It’s Saturday, and that means it’s time to take a look at the next chapter in Lisa Hendey’s terrific book, The Grace of Yes! If you don’t have a copy yet, I highly recommend it. It can make for an excellent Advent reading project, and if you read 2 chapters each week, you’ll get through before Christmas!
This week’s chapter is all about integrity. Lisa talks about the danger people of faith face in the temptation to betray the integrity we are called to live out each day, and how it’s especially dangerous for people who are living the Faith out in a very public way. She’s not just talking about Jim and Tammy Bakker, but even bloggers like me, who might have a platform on which to share insights into the faith.
There’s a real danger to put forward this ideal face — one of piety and joy and love — when we aren’t so perfect behind-the-scenes. We want people to think well of us, and we don’t want to share our struggles in a public way. Lisa talks about whether she is Avatar Lisa or Real Lisa:
If you’ve used an avatar, then you know some of the grief that can go into the process. You want a photo that looks like you but on a good hair day, with the right lighting, and, preferably — for many of us — a slightly slimmer, younger-looking version of our true selves. I look for an avatar that belies the fact that half the time I’m working in dirty gym clothes or my pajamas — both benefits of working from home but not the picture of professionalism I aim for.
My avatar’s typically just had her hair done and she’s calm, unworried about deadlines or work-related stress. My avatar never misses morning prayer time. You can tell by that peaceful, composed look in her picture that she begins her day with her priorities in place. My avatar doesn’t binge on chocolate when she’s stressed and is only an occasional social drinker. She doesn’t consider chardonnay a food group. She’s never donned her running shoes in the morning and worn them all day thinking she’ll “get around to” fitting that walk in soon. My avatar doesn’t check on things like stats about how well her books are selling on Amazon or how many people have “liked” her Facebook status. She is humble through and through. In other words, my avatar is often a fictitious character.
As I sit here on Black Friday in my pajamas and bathrobe, typing this post, I can totally relate. No one wants to see me this way! And while that particular might be true, every one of us must be careful that we aren’t busy pretending to be someone we’re not just in order to make a good impression on people.
This past week, I was listening to one of the new podcasts of Jennifer Fulwiler’s radio show in which she interviewed Sister Theresa Noble, a woman who was at one time an athiest but is now a religious sister. St. Theresa said that, much to people’s surprise, she still occasionally has doubts that God even exists. She talked about how it’s important that people of faith are up-front and open about their doubts and faults because people who are not believers must understand that becoming a Christian doesn’t make you perfect or remove every doubt or problem from life. Saying otherwise is just dishonest, really, and sets us up as something we are not.
I have to say that being honest is not only helpful for others, and especially to someone who might happen upon my little blog while researching the Faith, but it’s important for me. Holding things in, pretending things are great when they are not, presenting Avatar Christine as the Real Christine — all of these things can wear a person down. Rather than withholding my own struggles and thinking they’d be a stumbling block to someone else, I need to strive for more honesty about my life. Instead of pretending that my faith journey is one of rainbows and puppy dogs and lollipops, I need to remember that sometimes it’s important to share the difficulties that I encounter.
Let’s have a look at a few of the questions at the end of the chapter:
° How do you try to live as a person of integrity?
I really do strive to be myself all the time. I may not always share my spiritual struggles (mainly because it’s scary to admit it, even to myself), but I try not to pretend to be someone I’m not. This is not the way I used to be, and it’s only because I’ve grown up that I’ve become pretty comfortable in my own skin. So when I interact with people online, I’m not presenting someone else. This doesn’t mean I let loose everything that crosses my mind, but only that I strive to present who I really am when I’m interacting with people. When I was younger, I often felt as though I couldn’t be fully myself with most people; I had a few very close friends who knew the real me, but most people got the Avatar Christine. This was especially true if I liked a boy. I’d pretend to be a Far More Interesting version of myself in an effort to make someone like me.
When I got older and gradually stopped doing that, I became very good friends with a young man. We’d hang out after our classes were over, and we started going to movies and other date-like activities all the time. (I was actually dating someone else at the time, so I never considered any of this to be “dating.”) Eventually he became my best friend. Much to my surprise, he told me one day he wanted more, and after I broke his heart, I went home to think about what he said. I mean, we’re not supposed to date our best friends, right?
The best part of being married to Nathan is that he knew me before we were romantically involved. He knew me when I was just Christine, not the girl who wanted someone to like her but the girl who just wanted to be buddies and hang out. When I did reconsider and break up with my old boyfriend, our relationship was built upon just being ourselves. It was freeing to feel zero pressure to be someone else. If I wasn’t wearing makeup, I knew he loved me anyway because he’d already seen me when I was showing up for an early class at college and had just pulled my hair into a pony tail and skipped makeup. I didn’t worry about my stupid jokes or my lame sense of humor (things my ex had always reminded me of) because we were already friends who had bonded over obscure jokes that hardly anyone else knew.
° Describe your online avatar or public persona. How does this measure up to the way you actually live?
Avatar Christine says Lauds and Vespers with her girls, homeschools them and helps them succeed, and has taught them effectively about the Faith. Avatar Christine is a good Lay Dominican and remembers her prayers, says Litanies as requested, prays novenas, and loves studying ALL the Faith stuff! My avatar remembers to thank people, loves everything about being Catholic, listens to the homilies at Mass without thinking once about what she needs to do later. Avatar me goes to Holy Hours every week and wouldn’t dream of actually planning a nap as she sat in the pew on Wednesday afternoon.
But Real Christine misses her Divine Office prayers too frequently, has a lot of doubts about how up-to-the-task she is to homeschooling her children, frequently doubts that she’s doing a good job educating her girls, and worries about their doubts about the Faith and God. Real Christine is supposed to go to daily Mass and say a daily Rosary as a Dominican, but fails to do either on most days. Real Christine constantly forgets that Dominican Litany she’s supposed to pray every day and has never gotten through a novena without missing at least one day. Real Christine sometimes misses big chunks of the homily because she’s busy thinking about her to-do list. And let’s just say that there are weeks that are so busy that the idea of “come unto Me and I will give you rest” translates literally into a nap during Adoration.
Real Christine wants to be Avatar Christine, but is terrified that it’s unattainable.
There’s a song that DC Talk did a long time ago that really fits this feeling:
° Are you out of step with mainstream society in your moral choices and decisions?
Well, yes. Even on my days when I’m least like Avatar Christine, I’m still out of sync with most of society. Because I’m friends mainly with people who are also out-of-step, I often forget how very strange my life can seem. Homeschooling, Dominican meetings, trying very hard to live a Faith that can be challenging (and requires me to reject great portions of what’s okay with the rest of Western society) … If I’m only doing a half-way decent job at this stuff, I’m not normal according to mainstream society.
And sometimes that’s exhausting, to be honest. There are times I just want to give in and stop fighting, when I feel like living a moral life is like swimming upstream through molasses. That’s when I feel like I have to just put my head down and plod on until I can get through whatever is dragging me down.
Be sure to head over to CatholicMom.com and see the rest of the conversation about this week’s chapter.