About a year ago, Sr. Megan handed me a book that would change me so fundamentally that I began questioning pretty much every aspect of my life. The book, The Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay S.M., was being discussed at our Sunday formation meetings.
I’ll admit, I was intrigued by it; intrigued yet leery. I enjoyed the talks that Sr. Kelai had been giving, and I knew the formation this book offered was solid, but I had no intention of ever reading it of my own volition because, while I understand that knowledge (of God’s Will for our lives) is power, I also know that “unwanted” knowledge can’t be un-learned…wisdom can’t be un-gained and wallowing in our partially-formed spiritual ignorance is often where we think we will find our “bliss”. Honestly, what the book was proposing just seemed like an impossible ideal to live up to as a lay person living in this very fallen world. Then came that Sunday late last spring when I saw Sr. Megan coming towards me, intimidating-tome-in-outstretched hand. My first thought was to turn around and go home before she made it across the courtyard…but I reacted too slowly, and there she stood, so earnest and helpful and eager to share; how could I not now take and read it? Thus began my 312 page transformative journey.
The Fire Within seeks to immerse its reader in, amongst other things, the Carmelite spirituality of detachment using Sts. Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross as models. While the concept of detachment is a common Christian ideal, (you know, the old “in the world but not of the world” axiom), I had no understanding of the extent of detachment that Our Lord desires from us so that we may remove any unnecessary thing occluding our vision from His Divine Will for our lives. A desire to detach from sin is easy enough to understand, but is it possible that we are being called to a holiness so radical that it impels us to detach ourselves from our chatter, our senses, and our desire to be entertained?
I love Our Lord, and I would like to think that He is the center of my life, that He is that which motivates my decisions as a disciple…a wife…a mother, but was I willing to recognize that even some of the seemingly innocuous things that wove the tapestry of my days needed to be cut off like a rot that threatens to weaken the very thread that keeps me tethered to Him? Was I willing to walk away from the things that brought me those simple, mindless pleasures that I “deserved” after a long day/week/year of serving in the homeschool trenches? Was I willing to risk disappointing my husband and children by crossing a spiritual Rubicon that would alter how we would spend our time together? The short answer, come to find out, became a resounding yes. But the willing heart of one is not necessarily the impetus of conviction for others. As it turns out, my willing heart doesn’t even eradicate my own desires and nostalgia for the entertainment we enjoyed from the “blissful” days of un-knowing. Love of Divine Truth does conquer my desire for pleasure…but just barely, because I seriously struggle, and I often question the necessity of detaching from so much; many times a day, I fall short of the ideal, even if these failings only manifest themselves interiorly.
Allowing these thoughts to ferment in my head a bit, a began making a mental list of all the things that I needed to excise from my life and the life of my family. In doing so, I needed to ask myself some hard questions: How radical of a change is too radical? After all, I do recognize that while we are striving to grasp the golden ring of the eternal, we are still expected to function in this temporal world, and to do so we (and our children) need to have, at the very least, a rudimentary knowledge of and exposure to what goes on in our culture. This line of thinking naturally led to my next question: is it unhealthy for my children remaining at home to be raised in a bubble that will likely not sustain the pressure exerted once they launch into the world? I’ve always adhered to the philosophy that sheltering children from knowledge of the world is a recipe for a child that will, out of innate curiosity, seek knowledge in less than Godly ways; is this philosophy still compatible with how I felt God was calling me to change? Is it possible to strike a healthy balance? Where is that line? How do I explain so radical a change to my family without them resenting the faith that brought me to it?
I took these questions to my spiritual director, and we spoke at length about the need for discernment in striking that balance. She helped me to see my need to explain to my family how this change came about, and how I felt like God, for whatever reason, chose this time to call me to something deeper. We talked specifically about detaching from things that don’t edify, that don’t compel me to lift my heart and mind to God. She encouraged me to ask myself to what end are various things bringing me. We talked about secular books, movies, and music. Then I dropped that bombshell on myself; I asked that question that I had absolutely no intention of asking, because deep down I knew the answer, and I didn’t like it. “What about Disney World?” I blurted out like an imbecile, and I knew by the look on her face that there was no turning back; I had crossed the Rubicon. Sounds silly, I know, but we were more than just a Disney family; so many of our family memories revolved around our time spent there: the first trip my husband and I took together was spent there; when my daughter was going through treatment for cancer at age 3, it was often to the Kingdom of “magic” that we would retreat so we could forget, if only for a few hours; we have spent birthdays and holidays there; we have celebrated graduations and anniversaries there.
The part of me that allows God passage was immediately convicted, but that attached part of my heart sank. I began to examine what it is that compelled me to ask that Disney question in the first place. I knew that there was something niggling my conscience about past and potential future trips to Disney, so I came up with a laundry list of items. First there is the cost. We willingly paid thousands of dollars for park admission, food, and several hotel rooms each time we took our 8 children there. I began to think of all of those that go without the necessities in life; how much good could we be doing for others with the money saved? Then there are the shifting sands of what constitutes a family-friendly environment. When we first began taking our kids there 25 years ago, we lived in a much different world. The shift in social mores is as mind-bending as the gender-bending and “equality/tolerance” agenda being shoved down our throats by corporations like Disney. Last, but certainly not least, other than the fact that we really did enjoy going to Disney World as a family, I could not think of any way in which it drew us closer to God; it lacks that necessary quality of edification.
It’s been a year since The Fire Within was placed in my hands; a year since I began knowing that God was calling me to detach, and it’s been a good 6 months since I have been consistently encouraged by a certain sister, whom we all know and love, to put some variation of these thoughts on paper. She has been anxious for other “Disney Moms” to read my thoughts on how the “Kingdom” had, for me, indeed lost its magic. Why the lapse in time? I was praying about this in Adoration last week, and it occurred to me that I didn’t feel motivated to write this because, while I am convicted, I sometimes REALLY struggle with the thought that maybe going to Disney World isn’t such a big deal. It’s just some harmless fun, right? But I can’t un-know what God has taught me; I can’t un-see what He has and is showing me on those rare times that I can actually detach enough to really see; I can’t re-cross the Rubicon because knowing that backing away from these convictions is really turning my back on the God who created me, the God who loved me enough to die for me, the God whom I desire to seek, and know, and love above all else. It’s hard to detach (and if Disney isn’t your thing, you can insert any attachment you may struggle with in these musings of mine) but maybe detaching is hard by design because it’s often in the struggle where we grow in virtue, conviction, and holiness. It’s so easy to crave what makes our senses zing and what brings us temporal happiness. But we are more than our senses; we are more than consumers of fun. We were created for greatness; we were created for glory; we were created to seek Truth and Wisdom and Love, and isn’t that worth detaching ourselves from what cannot edify us? I think so, and I’m praying for strength of resolve on those days when that small part of my heart doesn’t quite get it.
PS My husband, while initially disappointed, took the whole renouncing of Disney in stride. In his generosity, he stepped outside of himself to support that to which I felt God was calling our family. My kids? Just as I suspected, they thought I had gone a bit off my nut, but they are settling into the idea, and at some point, they will be free to choose as they will. As life goes on, we must recognize that the journey towards God is never going to be the easy way, and we must cling to the promise that the sacrifices will all be worth it in the end.
Article contributed by Paige Mechling