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As we prepare for a Symposium on Humanae Vitae at Benedictine College I’ve been thinking a lot about openness to life. It seems like the Church chose that phrase carefully. See if you agree with me here.
Openness to life means openness to adventure.
My 9-year-old son Charlie and I share a terrible problem. We’re not open to life.
Last year, I decided to take Charlie to a Benedictine College basketball game. He didn’t want to go. He threw a fit about how he didn’t want to go. I made him go anyway. He had the time of his life.
He also didn’t want to swim, kayak or ride a bike. Until I forced him. Then he didn’t want to stop.
All of my life I have been the same way. My wife, April, wants to go and do something out of the ordinary — a hike, a festival, being part of a show. I point out the difficulties, the obstacles, the hassles, but she stands firm and insists. I give in and go — and I’m always glad I did.
People like Charlie and me like quiet. We like home, and we want to stay there. The life we want is calmer and safer. But it is paler, emptier and poorer, too.
Openness to life means being open to who you are.
It means being open to the real you, the you with your personality and your body. Your imperfect personality and your imperfect body. It means being open to your body in its masculinity or femininity.
It means being open to the you that you see in the mirror, without disappointment or disgust.
Openness to life also means being open to new possibilities in your story.
It means not pre-determining that you can only be this small thing (“I can’t handle more than I have”) or that you must be this giant thing (“I should be amazing, like her”) but being open to where the path of your life will take you (“One step is all I can take, but it will be a step forward”).
Openness to life doesn’t mean openness to your plan for life. And it doesn’t even mean openness to God’s plan.
It means being open to no plan sometimes, when your plan fails and what you thought was God’s plan disappears before your eyes.
Being open to life means being open to having a child when you want one.
It also means being open to having a child when you don’t want one.
It also means being open to not having a child when you have wanted and begged and pleaded with God for one for years.
Being open to life means sacrificing for life …
If openness to life means more children than you expected, it will mean having a smaller social life than you wanted. It means you won’t have the time you wanted. It means you won’t eat the food you wanted. It means you won’t have the things you wanted.
(But it does mean that whenever you get a taste of any of those things, it will fill you with gratitude.)
But openness to life also means being open to pleasure.
New pleasures. Unexpected pleasures. The pleasure of sharing a joke with your son, when he has grown just old enough to share a joke. The pleasure of seeing your daughter discover something new, when you have grown just a little too old to appreciate new things.
Openness to life means being open to your spouse.
True love is living your life to please your spouse, not trying to get your spouse to better please you.
That’s Christianity 101: put others first. But it’s also Relationships 101.
I took a random sampling of marriage advice and fully half of the items were some version of being open to your spouse: “Don’t expect her to change.” “Don’t assume you know what he’s thinking.” “See things from her point of view.” “Make sure you are both on the same page.” “Lean to compromise.” And, above all: “Communicate.”
Being open to life is not about changing your spouse to maximize your pleasure. It is about accepting your spouse for who your spouse is, and then serving that person.
Openness to life means openness to bitter fights and inconclusive resolutions.
We’re already open to fights and reconciliation. Openness to life means being open to ferocity followed by ambiguity, sometimes. And forgiving anyway and moving forward.
Openness to life means being open to your neighbors.
Open to helping them, and being helped by them. Open to admitting when life is too hard for you, and noticing when life is too hard for them.
Openness to life means realizing that your life is not about you.
… which is a very freeing discovery. You discover that your life is about God who created the universe, God who moves the pieces, God who answers your pains, God who powers your joys.
But being open to life doesn’t mean proving yourself to God, either.
If you try to impress God, you will be disappointed. You will be crushed by your failure. You can’t impress God. Openness to life is about failing to impress God and finding him on your side still, anyway.
Openness to life means not being afraid of tomorrow.
Openness to life requires trust above all: It means you don’t know what will come but you know you are safe in the hands of God. Trust that allows you to make a difficult decision about your family one … more … time.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Flickr, Tom Blackwell