By Barb Arland-Fye
My son Colin noticed the tension in my voice and behavior before I did. How ironic that an individual with autism, for whom social skills is a work in progress, recognized a lapse in mine! It was Saturday night, a couple of hours after we returned home from Saturday night Mass for Palm Sunday. I fretted about the work I needed to accomplish and snapped at family members for minor irritations such as not putting away kitchenware or asking what time we would eat dinner on Easter Sunday (a Colin question).
“Are you OK, Mom?” Colin asked. He asks that question whenever he detects stress in me. I have come to learn that this simple question contains many facets. Colin really wants to know what is upsetting me, how will it affect our family’s life and his, in particular. He absorbs and amplifies whatever emotions one of us is experiencing. Stress means chaos to him, a loss of the consistency and stability to which he clings to make sense of the world.
“You need a stress ball,” he told me on the eve of Palm Sunday, after overhearing me in a phone conversation with another relative. “I use a stress ball,” he said, without stating that it helps relieve his stress. His comment caught me off guard because it was true and reflected a sign of his growing awareness of the needs of others.
God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) spoke to me through Colin’s question and advice. Preoccupation with my needs hurt the family members I love. I could see it in the faces of Colin and our younger son Patrick and my husband, Steve, all seated in the family room after dinner.
Later that evening, Steve listened as I unpacked the evening and reflected on how it related to my Lenten journey. “Lent,” I told him, “is supposed to be about transformation, new growth in my relationship with God and my commitment as a Christian.” I had completed the checklist — prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but failed to integrate those pillars in a way that fostered growth.
I thought about an observation Bishop Thomas Zinkula made about Lent during our Catholic Messenger Conversations podcast last month. He said we should ask ourselves how the things that tempt us in the first place cause a separation from God. I could not have imagined stress as a temptation, but the focus on self, which can fuel stress, remains a temptation!
Steve’s Lenten journey was anything but self-focused. He and other members of our parish made delicious meals, with love, on the Mondays during Lent and delivered them to people whom they visited. They nourished these fellow parishioners physically, spiritually and emotionally. The faith Steve has embraced since the start of our marriage has expanded his capacity to give of himself. That gift of self includes listening to and motivating me.
As I expressed disappointment in myself, he said, “Barb, I thought Lent is supposed to be a journey and that journey isn’t finished. We keep trying throughout our lives and that’s what you are doing.” God’s “still small voice” spoke to me, again, through Steve. That gives me hope for Easter and beyond. And, I know where I can find a stress ball.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)