have things with calculable value. Value is more than “I paid $X.” but that’s what it comes across as in these blogs and books that I’m reading. I won’t be taking the digital route, and that doesn’t make things less simple, or more cluttered. It is, honestly, a recognition that tools and storage systems are not one size fits all. And that’s ok.

Trash & Treasure

Its really astonishing how much actual trash ends up tucked away, in corners and crevices. A broken hair dryer that should have been thrown away– its not like I’m ever going to repair it. A second vacuum that still works but only barely, and we end up dragging the other vacuum upstairs anyway.

There’s also the clothes, the ones that are comfortable but a touch threadbare. The older I get, the more I realize that things that weren’t trash years ago are trash now. They don’t have value or they’re damaged. Its my pack rat tendencies. Its hard to let go sometimes, to reorder yourself to recognize what is trash, what is your treasure, and what has the potential to be someone else’s treasure.

I don’t feel like we’re ever really well equipped to determine what’s trash and what’s not. I know it wasn’t on my home ec curriculum list, and if you’re raised in a certain level of simplicity, there’s not necessarily a lot of trash. Its an interesting conundrum, and a good mental exercise.

Everything and nothing

Whenever you talk to little kids, they feel everything very deeply. This is the best thing ever, until its the worst thing ever, and everything is perfect until its not. The phrase “I need” comes up a lot as well.

“I need to get out of bed!”

“I need this new toy!”

“I need that cookie!”

We spend so much time trying to break our children of that habit, to teach them the different between need and want, to accurately describe a need as a need, and not ascribe need to something that is a want.

And then it all falls to pieces when you grow up.

“Oh I can’t throw that old thing of cloth out, I need it for this project I’ve been meaning to do forever.”

“I can’t stop working even though its not what I need to do, because it supports other needs”

My favorite part of scripture, the one that echos through my mind more often than not, the one that I come back to, is the Sermon on the Mount. Specifically:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Apologies for how long that is (Its Matthew 6:25-34 if you’re looking). But just look at that. Every line. EVERY LINE. Its an indictment of the day to day, the lack of faith that drives us to continue to stockpile goods and food and money to preserve our lives as we like them. And then we stress over it. “Have you ever added even a day to your life by worrying?” Well no, no I haven’t. In all likelihood I have forfeited days by worrying. And yet its like a compulsion.

I continue to edit and edit and edit and even as I do I realize that I don’t have ever a fraction of the faith of someone who is poor and who keeps going on the strength of their faith. And if I lost my job tomorrow, if an expensive crisis hit, would I stand? Would I trust? Or would I crumble. And this is where the detachment from items is so good to cultivate, because I need the answer to be yes.

To sleep, perchance to dream

Day 9 is Growth

I am not in a six figure job, this much should be made clear. I make enough with my husband to be comfortable, to be cautious with our spending but not in danger of needing assistance. Its a fairly good place to be. I never enjoyed have to worry about what came next, or where funds would come from.

And I feel like I am dying most days

Stifled and unable to breathe.

Like I said earlier, I don’t dream.

I so want to dream. I crave the feeling of optimism I once knew. And instead I am alone and lonely, almost literally chained to a cubicle under awful office lighting without even a window near me to alleviate the beigeness of it all. I have on occasion have people tell me I should smile more often.

Who can smile when they are aching and broken? When your soul is being inflicted with death by a thousand cuts? And yet I know that I have to start thinking differently to try and get out of this. There is no way to step away from the job– a very large portion of the income is tied up with necessities. We cut where we can but it will never be enough to be able to say “Peace out, cub scout” and drop the mic of resignation. I will never get there until certain expenses go away, and there is no controlling those.

Its actually where I struggle most with this tool of minimalism– so much of the advice are things like “cut out your weekly manicures!” (I occasionally buy a 99c bottle of nail polish?) “Skip the morning latte” (we’ve always brewed our own coffee at home) “Don’t eat out as often. (We do eat out once a week, but it is our only meal of the day. I suppose I could cut that but who wants to go without eating for a day?) I struggle to apply this tool to my life. Its the practical and the beliefs both; there are days I am jazzed to make more space in our place, to see the physical manifestation of margin. But its that mental margin that I need.

I don’t remember where I read it, but somewhere I read that God works in the white spaces of our lives, that the important things happen in the margins because it is the only space for those things that are not planned. And its that mental space, that emotional margin that will allow for actual growth. Not the fake growth of “I learned a new facet of Excel” or “I am reading up on ways to make better Powerpoints” but ACTUAL growth.

I’m still looking.

 

There can be miracles…

Day 8 is about “little b beliefs.” The essay specifically called out that they weren’t looking at beliefs like religious beliefs (for lack of a better phrase, let’s call them “Big B Beliefs”, but the little beliefs that impact us. The examples given are pretty standard American dreams– white picket fence, clothes of a certain type, living standards at a certain level, those objects that we pursue.

And we separate the two– on Sundays we proclaim how we believe in God, the Father Almighty. And every other day of the week, do those little b beliefs match up with the nicely worded creed? Do the little actions taken day by day, moment by moment, serve the overarching beliefs that, as a Catholic, I carry with me? And isn’t that so much of the heart of the issue?

The parable of the sower was today. And there is that one patch of seeds, the ones that are choked out by the vines– by the worries of the day to day– how many worries do we carry that are in service to beliefs that are totally at odds with our ultimate goal? I had career goals and I worked at them. And I sacrificed the well being of my mind, and time with my family, and for what? I didn’t even have the excuse of wanting nice stuff. I did it out of sheer, stubborn pride. If I had to do this thing, then by gum I’d be the best ever because I had the talent. And its true that I have certain talents, everyone does. But have I always used them in a way that supports my beliefs? Or just the empty expectations of the world. That I will do well at my job, that I will own a home, and have two cars, and take nice vacations, and eat good food, and maybe even give some to charity as I can.

How awful a realization. And it wasn’t a new one, it was just getting smacked with it again. Of late we’ve had some of the songs from Prince of Egypt on heavy rotation in the child friendly sing along. This one comes up a lot. And it seems appropriate, though I can’t really put it into words. But there it is.

 

Love, actually

Day 7 is relationships.

We all have them: families, friends, schoolmates from a former life, extended family, work colleagues, work besties, actual best friends, acquaintances, that random person in your yoga class. Man is by nature a social animal, thus spake Aristotle. I’ve always felt more affinity for that mindset than the Rousseauean idea that man wants to be alone but ends up with other people so that the man can get ahead/overcome nature/eat.

It really bothers me to have shallow relationships. Like really, really bothers me. I don’t do single serving friends. I want to have someone I can chat with, where time may pass without me seeing them and then we pick up and its like no time has passed. I am perfectly fine with a small circle of friends who matter.

My issue of late has been how many of those friends have moved away– to a different city, to a different state, in one case to a different continent. And I know those relationships are still there, I don’t long for replacements, but in the day to day I am lonely.

The whole point of the blog post I’m looking at on the Minimalists is that you need to be surrounded by people who support you in your journey. I am blessed to have my immediate family members be supportive, to see value for themselves as well. But it is lonely in my day to day.

At work, we are in a cubicle farm, but I am alone. I am surrounded by a sea of empty cubicles though I’m part of a team. I’m supposed to forge relationships with these people based on an accident of place. And I imagine that’s not dissimilar to forging friendships with people because you live in the same town or go to the same school– but those are large population groups. My “small” high school had 500 people total. The school I graduated from had 1000. I grew up in a metro area with over 10 million people. Pretty good odds that I’ll find kindred spirits. But on a team of 20 people in which we have zero in common? Its just not happening. And the faux friendships are killing me. I’ve managed to find 3 or 4 women at work I consider actual friends, though not deep, privy to all my secrets, warts and all friends. Those are rare anyway.

I am introverted but I still crave friends, those various forms of love that exist in the way we work with people– the love of a spouse, of family, of friends. Staring that void in the face is scary, but worthwhile. And hopefully at some point, it will pay dividends.

 

As an aside, I know the title makes no sense in relation to what’s actually in the blog. Its because what keeps going through my head are those scenes from Love, Actually– the airport scenes where they intone “Love, actually, is all around” Where you see scenes of friends and family greeting loved ones. It might be a return from a trip, or after traveling to see you. Its such an important underpinning of relationships, I just can’t get it out of my head (there’s a lot swirling around up there, no lie)