Many's the time I've told my husband, "You don't even know who I really am! All you know is how I am when I'm pregnant, or postpartum, or pregnant and postpartum, or hypothyroid, or how I am when I've gone six years without sleeping. You don't understand!" I will say, as he watches me melt down under stress and exhaustion. "I'm not really like this!"
This may have been true, for a while. But we've been living this life long enough that I really have to face facts: this is my life.
I'm not complaining, mind you. I have a good life. But it is crazy, and it makes me crazy. The way I respond to the craziness of my life? That's who I am. This is my life, and this is me, living it. It's time to give up for good the idea that there is some other, calmer me waiting in the wings to deal with some other, calmer existence that may or may not come about.
It's a pretty common mental trap to fall into -- clinging to the notion that we're just getting through this rough patch right now, but that our real life lies waiting for us in the future, and our real selves are the ones who have to deal with that real life. The trap says: This, just now? This is temporary. This is a glitch, and we need to cut ourselves some slack until our real lives start again.
Now, obviously, we do need to be reasonable with ourselves when things are very hard. Sometimes, it's only prudent to give ourselves permission to settle for less than perfection, or even to give ourselves permission to feel overwhelmed when life is overwhelming. We're not robots; we can't just immediately reset ourselves for a higher capacity just because life starts demanding more.
And so it's only sensible for me to tell myself, "I have nine young children -- it's okay that there's always dirty laundry. It's okay to say no to a good opportunity, because I don't want to leave a nursing baby. It's okay not to take up some voluntary extra penance or spiritual practice that's all the rage on my Catholic quilters' message board, because I'm barely keeping my head above water. It's okay to put such-and-such aside, or give this project a spit and a promise, because things are crazy right now, and this really is the best I can do."
But it's not okay to say, "I don't have the time to pray today. I can't be expected to go to Mass or go to confession. I can't be expected to be good to other people -- can't you see I have problems to deal with?"
It's not okay to say, "This is not who I really am! In real life, I would be devoted to Mary. Under reasonable circumstances, I would certainly be kind and thoughtful and unselfish. This is not really me, shrieking at my kids, treating my husband like an incompetent servant, neglecting my prayers for weeks at a time, and not making any effort to do better. This is not really me, never even thinking of the Cross."
Yes. It is me. And it is not okay to say, "I'll be a good Catholic later. Right now, I'm too busy suffering."
We can fall into the trap of regarding the whole world as a sort of temporary aberration. When something awful happens to us -- a sickness, a death, a betrayal, a horrible derailment of plans or desires -- we think, "Why has this happened to my real life?"
We see the effects of original sin, and we think, "Why aren't things good and simple and easy, the way they're supposed to be in real life?" We may not realize it, but when we strain and fuss against evil in the world, we're essentially saying, "But my real life is back in Eden! When are we going to get past this rough patch and get back to my real life?"
But this world -- this post-Edenic world, with our fallen selves and our lives that are filled with work and pain and struggle -- this is our world. This is our life. Who we are is defined by how we deal with life as it is. There was no cross in Eden. But we are not in Eden now.
The good news -- and I mean the Good News! -- is that we're in a place better than Eden, because we're not only post-Eden, we're post-Calvary. The Preface prayer at Mass last Sunday said to God,
For we know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation, through Christ our Lord.
The cause of our downfall is the means of our salvation. There is no squirming out from under the shadow of the cross -- not yet. It is in that shadow -- in that shelter -- that we find out who we really are. Who we are is people who have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved -- as long as we're willing and able to remember that this is our life. What we do here, now, under these circumstances, is who we are.