Barefoot & Preaching is a syndicated monthly column in The Catholic Register.
Photo Credit: Marc Perrault
Honest is hard. There is nothing like a season of physical distancing to remind me of that truth. We have joined in the effort to protect the vulnerable by staying home and away from other households, drawing the six of us into closer proximity than in most other seasons. Honestly, it has been beautiful in some ways, and really hard in others.
The thing about difficult seasons is that they have a way of exposing the things we try hard to obsessively weed out of the garden. In the same way that we can’t get to the pool for physical release, our big emotions have to stay home too. The habits we have for building each other up and for hurting each other are magnified when we have fewer outings and interactions with people outside our home.
I wish I could say that honest was my first instinct, but in most situations it simply is not. When people ask how I am, I consider how much time we have, who the person is, whether or not how I actually am is what they want to hear, or if it is safe to even tell them. When my kids suggest that I am not being fair, I am quicker to defend myself than reflect on the possibility that I might be using my power in an unjust way. And when I am resentfully cleaning up a mess I didn’t make, I am often more interested in blaming my family for my unhappiness than being honest enough to ask for and then do what I need for my own emotional health.
When, exactly, did I learn to value false comfort over being honest? Over a lifetime, I think.
I do know when I began to see my dishonesty and denial for what it was. Depression lined up nicely along my perfectionism, and feeling frustrated with my relationship aligned neatly with my desire to be right. Tragic grief cracked it all open. I have learned that trauma plants itself on the fault-lines in my soul, and that healing happens when we trace the fault lines long enough to plant new seeds that will choke out the weeds in time.
Being honest, with kindness, is one of those seeds for me. The pandemic has given me a great opportunity to practice.
When people ask how I am, I can be honest, whether I choose to share a little or a lot. Others’ comfort with my answer is not my responsibility. When someone challenges my behaviour (child or otherwise), I feel so much better when I check with my motives than when I insist that I am always right. I can disagree, and thank them for their observation, or apologize and course-correct. When I feel resentful, it is always a sign for me that I am not taking care of what I need. I can be honest about my needs and get them met before we work together on what needs to be done.
Maybe the hardest thing about practicing honesty in a difficult season is that so much of what I want and need is simply not possible right now. Connecting with people in person, giving and getting hugs, play dates, swimming, our village to support us in raising our kids. It all feels like a bad dream we cannot wake up from. But denying the pain of the loss is like pulling the leaves off the weeds and leaving the roots. The only way out of the discomfort is to see the roots of the pain and do the work of gently pulling them out without doing damage to the rest of my heart.
Honest can be uncomfortable because it exposes real pain, conflict, and work. But honesty is a fertilizer for the life I want to grow. Being honest creates the space for something real in what is right now. Not going to the pool means that we can plant a bigger garden. No connecting with friends means that we can learn new ways to play as a family. We are finding new recipes when we are avoiding trips to the grocery store.
The honest truth is that this is hard, and we are growing into the family we will be when this season gives way to the next one.
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On Being Barefoot…
Before the burning bush, God asks Moses to take off his sandals, to notice and reverence that he walks on holy land. This holy land continues to burn before me, before us, signaling God’s presence before we arrived rather than because we did. This life we are living was holy before we existed in it. This land and creation we call home is the first book of revelation, God’s love letter to us, bearing witness to the Creator of it all.Our lives and the moments that make them up are the stuff of sainthood, our invitations to participate in Divine life to be swallowed up and fulfilled by God. At the grocery store, in the false solitude of our cars and commutes, in our laundry rooms, and over text messages. My shoes run the risk of “protecting” me from the sacredness of this naked moment. And how I love shoes, and how my sensitive toes resist the prickles of grass and the mess of sand. But barefoot is how my spirituality works, daring to live an embodied and earthy love of Jesus who took on flesh. I’m wandering through this life, yearning to let go of my shoes, to walk reverently and with deep attention to what passes under my feet and to what isn’t yet my path. Barefoot is how I write, how I speak, how I work. Experience shored up against an insatiable thirst for knowledge; direct honesty honed by sensitivity; and vulnerability chained to a commitment to competency. And an unapologetically barefoot tendency to speak it as I feel it, which leads me to…
I’m a preacher without a pulpit, with words that burn until they are spoken ~ aloud or on a page.
My ministry is one of colliding words and ideas, reaching out to find a connection with God’s amazing people.
The world seems to me to be spilling over with grace and we seem to be people who, all too quickly forget that all of this is pure gift.
When I’m driving, eating, visiting, resting, cleaning, working, playing, and almost everything else, I’m frequently stunned by the pure miracle of what simply is.
It’s not all promised joy and ease, but it is all presenced and remembered by the One who gives it. And I can’t stop talking about it, proclaiming it, preaching this good news that we have not been forgotten or forsaken in any moment of this life.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, my words seem to be given to encourage and inspire. In a world where women and girls are still too-often silenced or secondary, I’m barefoot and preaching because my soul won’t rest any other way. If my words can be a gift to you, then that is a gift for me.