As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Choices We Make

A few years ago when I began my first full year of homeschooling, I got connected with an amazing group of Catholic homeschooling families.  It has been an amazing journey and resulted in some beautiful friendships between Moms and kids, but also carries with it the opportunity to be challenged.  Nothing will teach you more quickly that different families have very different reasons for making very different choices than spending time around families like these.  These are not families who have just happened into life.  They are families who care very involved in every aspect of their kids' lives, and have good and passionate reasons for doing the things they do.  Or not doing the things they don't do.  Like Halloween.

Two years ago was the first time an All Saints party was proposed to me as an alternative to Halloween.  I loved the idea, and rejoiced at the opportunity to grow deeper in friendship with my newfound friends and their children.  We dressed up as Saints, met in the church basement, played games, ate candy and had fun.  It was awesome!  I said as much to my husband on the way home, who said he didn't agree.  He missed trick-or-treating.  That got me feeling a bit badly that I had railroaded the holiday, and determined to plan it so that next year we could attend the party, and be home early enough to trick-or-treat our neighboorhood.

I had a few concerns about the way Halloween is sometimes approached, and voiced my concerns to my friends, who had equally good reasons to be weary of participating in Halloween in their neighboorhoods.  I want to be clear that their reasons are good, and in no way do I intend to give the impression that All Saints parties in lieu of trick-or-treating are bad.  I think it is a very good way to bring Christ into a holiday that, like most of our holidays, has pushed God out.  But we also agreed that there could be good and valid reasons for trick-or-treating too, and that doing so does not make you a bad Catholic.  My friends were the most supportive they could possibly be and in no way giving the impression that I was doing a bad thing by considering trick-or-treating.  As it turned out I had a brand new baby last year at Halloween and opted to stay home to hand out treats, and my husband opted to take the kids trick-or-treating in his childhood neighboorhood across the river.  They had a decent time, but he still wished they could have done our neighboorhood. I was home when our neighboor, who had gone to the trouble of making them each individual treat bags, delivered them and the kids were gone.  I was also here to see their best friend eagerly hoping to catch a glimpse of them in their costumes as he arrived at our door, only to see his disappointment when I told him they weren't here.  They were home too late to go to anyone's house in our neighboorhood, and once again we had neglected our own community.  The community where we live, where we know the people around us, where we have friends.  I felt guilty.

I don't want to be the family that is always leaving, because I don't think that people see that and think, "gee what are they doing, I think I'll check it out."  I worry that they think, "why do they think they're too good for us?" I want the opportunity to share Christ where we live, where I believe the Lord has planted us, with people who love us and who we love in return. Steve Bell wrote an article a few years ago that has vastly changed the way I approach Halloween.  In it he writes,

I miss the good ol’ days when the town would be crawling with kids and parents greeting, laughing at each other, walking together, knocking on the doors of the elderly who might otherwise never get a visit, celebrating the community by being out in it.

And so this year, well in advance to Halloween, I floated the idea of an All-Saints party on All-Saints day instead.  I was hoping that maybe I could do both things, because I really didn't want to be the only family who couldn't attend the All Saints party.  It didn't work.  As most of those families had made a deliberate choice to do the All-Saints party as an alternative to Halloween (and had been doing so for years, and felt equally convicted about it) they naturally didn't want to change for me.  They did suggest changing to an earlier start time to accomodate me, so that I could attend the party and still have time to go trick-or-treating.  Unfortunately when they decided to open it up to the parish, they reasoned that most families work and needed time to get home and change before heading back in town.  They were right, I am just one family.  I was trying so desperately hard to do both things, when maybe the Lord didn't want that. I had to make a decision.

I realized I was trying too hard to do two things instead of confronting a choice on my own and being confident in it, even when I was the only one making that choice.  For some reason when we choose to do something that is different, even when we feel the Lord is calling us there, we think everyone is looking at us as a crazy sinner.  These kinds of feelings manifest themselves in a desperate attempt to post article after article backing up our way of thinking, an unwritten defense to those who do not agree with us.  None of my friends has ever made me feel bad about trick-or-treating.  And yet, I still feel a desperate need to defend myself.  I shouldn't.

The Church by the way, has no official teaching on Halloween.  I wish she did, it would make my life so much easier!  But I think that's the point.  I think it's good for us to wrestle with things and make good, prayerful decisions.  And also to recognize that there is more than one right answer, more than one right way of doing things.  On issues where there is a clear answer, the Church responds with clear and definitive teachings.  But on issues like Halloween, she allows us the freedom to discern for ourselves where the Lord is calling us.  And whether that be to a church basement to celebrate the glory of God and foster deep relationships between Moms and kids, or to the neighboorhoods where we live to share our faith with the people we see every day, as long as we are willing to walk where the Lord is leading us, we will never be led astray.

I read an article this morning by Simcha Fisher which, although it talks about homeschooling, deals with many of the same principles.  Homeschooling is another one of those areas where those who do not homeschool (even if it's for reasons they have legitimately discerned) feel the need to push back and defend themselves against those who do.  Maybe it's legitimate, but often I think it's not. It is a symptom of our wrestling against being different.  I am completely okay with being different than the world.  Being different than our closest friends is hard.  Sometimes that's what the Lord asks of us though.  We can't resent our friends for that, and we can't act like we're doing a great thing and when-are-they-going-to-wake-up-and-get-it right.  As with Halloween, there is no official church teaching on homeschooling.  And as the Church educates in her teachings and allows each family the freedom to make decisions based on those teachings, I believe we also must not only give each other the benefit of the doubt, but presume to have the benefit of doubt given to us as well.  Especially when we are talking about our friends, who love us and are walking the same path as us.

Grant oh Lord that we would be confident in the decisions you have led us to, discerning in our approach to every moment of life, humble in walking on a different path if that is where you lead us, and loving of those who do not feel called to do the same as us.  Help us to know that faith is not about conforming everyone to our own way of thinking, but in trusting you to be the ultimate guide for our lives.

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