When you are young, you think that becoming an adult is going to be a series of learning how to do important things, and getting better and better at doing those things. You probably realize it’s not all going to be fun and games, and you may also have some idea about finally learning how to have some discipline, and getting serious about life and making yourself do the things you know you’re supposed to do. This is how I imagined adulthood when I was young.
I wasn’t wrong. But what I didn’t anticipate was the next step: Where you have to unlearn it. There are so many examples. When I first got married, I was a complete and entire slob. I never put one single thing away, and then suddenly I was in charge of a household, and soon I was home with a baby while my husband worked, so if I didn’t put something away, it didn’t get put away. This quickly got out of control, so I had some fast catching up to do. Clean up, everything, every day. Put things away, sweep the floor, do the dishes, sort the mail, fold your laundry. Do it, or it doesn’t get done.
Ah, but I had a baby, and then before long, I had two babies. I had just barely gotten the message about how important it was to clean up, when I had to learn something new: Sometimes, there is something more important than cleaning. Sometimes you have to ignore the mess, and focus on the baby. Sometimes you have to let it go so you can sit and rest. Cleaning is important, and you do have to do it, but it’s not always going to be on the top of the list every time, and you have to learn how to be okay with that. You have to know it’s important to do and also be okay with not doing it right now. A tall order!
Something similar happened when my kids got old enough for school. We lived in a town with no good schools, so homeschooling was the best choice—and that meant I had to get my act together. Make a plan, gather materials, do the work, get the kids to do their work, follow through, follow up, stick to a schedule, and so on, every day. This went against my grain, and I really struggled with every part of it, but each year I got a little bit better at committing to what was required of me to get those kids a decent education.
And then things changed, and our situation changed, and our family changed, and it became apparent that homeschooling no longer made sense for us. So I had to take all that commitment, and all that discipline, and all that fervor, and all that attention, and… let it go. Just when I started to get good at it, I had to let someone else do it. Be just as convinced that my kids’ education was extremely important, but also understand that someone else might be better suited, right now, to be the front man for it all.
The strange thing is, I think the second part, the unlearning, couldn’t happen as well or as well if it didn’t come second. You can’t just not learn something; you have to learn it first, and then unlearn it. I’m picturing some kind of biological process where a plant puts out a stem which grows to a certain point and then hardens and dries at the end, which is what makes it strong enough to support the fruit that eventually grows. The second part is the point, but you can’t really do without the first part; but the first part does have to come to die off.
These aren’t just personal anecdotes. They aren’t even just extremely common. They’re universal, by which I mean they are how God works in the universe.
Behold, if you will, the way God deals with the chosen people in the Old Testament….Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.