Saturday, June 23, 2012

Commitments, Labels and Other Adjectives...

This post has been bouncing around in my head for a few months now, but I haven't quite been able to find the right words to set it down on paper (or more accurately, type the words up on my computer monitor).  The inspiration wasn't any particular post, but a growing under current that I saw throughout many of my favorite bloggers posts that made me vaguely uncomfortable.  As the theme repeated itself over and over again I found myself struggling to articulate the reason that these particular posts by their brilliant authors bothered me.  And hopefully I can articulate the reason for that underlying discomfort, finally, here today and it won't sound like a completely jumbled mess:

The theme that I saw ran through a number of different subjects.  It was woven into posts on NFP and providentalism, and popped up over and over again when homeschooling was discussed.  It finds its way into conversations about nearly every lifestyle choice that one can make and hums a constant tune that we shouldn't really commit ourselves to any of the choices we make, or put ourselves in neat little boxes with labels, lest we find ourselves too wrapped up in the label itself, and cling to the idea when the idea has outlived its usefulness.

I agreed with half of the above train of thought.  Yes, we should let go of any idea that has outlived it's usefulness and we shouldn't base our worth on labels that simply reflect the way we live our lives.

At the same time I don't see anything wrong with making a commitment to ourselves to live in a certain way.  We do that as Catholics, when we seek to follow the teachings of Christ and his Church.  And I don't see anything wrong with finding something that works and using that tool in our repertoire as we seek to follow our vocations on our journey towards God.

I also don't even see anything wrong with identifying ourselves with certain labels.  Life is rather confusing without adjectives that describe what we're doing, and after all labels, in this case, are simply words that do just that.  I'm okay with being identified as a Latin Mass loving, headcovering, skirt wearing, homeschooling, breast feeding, provdentialist Catholic Momma (I kind of laughed when I read a post about not using labels like NFP or Providentalism because I didn't even know the word until I'd read that particular blogger {who I, by the way, love to read}, and thought to myself, well,  I guess that's what we are...).  Those happen to be the choices I've made that are best for me.  

I think part of the problem that people have with these labels is that they're sometimes wielded like weapons, particularly in the "mommy wars."  Someone reads that I love the Latin Mass and thinks that I must think I'm better than people who don't.  But that's simply not the case.  I love the latin mass because I love the latin mass.  It doesn't make me better, or worse, than someone who doesn't.  It just appeals to my heart in a more direct way than the ordinary form, and makes it easier for me to focus on the greatness of what's going on.

Another reader might read homeschooling and think that a mom with that title obviously thinks she's doing something better than someone sending their child to a public or private school, without realizing that the only thing that mom really thinks, is that she's making the best choice for her children and family, and that that choice is an individual one.

Sure, these choices and labels can get in the way if we make them who we are.  But if we recognize that the choices that they reflect are tools on the path that we're struggling along, than committing to the tools that we've found through experience to be the most helpful, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes we do have to let go of a aspect of our lives that was once helpful, but that isn't any longer.  I was once a rugby player and I loved the game.  A ruptured disk meant that I wasn't a rugby player any longer.  And so I let that part of my life go.  Sometimes letting go is the best thing and we must prayerfully discern when to do just that (or just use common sense with some of these day to day issues!).

At the same time, making small commitments to myself, to live my life in a certain way, helps me far more than floundering about and going whatever way the wind blows.  I know that praying the rosary is an immense help.  I know that covering my head is a small devotion that has aided me spiritually in great ways, as does wearing skirts.  And so I commit to doing these things, because I know that there will be days when I don't feel like doing them, but that that doesn't mean that they won't help, especially when I most feel like running in the opposite direction.  That's where a commitment can be helpful.

The devotions and practices and choices that help each of us are going to be different, just as each of our journeys through life will be different.  That doesn't make them better or worse.  It's not a stick that we measure ourselves against and use to measure others.

Some of our choices will change with time as we grow.  Others will stay the same.  But to me, refusing to use a word to describe ourselves because we're afraid of "labels" is kind of silly (and makes blogging infinitely more difficult... after all, those "labels" are simply adjectives that help you understand what I'm talking about), just as refusing to make a commitment to a practice can be harmful on those days when we just don't feel like doing something that we should be doing.  

Sure we don't want to get stuck in hole by clinging to a worn out commitment, but we also need to realize that some commitments are exactly what get us out of that same hole, when we push through, even though we don't feel like fulfilling them.

I guess that's what bothered me about the underlying theme I've noticed lately.  I feel like we're throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Sometimes we need to cling to our choices.  Sometimes we need to let go.  Flexibility isn't the highest good here.  What we really need is to be able to recognize when to hold on and when to move on.


  1. I think we are overly cautious of labeling ourselves because we imagine that labels are permanent or that we will be called a hypocrite if, down the road, things change and we go a different way. But you know what? I am a former homebirthing mother who changed her mind and chooses now to have babies at the hospital. I am a former cloth diaperer who had to let that choice go as my family (and laundry pile!) grew. I label myself as a stay-at-home-mom - and I firmly believe in the value and importance of an at-home parent, but things could change and I might need to go back to work, if, for example, my husband were to become injured or ill. You may discern at some point in your life that delaying pregnancy is the healthiest choice for your family - that doesn't mean that right now you aren't a providentialist or can't claim the label while you're practicing providentialism. I think labeling yourself is fine, as long as you are open to God's call and your own good judgment to diverge from it should the need arise.

  2. Nice post! I think "discernment" is the term and the process called for, and that's a life-long deal.

    And...I never heard the term "providentialist" either, till I started writing about NFP! I guess it was nicer to be called that than a "nit-picking, nattering, nabob"!

    I am enjoying your blog very much!

  3. Great reflections. We all have varying paths to Heaven and different choices aid that for different people. We do get in trouble when we start judging those decisions made by others.

    BTW...I love the Latin mass, too and cover my head at OF and EF masses!

  4. Sometimes the commitment is the thing that gets you out of the hole - YES! As I say to my friends who are so confused by my Catholic commitment to marriage, come what may, it's the promise that matters. What a beautiful thing, unique to human beings, that we can make a promise at all. I can apply to anything, as well, not just marriage. Keeping our promises and commitments, as long as they are good and valid commitments, can make us strong when we feel weak. It can, as you said, be the very thing to pull us out of the hole. Very well put.

  5. I second Anonymous's statement.

    I hesitate to label myself anything because life changes. For example someone dealing with my health issues should be waiting before trying for another baby if for any reason than they don't know specifically what is going on with their body.

    Does that mean they are no longer a Providentialist? No, certainly not. It just means that things happen and we have to change course when they do.

    But I'm not big into labels. And the simple reason is because no one person is one-size fits all. We're all unique. Plus, often times what are once intended good labels become negative ones. Case in point: the word retarded was thought up to be a nice way to describe those with mental issues. Now people say using the word is not a good thing.

  6. Great post...

    I can see the side that says they can be a bad thing (and there are times I try not to use them) but overall... I use them on myself as I deem appropriate.. and yes some things are let go over time, but doesn't mean its not fitting at the moment. Even looking back to the ones I've let go they shape how the ones I "use" or "fit" now are applied.


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