Monday, July 21, 2008

Boundaries

I can be good, maybe too good at setting personal boundaries. When things get hectic, I pull inward, zoning in on nothing else but the tasks before me. Being naturally introverted, my default reaction to stress or piling responsibilities is to cut myself off socially - no phone calls, no correspondence, no invitations, no volunteering to bring a meal, host an event, or clean up afterwards. I am not the type of woman who needs to curb for the sake of her household an excessive preoccupation with people, parties, or participating in anything other than in the lives of those living right here, under my roof, sharing my last name.

This would be fine and all, if my sabbatical from the outside world were a temporary solution to a temporary dilemma. The problem is that I'm always busy; I am always overwhelmed because, hello...I have four young children. My circumstances won't be changing anytime soon and I'm pretty sure it isn't healthy to keep burying my head in the sand without ever coming up for air - or reaching out.

A few weeks ago, we arranged a long overdue get together with two families very close to our own. They met at our house for an afternoon of barbecuing, beach frolicking, and uplifting conversation. All in all, we have fourteen children between us. I watched on with awe and fascination as these mothering friends of mine tended to the needs of their many sons and daughters ranging in age from four months to twelve-years-old. There was never a moment when their eyes were not scanning our crowded back yard for preschoolers known to wander. They moved fluidly from diaper changes, to nursing, to snack making to sunscreen applying.

They looked harried, much like I do right now, and stretched to their limits. There was no denying that motherhood has, at times, both suffocated and consumed them, has demanded more from them then they ever imagined possible. They talked honestly about their fears and insecurities, each of which sounded eerily familiar. They had more things and people to manage than I did. I had nothing on them in terms of workload or sleep deprivation. And yet, and yet they were able to step outside of it all and tune in to the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) concerns of others, myself included.

I studied these women who never waited for a request to "hold my baby for a second,"or fill a plate, or pour lemonade into the cups of little ones not belonging to them. I observed as they asked questions of each other and really concentrated on the answers. I saw them laugh, embrace, and clean my kitchen. That evening, when only one of the families remained - the family with the longest drive home - I reached for a sweater in my closet and felt a gush of running water pouring down on all my clothes from out of a hole I had never noticed before in the ceiling. Without an ounce of hesitation, they decided to stick around and help to solve a potentially disastrous mystery that neither Troy or I felt capable of figuring out ourselves, especially at such a late hour. There was sawing in the garage, Home Depot runs, a toilet removal in our upstairs bathroom. Then at last, there was resolution. Even now I can't get over it, their thoughtfulness and generosity. It was all quite humbling, convicting, and very hopeful.

The other day, Elijah and I were talking on the couch. He had just finished reading to me from the July issue of a children's devotional booklet that several months back, he had ordered a free subscription to. "Shouldn't we be telling everyone in our neighborhood about Jesus?" he asked, and baggage I had buried years ago regarding "open-air" evangelism, scheduled "revivals,"covert operations involving plants with leading questions being placed in an audience gaping at mimes reenacting the crucification, resurfaced in an instant. I had to stop and collect my thoughts before I answered.

I knew that these were personal issues, irrelevant to my idealistic Orthodox Christian son. I know that I still have mixed feelings about "witnessing" and yet as followers of Christ we have been called to share our faith. Immediately I thought of our friends with their sacrificial offerings of time and empathy. I recalled how their natural referrals to prayer and Church were intermingled with the washing of my dishes, listening to my stories, and meaningful compliments about my kids. I remembered how after they left, I felt not guilty about my own shortcomings but rather thankful, thankful for all the goodness in my life; I felt not frightened about the consequences of my own selfishness, but rather inspired, inspired to pass along the kindness that had undeservedly come my own way via a hard working husband and wife. I remembered that our encounter with them had girded my soul.

"Well, Elijah," I finally replied, weighing each sentence carefully before proceeding. "Teaching people about Jesus, I think, should involve not as much telling as showing. If we keep our eyes and hearts open we'll see all kinds of ways to model Christ's unconditional mercy. Words by themselves, without a relationship, without trust that has blossomed within genuine friendship, can sometimes appear empty or inauthentic. An individual who has experienced first-hand the peace and love of God through us, will be much more likely to have a lasting desire to dedicate their whole entire existence to becoming like Him. Of course we should witness to our neighbors and we can start by making ourselves available to be of help to those in need."

He had long ago stopped paying attention - had lost interest approximately two sentences in to my lengthy soliloquy on evangelism. I fully realized that I was talking, talking, talking to myself but it was imperative that I come to terms with a commandment I was in perilous danger of throwing out along with the tacky religious t-shirt and doomsday-ish infused bathwater. There's no time, no room for cynicism; no possible justification for withholding from others the same compassion God bestows upon me daily. Let your light so shine before men, said Jesus in the book of St. Matthew, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

The whorish woman at the well received forgiveness and lost her shamefulness. She was literally overflowing with a gratitude impossible to reign in or keep to herself. To say there was something different about her since her meeting with the Messiah would be an understatement. She was motivated by joy, undaunted by naysayers; she was on fire.

I am good, maybe too good at protecting my own modest flame from awkwardness, from unpleasantness, from darkness. I'd be wrong to think what I haven't done won't matter.

Photo by MrLomo on flickr.

4 comments:

Julie V. said...

Oh, Molly, how timely, as usual. Check this out. I was at the beach yesterday with my kids and another family. The mom is kind of an ex-Catholic with a lot of nostalgia and a sense that religion is important. She sent her son to confirmation classes at the local Catholic church. She knows we're Orthodox. I know she's not open to me preaching to her. Nor would I, nor could I, ever preach. In all my years as an evangelical protestant, I never did go witnessing, somehow. It always gave me the willies. So anyway, here we are at the beach, I'm out in the water with three boys and she's sitting in the sand with my daughter. I see two folks approach her and sit down to chat. I assume they are friends of hers. After awhile--ten, twenty minutes--I decide to get out of the water and watch the boys from the sand for a bit. As I approach my friend, I recoil in horror to see that she is being witnessed to by two fresh-faced youths from, I learn, Alabama. Where my friend had been too nice to chase them away and was engaging them in conversation, my flesh was practically crawling from the situation and its many implications. I actually shooed these people away. I couldn't stand to listen to them say ignorant ridiculous things to this 40-something woman who has spent some years thinking about faith, and her own faith, and her childrens' faith. I crowed that I was a totally convinced, committed Christian, and my friend had me around to keep her in line, heh heh heh heh. The young woman asked me what kind of Christian I was and I said, Orthodox Christian, and she said, Okay, that's cool. I said, look, we're trying to keep our eyes on our kids out in that surf, and it's wavy today, and I think you should find some folks to talk to who aren't watching children. And so they reluctantly closed their well-thumbed Bibles and left us, with parting words like, Ma'am, I hope you really think about what we've said today. My friend waited about three minutes and said, As if I never have.

Next day at dinner at friends' who are overtly anti-Christian and pretty much totally anti-God. (What's the matter with you people, you ask--don't you have any actual Christian friends?!) My little girl in a sudden fit of heretofore unseen spirituality wants to pray before dinner. "DO YOU KNOW THE LORD'S PRAYER?" she asks our hostess in her loudest, most insistent, partially deaf voice. Three or four times. She's missed the first mumbled negative answer to her question. I jump in chirpily: Honey, this family doesn't know the Lord's Prayer, and not everyone has that habit at dinner time. Daughter responds: "That's bad, right mommy?" She's turned down the volume out of, perhaps, a sense that this is not a loud public question as the first one was. Well honey, I continue to chirp, it's different than our habit. You can say grace quietly tonight.

Today I told my guys that at our house, we always pray before meals, but when we're at someone else's house, I don't insist we ask a blessing at the table because some people don't even believe in God. "That's bad, right mommy?" daughter checks in again. Honey, I say, it's sad when people don't believe in God, and yes, they're wrong.

So there we go. Two situations in which my palms got clammy, and I responded at the time in ways both faithless and weak, right there for my children to see.

Despite all my misgivings and ambivalences about witnessing, and about my own witness in the last two days, I must say that I really love what you told Elijah, and I'm going to tell it to my own kids at the next opportunity. But I also need to remember the scriptural injunction to be ready when I am given the opportunity to speak. I must ponder that forgiven woman, the one who was on fire, as we used to say, for the Lord. Can being on fire for the Lord possibly imply cold-call talking to strangers? Can it possibly mean teaching the Lord's Prayer to a bunch of flaming heathens at dinner time? Can it not?

Xenia Kathryn said...

Yes, sometimes I think that since I'm Orthodox I'm somehow excused from verbally evangelizing. Too bad my tongue turns to jello when opportunities arise. All I can really do is pray and ask for God's right words.

Marsha said...

Oh Molly, you sound too much like me. I keep being called out of my comfort zpme though. I don't have much to add, since I could have written that whole post in a way.

Molly Sabourin said...

Hi Julie!

I just wanted to say how nice it has been to hear from you! Why, why, why do you not have your own blog because I'd read it all the time?! I so appreciated and related to your "witnessing" stories. I think coming from the background we did, makes this one aspect of Orthodoxy particularly confusing; it highlights so obviously the differences in our understanding of what it means, exactly, to be "saved". If I don't believe that all of salvation can be summed up in a single moment or prayer, then approaching people I do not know in order to have them make one "decision" for Christ would be actually pretty pointless (and even possibly offensive, like you mentioned about your friend who'd felt like it was just assumed her own spiritual journey was not a valid one ). When seen as a life long process, however, salvation becomes a very labor intensive relationship - as opposed to a static condition. We labor, not to "earn" God's grace but rather, to obtain freedom from the sin that entangles and, quite frankly, makes us miserable. Our motivation being love, love for Christ who never wavers in his devotion to us or forces us to love Him back. We are free, always free to either move closer to His healing presence or to back away from it - there is no "standing still," if you will. The more we allow ourselves to experience God's love ( a love which contrary to popular belief is less about warm fuzziness and more a mixture of violence and grace - both burning and illuminating, often through suffering, our hidden faults and weaknesses), the less concerned we will be (like the woman at the well) about our own reputations. "Sharing" our Faith with others becomes reflexive because as we die to ourselves we take on His Divine characteristics and begin to view all of humanity as He does - as an image of Christ. We serve, adore, revere, and respect our neighbors because we serve, adore, revere and respect the Christ we see in them.To consistently live as Christ intended, as something completely "other than", as beacons of hope and light in the darkness, is what now comes to mind when I imagine true "evangelism". And I'm sorry this is has gone on and on and on but as is I'm sure evident by now, I work things out with words and your reply has got me thinking, so I thank you for that!!

Hello to Marsha and Xenia Kathryn,
I so appreciate you stopping by and leaving your comments!!