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Dear Domestic Church,

“In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed, and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others.”

– Henri Nouwen, “Life of the Beloved”

Writing this letter may have been the most difficult so far. Being given is beautiful, but tough. As a parent, it often feels like we’re called to give and give and then give some more. Then when we have time to recharge or do something for ourselves, we either feel guilty for taking the time or jealous that there aren’t more opportunities like this afforded in our lives. How can we give more?

If we focus solely on being given, we inevitably feel spent, used, unvalued or even replaceable. We need to start with who we are at our core, who we belong to and our purpose here on earth. Who you are is important. You are a chosen beloved child of God in whom he is well pleased. You are blessed beyond measure; recognizing that opens your eyes to the blessings around you. You are broken but that doesn’t define you; it can help you realize the fullness of who you are even more. These are not all separate parts or sequential stages, all of this is who you are, all at the same time. When you embrace all of these interconnected facets of who you are, every interaction with others becomes a giving of yourself, even if you don’t realize it. 

When we think of what we can share, it often revolves around our time, talents and treasures. We have time to help a relative change the oil on their car. We can sew and help make a special outfit or gift for someone. We have just the right power tool that our neighbor needs to borrow. These are all gifts, but we are called to share who we are, not only what we have or what we can do. Nouwen asks plainly, “Who can we be for each other?”

Close your eyes and think for a moment of a person who was dear to you in childhood. It might be a parent, relative or a family friend. What words would you use to describe what they shared with you? You might think of your grandmother’s smiling eyes before you think of her casserole dishes. Your uncle’s listening ear meant more than the fishing poles on a trip to the lake. Your neighbor taking the time to watch your front-yard baseball game is probably more memorable than their pristine lawn. Nouwen points out, “[o]ur gifts are the many ways in which we express our humanity. They are part of who we are: friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust, and many others. These are the true gifts we have to offer to each other.” You may feel like you have nothing left to give but being present for your family, friends or coworkers—just being you—is a gift in itself. 

When writing this letter, the word that kept coming to mind was legacy. People often think of their legacy as what they leave behind or what people will remember them for doing. That’s what the world tells us. Jesus tells us that our legacy is one of love. What we model now—choosing to live for Christ and striving to be with him—gives witness to our children beyond today. “We are chosen, blessed, and broken to be given, not only in life, but in death as well.” Death is not the end, but when the Lord calls us home it becomes the opportunity for what we have given in life to continue blossoming and growing. Think of a relative who passed away – even if you never got to meet them – their love, traditions and mannerisms still live on in your family. Look at the communion of saints who still inspire and encourage us. From Blessed Solanus Casey and St. Francis of Assisi to St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Josephine Bakhita, who they are and what they stood for still lives on today. Nouwen explains,

“The death of the Beloved bears fruit in many lives. You and I have to trust that our short little lives can bear fruit far beyond the boundaries of our chronologies. Imagine that, in the center of your heart, you trust that your smiles and handshakes, your embraces and your kisses are only the early signs of a worldwide community of love and peace! Imagine that your trusting that every little movement of love you make will ripple out into ever new and wider circles—just as a little stone thrown into a still pond.”

As parents, we have a natural inclination to not only provide essentials for our children but to leave a lasting legacy of love and this rests in our core desire to give of ourselves. While this is how we’re wired, it is still important to make sure we are taking time to recharge and recenter ourselves with the Lord. Archbishop Vigneron reminds us of this in Unleash the Gospel: Recognizing that we cannot give what we do not have, we continually seek to be refreshed in God’s presence and filled again and again with his love, so that it is his own love we are giving away.” (Guidepost 1) You can do this by:

  1. Making time for personal prayer. That may be through music, devotions, silence, journaling, meeting with a spiritual director, daily Mass, spending time in nature or some combination of these or other ideas. Reconnecting with God helps you remember that you are his beloved child. 
  2. Connecting with your spouse as well as others in a small group, for example, to talk about the blessing and challenges in your life. You are not meant to be a beloved child of God on your own.  
  3. Seeking out the sacraments. The Eucharist and reconciliation help us not only grow closer to God but help us live out what we model to others. For instance, it is easier to forgive others when we have experienced the grace of God’s forgiveness. 

As you grow to embrace being chosen, blessed, broken as well as given within your domestic Church, you live out your mission together. You live as beloved children of God. Giving of our very selves becomes a gift as opposed to one more thing to do. Walking this journey as a family and as part of a larger community helps us recognize our blessings and brokenness and bring them to the Lord. 

This series aims to communicate to parents that they are not alone, that God is working in their lives, and that He speaks to wherever they are at right now. Looking at the themes outlined in Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, there will be 5 articles that stress that everything we go through draws us closer to Christ and that he is always seeking us. The themes that will be explored are: Taken (being claimed by Christ), Blessed (seeing God’s blessings even in difficult circumstances), Broken (God meets us in our brokenness), Given (giving of ourselves), and Mass (where we are taken, blessed, broken, and given).

Read the other articles in the series:

Letters to the Domestic Church: You are Taken

Letters to the Domestic Church: You are Blessed

Letters to the Domestic Church You are Broken