Retractions: Finding an authentic self-love in Christian language

It’s come time that I would like to discuss Christian language about losing the self and about self-love, and do so by revisiting something I wrote a few years ago called “The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood.” 

In this well-intended piece, I wrote about how motherhood requires giving up of the self in order to be purified. Some of that is accurate, but some of what I wrote is off-the mark, and falls into the category I’ve come to despise in mom-devotionals: rationalizing our legitimate needs away. 

I wrote this: “But the false self who feels buried, who thinks we are above drool and spilled cereal, who wants everything to be easy, without sacrifice, and who wants accomplishments for accomplishments’ sake must die in the desert of motherhood.”

And to this I would now reply: Hold on. It’s true that no one is “above drool” and the mundane pieces of life, but neither should anyone be confined to the mundane aspects of life. Perhaps this “self who feels buried” doesn’t need to “die,” but rather is in a real need of being resurrected, cared for, and set on a path of purpose–in short, loved and healed by Jesus.

Yes, in the Gospels Jesus says that “He who seeks to gain his life shall lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall gain it.” And this is very true, but I fear that I’ve misapplied it myself and seen it wrongly applied quite frequently.  God loves us and wants good things for us. He gave us emotions, and when they are severely out of balance, it’s a signal that something needs to be fixed. Following God is meant to be a fulfillment of who we are called to be and of putting our gifts into his service. It is not the squelching of our abilities, moods and value. When we “give up our life,” this is a call to put our gifts at the service of God rather than selfishness.

And we can know that this is accurate because of the greatest commandment. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves if we have no love of self. Fr. Jacques Philippe, a well-known priest and writer on the spiritual life has written:

Love travels along two paths that are inseparable in the end: love of God and love of neighbor. But as this text suggests, there is another aspect of charity—love of one’s self. (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”) This self-love is good and necessary, not egoism that refers everything to “me,” but the grace to live in peace with one’s self, content to be what one is, with one’s talents and limitations.
– Called to Life, p.69

Christian devotionals sometimes wrongly attack self-love and self-care as selfishness or indulgence. But they are not always the same. Being a self, caring for ourselves is actually what allows us to give to others.

In true humility, we recognize our gifts so that we can give them! True humility doesn’t pretend that we are worthless wretches with nothing to offer anyone, cowering in a bedroom feeling low. Yet, it always maintains the other side of the truth, which is that none of us are ever perfect and that it’s good also to recognize our shortcomings and sins and aim to get better.

So I retract my portions of my essay. The intensity of my negative emotions meant that something needed to change. For me, I started working outside the home. Maybe this isn’t the path for everyone, but it has made me feel that I am using my gifts at the service of others and answering a call.

Encouraging Scrupulosity – Another problematic theme I see in some devotionals

And now, if I may, I have seen an entire genre of mom-devotionals in which frankly I see scrupulosity encouraged alongside this downplaying of the legitimate needs of parents.

In one recent post, the author found sinfulness in her social media latte post. She declared that she was a hypocrite, posting her shiny, “best life” photos while avoiding the stickier interior issues. Maybe that’s true, but I’d had enough of this style and unsubscribed. The post had also included that this was a break after a long stretch of busyness for her, and I just couldn’t shake the ill-feelings that this was precisely the sort of Christian-mommy post that finds sin where it isn’t and overlooks some other legitimate goods. These things are misleading and frankly unhealthy.

Here’s what bothers me about this genre of devotional:
1. Finding sin in innocent actions encourages scrupulosity. I don’t want to discourage examination of conscience, but neither should we obsess over all the minuscule ways we might be sinning. There are more loving, healthy, helpful, Jesus-centered things to do instead.
-2. A coffee break can be a healthy impulse–as a mother, a little alone time is necessary for sanity. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves–the “ourselves” isn’t optional. As I mentioned earlier, if we aren’t caring for ourselves appropriately, we cannot care for others. In humility, we see our own value interconnected with the value of others. Humility is not acting like we are worthless and don’t need to recharge or manage our own needs.

If some time out with a coffee is self-care, it is pernicious to look for sin in an innocuous action.

3. Where does this self-critical confessional stem from? Honestly, (and I’m speculating here)  I think it stems from a sense of guilt at life going well. Sometimes, we are so accustomed to speaking of the cross, that we forget the joy and the resurrection. I’ve spent time reflecting on this myself–what to do when things are going well. What is there to “offer up” so to speak?

The answer, I believe, comes as forgetfulness of oneself, not as worthless, but in seeing opportunities to love others. Instead of continuing to look inward, we can turn our gaze outward to help others–to give back some of the goodness that we have been so lucky to receive from God.

4. God loves us. He does want us to live good lives–to have “life abundantly”–and while we do need to realize our sin, we need to also see our value, that we have gifts we are called to share. Fussing over lattes isn’t one of them. When life is going well, something isn’t necessarily wrong. It can be a time to share blessings.

Perhaps the author’s quiet cup of coffee strengthened her to jump back into the parenting fray or gave her a chance to write something which would encourage others.

Only the individual and God can say what is indulgence and what is self-care, so I can’t claim to know the state of her soul.

[For the record, I do not intend anything like the “prosperity gospel” here; I do not believe that God heaps material goods on people for being Christians. What I do mean is that when we do have abundance, we should be grateful and share it instead of looking the gift-horse in the mouth, so to speak, and seeking out problems with it.]

There are legitimate goods that are okay to celebrate and enjoy. And I believe that we live the Christian life when we focus on what we can give. In Bishop Barron’s words, “your life is not about you.”

When he speaks of the great values of God and teleology, Bishop Barron says: “None of this is meant to be crushing to the will, but liberating. When these great values present themselves to our freedom, we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive. “

So–what do you think? Have you had any turn-arounds in thought? Do you buy the distinction I’ve made about self-love and selfishness? 

 

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My essay, 2 places: The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood

This essay was first published on my usual home, The Truth and Charity Forum of HLI. Then the editors at Ethika Politika liked it and requested a few revisions and to republish. Here are links to both.

The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood on the Truth and Charity Forum:

“When St. Anthony of the Desert went out to the Egyptian wilderness to be alone with God, he probably didn’t think that he was setting an example for mothers. But I believe that he did. St. Anthony gave up the comforts of society in order to face himself and let God purify him. Perhaps this is not so different from the path of mothers and families and, by extension, all people striving to live in accord with truth and God.”

The Desert Spirituality of Motherhood on Ethika Politika

“And for what good? To be at the service of life, the greatest earthly good, and also at the service of the Lord, who created life. To bind oneself to a family, to a spouse and to children is really like a religious vow: It gives up a great many goods in order to grow in the good of commitment and formation. To do it well, it will take everything we have, and then some. It will lead us into the desert of our souls and present the furnace of solitude. It is here that we will stare darkness in the face and fall back onto Christ.”

-Finding our true vocation is a lifelong process I think. What has your journey been like?

Way Better Idea of Success than Money and Status

A friend of mine posted this article from On Being, called “Scrapping Outdated Definitions of Success” by Courtney Martin.

This really resonated with me as my husband and I have been navigating career moves recently trying to produce a happier household.

The cultural narrative overshadows us all, to the extent that we buy into it: you will be successful if you can go beyond your parents’ earnings and their collar.

The rub is that it’s simply not true.

Bigger earnings don’t always translate into a better life, as evidenced by the preponderance of miserable lawyers, doctors, sales managers, and investment bankers. The trusty old collar metaphor turns out to be dangerously reductive, as was so beautifully discussed in Krista Tippett’s recent interview with Mike Rose.

As the tectonic plates of work shift under our feet, there’s a palpable sense of professional insecurity. On the flip side, there’s a real opportunity to tell the truth in a moment when we don’t have as much to lose. If we successfully scrap outdated definitions of success — salaries and collars, foremost among them — what’s left?

Here’s my attempt at synthesizing what I see among my friends, family, colleagues, and co-housing community. We want to be paid enough to live without the specter of an empty bank account or an empty cupboard hanging over our heads. We want to have access to childcare for our children and doctors for our aging parents. We want work that demands something of our minds and our bodies; we want to think and move. We want to feel like our gifts, whatever weird and wonderful things those might be, are put to good use (which first requires knowing what they hell they are). We want to work alongside other people who see and celebrate those gifts, people who teach us things, people who want to make cool stuff with us, people who are kind and mostly good and don’t create a lot of unnecessary drama. We want to be treated fairly. We want to be trusted, to know how and when and where we do our best work. We want to wake up in the morning and feel like there is a place to direct our energy and that place, while it may not define us, dignifies us.

Then, there was this:

In any case, women tend to walk around with an itchy, un-lived version of their own lives.

Carl Jung wrote:

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Martin sites this quotation both in relation to moms with careers and stay at home moms, that either way, in the past there has been a sense that something must be lost: that working women may have unfulfilled lives with their children and also that stay-at-home women may wonder about their creative potential or gifts. This is certainly a pressing question that feminism has wrestled with again and again with no good outcome.

I myself addressed it earlier this year and concluded that somehow, it must be possible to use and develop our gifts and to nurture our children well–both for women and men, though both make a great many sacrifices. I penned a similar thought to Martin:

Unfortunately, our standard of “success” is usually public recognition or the number of zeros in a paycheck. The standard should be though a happy, purposeful life.

This Jung quote struck me though as a powerful reminder that wherever we struggle for fulfillment, it really does matter, both to us and to our families, whether it’s wanting to be with children more or develop our gifts more. We are actually better parents when we find balance and take care of ourselves, which looks different for different people and even for husbands and wives. But the shared truth is that by attempting to suppress any good and real part of our beings, something is lost and our children feel that too.

It is worth adding that may people live through difficult circumstances and do not always the chance to strive in both or either of these areas. Compassion and aid to these people is a must, for our happiness and success as individuals is not unrelated to the success and happiness of our neighbors. And it’s simple decency. But it is not selfish to seek sustainable, healthy development in all areas of life. As I’ve cited before. this quote from Pope John Paul II sums it up:

“It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.”
— Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus
Question then: what does success mean to you?

Published in Soul Gardening Journal: My Home is My Monastery

[Editorial Note: Now that this essay has come out in the Summer 2015 edition of Soul Gardening Journal, I am republishing it here]

“Removed from temporal concerns.” That is how life goes for monks and nuns of religious houses. I’ve always been attracted to that, perhaps romanticizing their lives at times. As a mom, I sometimes lament that this quiet calling is not mine. Even before I became a Catholic, I admired monks and nuns in their picturesque cloisters praying and working gently with a devotion to last a life time. There is something compelling in their ascetic life of reading, gardening, praying, working and other past times that deeply resonates with human nature and makes it appear (and actually be) so fulfilling.

Now, of course, like all ideals, I’m sure the reality is much more fraught and difficult than the pastoral picture in my head of monasticism. Still, when I visited Ireland and the stone, beehive shaped huts of the monks on the Skellig Isles, their radical commitment to holiness and simplicity struck me and continues to inspire me.

Sometimes I wonder about the possibility of truly attaining holiness in my relatively comfortable, middle-class, American life. Somewhere inside, I harbor the fallacy that the religious life is better or holier than the life of a layman. I’ve even written about wanting my house to be like a monastery: a place of peace where people grow in love of the Lord and His goodness. I envied the reprieve that religious men and women have from worldly concerns.

Well, here’s a revelation that struck me today: my home is not like a monastery. It IS my monastery.

And just like the messy reality in the lives of actual monks, my life is pretty messy.

But my home IS the place where I pray and work (ora et labora, the central tenets of the Benedictine Rule). It is the place where I serve my family and where I aim to raise up children of God.

And while I envied the “reprieve” from worldly concerns, it turns out that I have that too—in an unexpected way.

You see, one day I was complaining to my darling husband about my annoyance when my little sister said to me “you’re such a mom,” because the implication was that moms are “messy, pudgy and uncool,” a trifecta I invented myself (how flattering, right?).

Of course, many moms are beautiful, fit, put-together and chic, but I am not. In my uncharitable self-analysis, I reasoned that I am messy because I have toddlers and babies sloshing food and pulling my hair out of ponytails all day; I am pudgy because I’ve carried two humans in my abdomen (on separate occasions) and have not quite recovered yet; I am uncool because I have little free time to spend consuming pop-culture.

Grilling my kind-hearted husband, I asked him “How do you see moms? Messy, pudgy and uncool?” He thoughtfully responded with a phrase that held more meaning than I first understood: “No,” he said, “In moms, I see women who are removed from temporal concerns.”

Wow. “Removed from temporal concerns.” He did not mean that I don’t have to worry about food preparation, dirty diapers or crumb-covered floors. Those are very temporal. (At least I hope they won’t be in heaven). What he meant was that moms are removed from that deadly worldly striving of constantly trying to get ahead, get noticed, and “make it” in secular terms of success.

Instead, moms embrace sacrifice. We give of ourselves for the sake of those in our charge. And in my case, I spend so much time chasing my little boy, cuddling my infant girl and cleaning up in between it all, that when I get free time, it is a precious tiny moment that I typically do not use to say, browse Youtube or catch up on the latest movie releases, TV shows or hit songs. So more and more, I am starting to miss pop culture references that my younger siblings or single friends make.

But this is what my husband meant when he said I was removed from temporal concerns. Those negative attributes I associated with my “mom-ness” (messy, pudgy and uncool) come about precisely because I am living a life without substantial concern for outward appearance. Consider the adjective “messy.” Now, this isn’t meant to excuse laziness or to say that looking nice is bad or inappropriate. Rather, the point is to make an analogy between the sometimes unkempt clothing of a mother and the religious habit. Both are humble forms of dress that send the message that the wearers primary concern is elsewhere and that his or her clothing is a tool for work, not an instrument to impress others. (Again, mothers have many occasions to get dressed up—even for the return of the husband from work. This is just meant to say that in reality, I do not dress as stylishly as I did before I had children and that there is a valid reason behind it).

And “pudgy” because even a mother’s body is put into the demanding service of others. The last adjective is “uncool.” Like monks and nuns, a mother’s time is spent so fully in service that trendy entertainment and “cool stuff” tends to get squeezed out of the schedule. While sometimes I wish to see the latest superhero movie in theaters, generally, I’m OK not knowing the top 40 billboard list.

And this, I think, is the biggest reason that my home is my monastery. As I care for my babies, husband, friends and the home itself, all the noise from the outside world slowly filters out. Like the monks, I remain in my abbey. I perform works of service and small works of love. I am reprieved from worldly concerns: we are in the world but not of it (for this season, at least, of having young children).

I can’t say I know as much about religious life as I ought to, but I’m starting to think that my family’s little suburban homestead is not so different from the serene convent.

Book Review: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball, is about farming, but has a lot in common with a conversion story. She is a New York City dweller working as a freelance writer, living the trendy, free life so-coveted today, but finds her values somewhat wanting. Being over 30, she says that she and her friend, James, after abandoning the values of the their middle-class upbringing “teetered between seeing the lives we’d made for ourselves as adventures and seeing them as disasters” (32). When she goes down to Pennsylvania to interview an organic farmer, Mark, they fall in love, have a whirlwind romance before a year-long engagement and wedding during which time they resolve to start a new farm from scratch in upstate New York that will be organic, local, sustainable and provide a whole diet for the community.

That’s the summary. It’s an interesting story to hear Kimball recount her transformation from city-socialite to dirt worker. It’s a story about what matters and her experiences along the way. I connected a lot with this book because in many ways her conversion to life on a farm closely resembles my own conversion to life with children.

I very much enjoyed her account of living “the life,” so to speak, with an apartment in a hip neighborhood, a creative job, and various romantic flings and how despite this, she said “The word home could make me cry. I wanted one. With a man. A house. The smell of cut grass, sheets on the line, a child running through the sprinkler” (22). As she admits, the way things turned out was not quite what she had envisioned, but it was still a drastic change that gradually brought her closer to her own personhood. She says:

“I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it. I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing slowly closer to authentic.” (158)

Her honesty about the dissatisfaction with her picture-perfect career is refreshingly frank. Not many women (or men, for that matter) feel inclined to admit that career isn’t everything and that an unglamorous life such as farming, in her case, or motherhood, in my case, can in fact be very authentic and meaningful.

I enjoyed reading about her transformation during which the old habits fell away and her personal philosophy shifted and shifted and shifted until it was 180 degrees different. She describes how her chic wardrobe was slowly eroded into farm-wear with fewer and fewer items being kept in good condition for off-farm use. The same could be said for my mom life. I used to wear nice, clean clothes. Now I rely on denim, loose fitting skirts and flowy tops or tank tops and most of them have spots.

This especially hit home for me: “My old pleasures were scarce. There were no cafes in town, no bookstores, no interesting little bars to discover…Here the movie theater was almost an hour away….I was the one who finally tired of movies.” (156) For brevity’s sake, I removed a long explanation about the hour long drive to the greasy mall to watch lame, teenager fare at the theater, an experience which quickly grew to feel empty.

My old pleasures fall into this category, though they are still around, just difficult to make time for. Movies—babies don’t like movie theaters and theater patrons don’t love babies. Shopping—babies cry and toddlers want to buy everything in sight. Antiquing—definitely out as antiques tend to be breakable. Knitting—between dishes, marriage and trying to write occasionally, it’s just not a priority when I’m not on baby duty. Bars and partying—well, I never did that. Reading, that still happens

It was odd though, at first I clung to certain old pleasures as though if I could just go to enough social events baby-free, my life would be the same. But it isn’t the same and it never will be, and grasping for the past just makes the present miserable. And as it turns out, the present is just fine. All those old pleasures weren’t really as necessary as I thought they were; and there are new pleasures to replace the old ones: a soft, warm bundle with smooth skin who wants nothing more than to cuddle and be cuddled, a toddler’s impish grin, the new appreciation for life in all its phases that comes from witnessing their mysterious growth that somehow happens though it is never observable.

I also liked a few of the more far-flung anecdotes that make it into the story such as the time they shot and ate wild pigeons for their dinner because there was nothing else. I will say that I thought the end fell short philosophically, but other parts of the book were dotted with such satisfying reflection that I forgave it.

Mark would

“like to imagine a farm where no money traded hands, only goodwill and favors. He had a theory that you had to start out by giving stuff away—probably big stuff, worth, he figured, about a thousand dollars. At first, he said people are discomfited by such a big gift. They try to make it up to you, by giving you something in return. And then you gve them something else, and they give you something else, and pretty soon nobody is keeping score” (17).

How very hobbit-like!

Pope Francis on how Motherhood is under valued

“To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war,” the pontiff told pilgrims during his Jan. 7 general audience address.

Mothers, he said, “are often exploited because of their availability. Not even the Christian community values them properly, despite the eminent example of the Mother of Jesus.”

Mary’s example provides an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the role of all mothers in society and the Church, the Pope explained, noting how despite all of the “symbolic glorification” we give to motherhood, it is still under-valued.

“All of us give credit to our mothers for life and many other things, but not always are they listened to or helped in everyday life…Their important contribution to the life of society, their daily sacrifices and their aspirations are not always properly appreciated,” he observed.

To be a mother is a gift, the Pope said, and explained that through their sacrifices, mothers assist in helping society to overcome its self-centered tendencies, as well as its lack of openness, generosity and concern for others.

“In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society,” he said.

Pope Francis then drew attention to the phrase “martyrdom of mothers” coined by Archbishop Oscar Romero, who served as the archbishop of El Salvador and was shot and killed while saying Mass in 1980 for speaking out against social injustices committed by the government.

This maternal martyrdom, the pontiff noted, consists of a mother’s ability to offer herself in silence, prayer and total surrender, “without any fanfare,” to her motherly duties.

A mother’s sensitivity “to all that threatens human life and welfare is a source of enrichment for society and the Church,” he said, observing how it is common in moments of difficulty to encounter the tenderness, dedication and moral strength of our mothers.

-from CNA

Pope Francis, you are the man! How very true this feels.

Even as a mom I don’t think I see and appreciate everything my own mother did for me.

I don’t know what I’m doing

Tonight I went to the First Things lecture on “The New Intolerance.” The talk was decent. The socializing was fun, which is saying a lot coming from an introvert. I saw old professors and friends and just generally chatted–which is almost shocking for me. I enjoyed dressing up, going out to a new place, hearing an intelligent talk and seeing some old buddies. I don’t get to do things like that very often.

And the reason I don’t do things like that often is because I love being a mother, and my two little ones (2 years and 6 months) need me– a lot of me. Especially because I am committed to Attachment Parenting; we breastfeed, co-sleep, babywear and the whole nine yards. And I love it. I can feel the ways that my children have transformed and are transforming my soul. I know that in many ways they force me to give up worldly striving, success, vainglory, etc.

But…

There is still a part of me that is interested in intellectual pursuits, in reading informed essays and books (and fantastical ones), in writing my take on things, and most importantly constructing an ever-growing, encompassing understanding of world (or worldview). This last one is key–I must assimilate and learn and learn and learn. Mostly I learn that underneath every rock I turn over, there is another mountain of rocks. I know I’ll never get to the bottom, but I feel compelled to try anyway.

And there is vanity in it too. I admit that I like the image that goes along with writing and studying. Yes, I like looking smart. And it’s hard for me to admit that but it’s true. This prideful, vain and ultimately sinful manifestation of “scholarlyness” is something I need to be on guard against.

Thing is, it’s vanity because I’m no world class philosopher. I know that. I’m just little old me, and I spend most of my time changing diapers, making food and feeding hungry mouths and playing.

But somehow, no matter how half-hearted, lame, dumb or vain my attempts at understanding the world are, there is value in it for me. Because when I don’t do it, when I don’t read, write and seek new information and ideas, my world starts to shrink. My mind literally feels smaller, less adept, and more fearful of the unfamiliar. It’s a terrible feeling.

So I don’t know what I’m doing. I know that most of my time is and should be spent mothering. I know I’m not a genius. I know I have temptations to vanity. But I also know that I must learn and produce my own work in order to process the world, to be happy, and to be the mother that I am called to be.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to structure my time around these two ends of motherhood and scholarship, which don’t always come together easily. But I have to try, I think.

Advice and personal testimonials are welcome.

4 Glaring Problems with Obama’s Remarks Regarding Stay-at-home Motherhood

In a recent address about expanding work opportunities for women, Obama said that staying home with children is “not a choice we want Americans to make.”

And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result.  And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.

This came as part of his call for expanded subsidized daycares and preschools. Now, I actually agree with many of his points about expanding parental leave. But nevertheless, this comment about staying home is something that needs to be addressed.

1. It would be okay if he simply said he didn’t want Americans to be pressured to make such a choice.

It’s true that we don’t want a lack of options forcing people (women or men) into something they don’t want to do. And if mom really doesn’t want to stay at home, then lack of child care is a problem. Every mother and father must make decisions for their own families and children. But if a mom (or dad) wants to stay home with the children, why would that be a choice he doesn’t want Americans to make?

2. This mentality assumes that money is the highest possible value and the purpose of life.

The answer of course is in his sentence. It’s because staying home with kids adversely affects lifetime earnings. Now this is indeed a problem if earnings and money is the highest end of life or highest goal to be achieved. But money is not the highest end, happiness is. Or so said Aristotle about this earthly life of ours. St. Thomas Aquinas amended the highest end to include eternal beatitude. Either way, money is only a means. If a choice brings happiness as such (such as the joy of raising children or family harmony), then it is far greater than numbers in a bank account.

I hope that the president of the United States does not diminish the value of life to nothing more than a monetary calculation.

3. Who is the “we” in that sentence?

He says staying at home is not a choice “we” want Americans to make. Who decides what choices Americans should make and if they are desirable or not? The President? The cabinet? The three branches of government? The intelligentsia? Who? The implication of that answer is more than a little bit scary.

4. Clearly, the “pro-choice” rhetoric doesn’t apply to all choices. Some choices are unpopular.

Mainline feminist rhetoric has long endorsed the value of “choice,” most obviously in the defense of abortion. “Choice” has also been used more legitimately in the women’s movement to affirm the value of work and of staying at home, but not in this case. This really pulls the curtain off of radical feminism and the president’s agenda. He’s not for a woman’s right to choose anything, especially not something as integral to her life caring for her children. Instead, he only supports the “right” to choose what he wants her to choose–an embrace of a particular ideology and the lifestyle that accompanies it.

Why I Changed My View on Abortion

Once, I was unapologetically “pro-choice.” I was also a typical college agnostic and political liberal.

Hi, Mom!

Now, I am unapologetically pro-life. And yes, most of my other deep philosophical and theological views have changed too—or matured rather.

Even though some years have passed since then, some of my friends may not understand the change from positions I once seemed so passionate about. So let me explain.

Abortion is unique in that it is a life or death question and therefore not something anyone should be indifferent to.

Abortion is certainly and clearly murder. It kills an innocent human life on grounds no greater than the arbitrary will of the mother (regarding the question of health, see obj. 1).

The typical response of the “pro-choice” position is that the fetus is not a person. Well, personhood is a deep philosophical concept, and when the life or death of a potential person hangs in the balance, it is unacceptable to simply dismiss or ignore the question of personhood. Serious thinkers have answered this question differently. Obviously, I know the Catholic answer and I think it’s right.

But let me provide an answer to the personhood question from my own experience.

The “clump of cells” in the mother’s belly is certainly a person from day one. I am convinced of this because I now have a child. My beautiful one year old baby boy, named William, is the same entity (or being) that he was when he was born, though of course, he has grown a lot.

My one year old William, the same William that was born, is also the same William that we looked at on the screen during my ultrasound. Ultrasound William is the same William that set the pregnancy test to positive before I even knew he was there.

In short, there was no magical moment when he went from not being a person into being a person. He is the same entity that he has been since that particular egg and that particular sperm fused, though of course he grew and continues to grow. He didn’t suddenly gain personhood when he passed through the birth canal. He was the same baby the day before he was born.

We as adults are like this too. We forget that we have continuous identity with ourselves as babies. I am Stephanie, the same person I was when I was 10, when I was 4, when I was born, and when I was conceived. Yes, I have grown, but I am the same being.

That means that if my mother had aborted me in the womb, I wouldn’t be here. Abortion would have killed Stephanie. Likewise, if I had aborted William in the womb, I would have killed the person William. Killing 1 month old (in utero) William would kill the same person as killing 1 month old William (after birth). Killing William in utero is the same as killing William on the outside, or even a William who has been outside for 5 years.

As humans, we are the same beings that our parents conceived. Those little babies inside their mother are persons, just as we are. The fact that they rely on the mother for life support doesn’t change that.

Now that I have William, I know that the personhood of a baby is continuous from conception onward. So I am totally and unflinchingly convinced that abortion is just a different word for murder.

Ironically, when I joined the Church, I was not fully convinced on the question of abortion. But, the teachings of the Church about Christ, salvation, and especially moral theory in general were so strong and compelling to me, that I just gave up my defense of abortion. I prayed that one day I would come to fully understand and appreciate the teaching against abortion.

Slowly, as I studied theology, the role of personhood became apparent to me and also the meaning of sexuality (yes, it really is the-act-that-makes-babies, as I have discussed in another post). Still, even when I was pregnant, I was nervous and scared about what being a mother would mean. I wasn’t even sure I would like the baby.

But once my son was born, I didn’t need philosophy, valuable and necessary though it is. Then I understood in the core of my being that the baby is the same baby that was conceived. I understood that the children belong to God and are given to us for a little while to raise and care for.

I am now horrified that I ever supported abortion, and I puzzle how I used to defend such violence. The answer was that I had very little experience with babies and young children. And I know that I cannot judge the consciences of those who do defend abortion because I really, truly thought that I was defending women’s rights. I thought I was on the right side of a tough moral question. I’m sure that most abortion supporters feel this way. No one chooses to promote or do evil as evil. We do evil while seeking an illusion of the good.

My hope is just to implore those who support abortion to truly search their souls and pray to receive truth. Because the truth would save the lives of thousands of tiny people.

Question for the reader: Have you ever seriously changed your views about an important subject? If so, how did that go?

Obj. 1 – What about the health of the mother?

Ans. 1 – The number of pregnancies that actually threaten the life of the mother is tiny. Pregnancy may be uncomfortable, but it is almost never life-threatening. Appeals for abortion on this ground are therefore very weak. If a non-life threatening health issue were to occur (as it often does), it would be in no way acceptable to kill a person in order to fix such an issue. If a case truly exists where a mother and child’s life hang in opposing sides of the balance, the rule of double effect applies.

Obj. 2 – What about rape?

Ans. 2 – Rape as a reason for abortion is also very rare, though more frequent than truly life-threatening health situations. Nevertheless, if abortion is murder, it is always murder. The tragically unfortunate circumstances through which the baby was conceived do not negate his or her personhood. The right to life does not turn on the intentions of the progenitors. I recognize that such a pregnancy would likely be an extremely psychologically challenging event for the mother. But that doesn’t mean we can kill the baby to make the trauma go away. The suffering is real, but the killing of persons is not a justifiable means to fix it. It means that the mother should receive the utmost in sensitive and loving support from her family, friends and medical practitioners.

Obj. 3 – Isn’t the “baby” just a clump of cells?

Ans. 3 – Yes. The baby is a clump of cells just as adults are clumps of cells, albeit larger clumps. From conception, the baby has a unique sequence of human DNA that will direct her cells to grow in accordance with human nature into a fully formed being. No “clump of cells” in cheek tissue or lungs can do that.

Obj. 4 – It’s my body. Because the baby depends on the mother’s body, the mother has a right to kill it.

Ans. 4 – Yes, the baby depends on the mother. But the baby has a body and right to life of her own. The success of this argument requires that the baby’s personhood be negated by her dependence on the mother. I see no reason that the child’s dependence on the mother should make the child less a person and less the subject of rights.

Catholic Hippie Mom, Part I: What Natural Parenting Is and Some Practices I Enjoy

Me babywearing with my son at 2 months old.

Me babywearing with my son at 2 months old.

Natural Parenting is the parenting philosophy that includes things generally under the umbrella of responsive (aka attachment) parenting (no crying it out), breastfeeding, natural birth, BABYWEARING, co-sleeping, gentle discipline, cloth diapering etc and sometimes includes homeschooling, mindful eating, and typical earthy, green hippy-ness.

And I am A HUGE fan! (Note: that doesn’t mean  I agree with or follow all of these practices). But my favoring of hippie-parenting is quite surprising in many ways since hippie-ness tends to correlate with liberal political and social views, and I am definitely not that. Rather, I am a solidly-Catholic in social views and Aristotelian in political views, with added Catholic Social Teaching, of course. To sum it up quickly and roughly, I’m conservative.

So why do I love hippie-parenting?

Because to me, “natural” or “mindful” parenting is about enjoying the process of being a mother and raising children. It doesn’t race to end-goals or rush to milestones. Instead, natural parenting enjoys the steps on the path. I don’t breastfeed just to get food into his body; it’s also a time for connecting with him and enjoying him.

I was attracted to the idea of it even before I was pregnant. Reading about babywearing got me excited because it promised to allow me to go about most of my usual business. But once my son was born, I wanted to babywear because I wanted him to be close to me all the time. It comforted him and it comforted me. And there is just a darling, magical quality about seeing a baby swaddled dreamily with his mom.

I babywear (carry him close in a ring sling) because it’s pleasant for me and for him. Baby can feel my warmth and is almost always happy to next to me. I don’t worry about “spoiling” him. It is not a chore to hold my baby; it is a pleasure. I wasn’t counting down until he could sit up so I could leave him on his own. And he isn’t stunted. Baby W crawled and stood up right on schedule. He won’t always be small; he won’t always want to be carried. I am grateful for it now.

I was attracted to gentle discipline and guidance because I hate to see parents yell at their children. Granted, I don’t judge parents because I know we all have our off-days and that I didn’t see the circumstances leading up to event. Also, let’s be real: I have a temper too and someday I will probably have a meltdown when my child begs for candy AGAIN at the grocery store and writhes in tears on the floor because he can’t have M&Ms. But still, avoiding volume-contests and power struggles is my goal.

I respond to him at night and sometimes I put him in our bed because I’m so-gosh-darn tired. Is night-time really a time for connection? Not for me, I just do what helps everyone get the most sleep!

I respond to Baby W in the day too. If he’s crying, there is a reason, and I want to help meet his need whether it is hunger or just a desire to snuggle momma. Yes, there have been times when I have to put him down and he cries. There have been times when he was so fussy that I put him in the crib so I could eat in peace. But those aren’t most days. Most of the time, I try my best to find a way to do what I need to do and at the same time ensure that he receives what he needs too. After all, babies and children bear the image of God just like I do and are worth just as much to God as I am (and probably even more).

Yes, I had a natural birth. No, it wasn’t pleasant. But it was meaningful for me not just to dash to the finish line. Each contraction massaged Baby W and moved him closer and closer to the outside world. Also, going through birth class and labor was a deep bonding experience for my husband and I, and I was SO grateful for his love and support throughout the whole process. Having a natural birth kept him involved and made pregnancy and birth a family experience, not just an experience for me. And for the Catholics, I tried to focus on the pain as penance both for my sins and especially for Original Sin, which brought pain in childbirth upon us in the first place. My plan is to go natural with future babies too.

So these are some of the natural parenting practices that I like. Part II will examine how living it has smoothed my transition into full-time motherhood.

[Let’s be clear, though: I am NOT saying that only natural parenting is joyful or the only way to love and enjoy children. I believe most parents with their myriad philosophies are joyful and loving. This post is not intended to knock or disparage others who may not do what I do. I’m not even trying to say that natural parenting is better or best for everyone; parents need to do what works for them. My only goal with this post is to explain why I enjoy a parenting philosophy that can seem unusual given the other pieces of my worldview.]

Are you familiar with natural parenting? Does it sound crazy?