Monday, August 1, 2011

Healthy Criticism

I mistakenly bleached one of my stepsons’ t-shirts, and I’m terrified! I’ve been aware that being a stepmother is an exercise in taking criticism. My own, my stepson’s, other adults'. 

In a last-ditch effort to convince myself that it’s OK to be as flawed as I like, I mentioned the feeling of scrutiny to my husband a few months ago. “You can make mistakes,” I told him, “the kids make mistakes, you can be forgiven. But even the tiniest mis-step from me results in misery.” He gave me a baffled look before saying, “Well yes. You’re their stepmother.”

It takes so few words to tell the truth!

God has handed me a chance to receive honest feedback in a very direct way from my stepkids, so I have to allow them some space to identify my faults. More space than my own (biased) children would need. I hadn’t realized, for example, that I use an ineloquent “ah-ah-ahh” sound when accidents are in the works (when my stepdaughter drives too close to the edge of a lane, when I see a glass about to spill, etc.). The sound draws quizzical attention to me, but doesn’t identify the danger! How annoying; I’m glad my stepson pointed this out to me.

Spiritually, this visit is a good opportunity to do a thorough examination of conscience. Here’s a meditative method I recently tried; I found it to be productive in preparing for Confession, and it also enhances the restorative nature of Reconciliation:
  1. Begin by setting aside about 20-30 minutes in seclusion and silence
  2. Find a comfortable position, preferable vertical—perhaps seated; kneeling only if it won’t become painful—with your arms and legs uncrossed. So yoginis, no seated lotus pose for this meditation! You’ll want your legs and arms to feel smooth and unruffled.
  3. Close your eyes, and make the sign of the cross to decisively mark the beginning of your dedicated prayer.
  4. Starting at the top of your head and working down, use each part of your body to examine its physical and metaphorical uses since your last Confession.
  • Tip top of your head: have I been thoughtful rather than impulsive with my actions? Have my thoughts strayed to the right place? Have my intentions been pure? 
  • Ears: Have I listened to my friends and enemies? Have I forgiven the words of my antagonists and embraced good advice, so only the right words still ring in my ears? 
  • Neck: where have I turned my attention, and my time? Are my priorities where they should be, in daily life and in my direction overall?
  • Eyes: do I look for God in people, in each detail that I pass, and in events? Do I examine the faults in myself, rather than in others? Do I keep my wants in proper perspective against my needs and the needs of others?
  • Nose: am I humble? Vain? Do I care too much about what people see, and the image I portray?
  • Mouth: do I speak the truth? Have I guided others in the right way, and am I sensitive to the circumstances that are/are not appropriate for me to speak?
  • Shoulders: do I joyfully bear my own burdens and the burdens of others? Do I actively make sacrifices in order to offer God the opportunity to fine-tune my discipline and help ease the burdens of others?
  • Continue throughout the rest of the body, top to bottom.
  • How about your left and right sides? Your lungs, spine, arteries, veins and heart? Who/what do you put in front of and behind you? Above and below?
5. After each part of the body has been examined, from head to toe, willfully release any tension that you hold there, relaxing the muscles. Envision that part of your body expanding to allow more room for the Holy Spirit to fill you with grace.
6. Go to Confession.
7. After praying any penance, return again to the same position. From head to toe, again willfully relax and expand your muscles. Straighten your spine toward heaven, and envision the grace of the Sacrament filling the new spaces.

- Shelley 

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