The Radical Life

by matthew warner

This is a short excerpt from a book I recently contributed to called Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for fathers of children with special needs.

My wife is usually the one sharing about our amazing daughter Kate, but I was honored to take a turn this time for this special book. Randy Hain put it together, Archbishop Chaput wrote the forward and it has a lot of other outstanding fathers who contributed (and whom you may know).

Here’s the beginning part of my contribution:

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Many decisions in life are made based simply on what everyone else is doing. We subconsciously conform to the norm or what we think we’re supposed to do, whether it’s the careers we pursue, the lifestyle we are working toward or simply the kinds of things we do on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning. But every once in awhile we get nudged in a different direction. We have some kind of unexpected event that forces upon us a new perspective and a different kind of life.

For our family, that nudge came one otherwise normal November day four years ago.

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She was wrapped in a blanket, looking up at us through tiny, half-moon eyes. My wife cried and I stood steady as we listened to the Neonatologist on staff tell us — only minutes after she was born — that she had Down syndrome.

We knew we loved our daughter regardless of any diagnosis, but it was the sudden onset of uncertainty that shocked us most. What did all this mean? For her life? For our life? For our other children? This wasn’t the child we had planned for or expected.

The doctor said it meant she had an extra chromosome. That she had an increased risk of heart defects, childhood leukemia, thyroid conditions and a host of other health problems that we needed to test for right away. He said she would have low muscle tone, learning delays and many other unique challenges in life.

My head was whizzing and overwhelmed, but hyper-focused. We had a wonderful outpouring of emotional support at that time, but I was focused on the task at hand: taking care of our daughter. Those first few days were spent learning a lot about numerous medical tests and conditions, asking continuous questions and Googling everything “Down syndrome” until the wee hours of the morning.

I rushed to fill that sudden onset of uncertainty with the certainty of every “fact” I could find. We analyzed and worried over every challenge our daughter may potentially experience throughout the course of her entire life as a result of this particular condition — all before she even left the hospital.

Those first months were tough. My wife and I had been asleep at the wheel, nudged off the wide road — and awoke to find ourselves down the road less traveled. Naturally, it took some time to figure out what had just happened to us. And we were desperate to cure the uncertainty of this “different kind of life” that had been thrust upon us. I needed to regain firm control of the plan for our life.

But in my efforts, as I searched and searched to learn more about Kate’s special needs, I gradually realized God was actually teaching me about my own. And the more I worked to provide for her needs, the more God was providing for mine. Eventually it became clear to me that this unexpected adventure was not so much about how much Kate needed from the world, but how much the world needed her.

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You can read the rest and many other great encouragements in the book here.

Moms and dads often struggle with their roles as parents. Will I ever be good enough? Am I up to the challenge? How can I possibly withstand the immeasurable weight that is the blind confidence of an innocent, little child?

We see other mothers and fathers, perhaps our own, and wonder how we’ll ever be that good at it. How are those people so calm and steady? How do they always manage to pull it together when the pressure is on? How are they such a rock for their family? How do they not go crazy?

We forget, though, that they weren’t always that way.

You aren’t born an extraordinary mother or father. You become one. And the path to do so, like all the best things worth pursuing in life, is a difficult one.

So if you’re wondering if you’re on the right path, good. That means you’re on the right path.

If you find yourself falling short and losing control and struggling every day — good!

This is what it feels like to become an extraordinary mother or father. Indeed, it’s what it feels like to become anything great. There are no short cuts.

Have you ever gotten an answer to a question that just led to more questions? And then you got answers to those questions only to have yet more questions?

That can be terribly frustrating. And it can end up causing you to feel like maybe it’s impossible to know much of anything for sure. Or that it’s not worth trying to learn in the first place since such answers always seem to lead to more and more questions.

But I say, on the contrary, answers leading to more questions is good! Especially when they are the Big questions. It means you’re on the right track. Such an endless process shouldn’t frustrate us, it should affirm and comfort us. After all, we’re learning about an infinite God. If we ever get to the end of understanding such a Truth, we can be sure that somewhere along the way we must have taken a wrong turn.

It’s also humbling. Learning a lot and then realizing you have many more questions than you started with doesn’t mean you didn’t still learn a lot. It’s just a realization that you have much more to learn than you thought. It’s just the beginning of a great and wondrous adventure.

Having more and more questions as a result of more and more answers is exactly what we would expect and hope to find when in search of an infinite God. It’s a great indicator that we’re on to something Big.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

The world is filled with distractions. Many of them are quite obviously bad for us — like gossip, greed, lust, envy or too much TV. And while those are dangerous, they’re also the easy ones to spot. The most dangerous things in life, however, are actually the good things.

Advancing in your career. Knowing lots of stuff. Perfecting that golf swing. Attaining the perfect GPA. Getting life managed. Finding the right girlfriend or boyfriend. Owning your dream home. Living a certain lifestyle. Developing whatever routine. Building healthy habits. Even helping others.

All of these are good things. And because they are so good, it’s easy to justify letting them consume us. After all, they’re good! And can you really do too much good?

Well, yes you can, if the good distracts you from why you’re here. When all those good things become the end goal in themselves, rather than simply a means to our ultimate end, they become bad. They become only busy-ness.

Red-light sins are easy to fall in to, but hard to worship. It’s the good pursuit that ends up as the golden calf.

All of our good pursuits must always serve our greater purpose. After all, fulfilling our greater purpose will echo louder than any applauding stadium and longer than any retirement plan. But do we take the time to discern what, of the many, goods to pursue?

Somehow we easily busy ourselves with advancing all of these other good passions, yet we can’t find a few moments each day to pray (so we know where those passions fit in). We ask endless questions, seek every answer and make huge sacrifices when it comes to these other good passions. Yet what sacrifices of our time and energy are we making each day to ask, ponder and answer the most basic of human questions? Questions like, “why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “What happens when this is over?” “And why isn’t every little thing in my life centered around these answers?”

You get one try at life here. That’s it. And it’s short.

So make sure the many good and beautiful things of this life are helping you answer the more fundamental questions, not distracting you from them.

good-pursuit-worship

“There is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.” – G.K. Chesterton

Why do our kids go to school in the first place? Judging by the priorities of our school systems, I think we’ve forgotten. It’s too easy to see our life at home as simply the “mere jumping off point” for everything else we do in the world. That our home is there to serve the greater purposes of our schooling or our career. But this is totally backwards.

Our home (and necessarily our family) is supposed to be served by those things, not the other way around. Our careers should support our home, not the other way around. Our schooling should ultimately be focused on a better home, not the other way around. I’m not saying that our schooling and careers don’t also serve other positive purposes in the world. They absolutely do. They must. But those other purposes should be secondary to serving the home and the family — to serving God and others, and most fundamentally the “others” who happen to live with us.

But if we really believed this then the metrics we use to educate our children would be very different. And we would think differently about how our work and everything else fit into our lives.

The ultimate goal is not that our kids go out and produce lots of things, make lots of money, receive many accolades and have secure, well-planned, responsible lives. No the ultimate goal is that they go out and create great homes, becoming saints who create more saints. That’s the great purpose of school.

purpose-of-school-radical

“Lack of prayer is the cause of lack of time.” – Peter Kreeft

When I first saw this quote I had to read it a few times to really get it. Initially I thought, “yep, my lack of time leads to lack of prayer. My busy schedule just doesn’t allow much time for prayer!” But upon proper reading, Kreeft is actually saying the opposite – which is far more profound.

It is actually my lack of prayer that causes my lack of time. This seems contradictory, of course. More time praying would mean less time for other things. But the point is that if we are praying enough, we begin to clearly see God’s plan for us today. And it just so happens that He’s provided plenty of time for it. It’s all the other stuff we try to cram in instead that we don’t have time for. You don’t have time for both your plan and God’s. You must choose what you want more.

In the end, it’s not time that we lack at all, it’s clarity. And clarity comes from prayer. Find that clarity and you’ll also find that you have everything you need — including plenty of time.

choose-wisely

God has a very specific plan for your day today. A plan that will give Him glory and bring you closer to perfection.

His plan for you includes all of the time and resources for everything he wants you to do today. So stop worrying about things outside of your control.

It also includes time for all of the setbacks you will encounter. So don’t get discouraged when they occur.

His plan for you includes time for rest. So rest.

Most importantly, it includes time with Him. It includes time for prayer. So don’t miss your time to pray. No matter how busy you are, you’ve been given precisely enough time for prayer today. So pray.

If you get to the end of the day and say, “I didn’t have time to pray today,” it will be a lie. The truth will have been that you chose to do something else instead which was nowhere near as important. Pray.

We often chase darkness around our lives as if it were a something. We try to chip away at it like it’s a boulder. But it’s not a boulder, it’s a hole. And chipping away at holes is no way to get rid of them.

Instead, think of the sin and darkness in your life as a hole – something to be filled up, not forced out.

If you are tempted at something sinful, don’t just wrestle with the temptation, but befriend its replacement. Fall in love with the light that fills that dark hole in your life.

For instance, if you struggle with pride, fall in love with humility. If you struggle with always being right, explore the wonders and freedom of admitting you’re wrong. If you struggle with lust, learn to value self-control and the dignity of others.

If you struggle with envy, embrace admiration. Angry? Binge on forgiveness. Selfish? Commit to serving others.

If there is a person you find hard to love, don’t get hung up on trying to look past their flaws. Rather, seek out their goodness. Do that, and suddenly you won’t notice their flaws so much.

Light is the only thing that can destroy darkness. Don’t run blindly around your dark room trying to scoop up darkness and set it outside. It’s a futile effort. Instead, turn on the light.

I have the privilege of taking my son to his Taekwondo class every week. It happens to be during the normal work day, so I build my work schedule around it.

But when I go, and he’s out there practicing, it’s always tempting to pull out my phone and “be productive.” Especially when he’s waiting in line for his turn to do something, listening to the instructor, etc.

But how does my son see it all? For the most part, he’s too caught up in the moment out on the floor to notice me. He’s usually focused on kicking a target, learning a new block or watching a more advanced student.

But every once in awhile he looks up for me, over to my spot on the sideline. And not just to make sure I’m still there, but to make sure I’m watching. He’s excited about something he’s doing and he instinctively wants me to share in that moment with him. He’ll have this look on his face that says, “See what I just did, Dad!? Are you proud of me? Do you care? Are you with me!?”

These are important moments, and I’m convinced that the summation of these seemingly trivial moments will contribute more to my relationship with my son and who he becomes than almost anything else. They help determine whether *he* cares about what he’s doing, how much he values himself and how proud he feels.

And the thing is, these moments are unpredictable. They can happen at any moment. And if every time he looks over to connect with me I’m looking at my phone or my work or somebody else instead, I’ve missed that important moment. And I’ve given the impression to him – rightly or wrongly – that I’m not watching him at all.

It’s simply not worth missing those moments. Whatever extra work I would have gotten done. Whatever entertainment I could have engaged on my phone or in conversation with another parent won’t have been worth it.

I even used to spend time during his class typing reminders on my phone of things to work with him on after class — advice on a particular technique or how he needs to bow more deeply or say “yes sir” more loudly. But even that, if all he sees when he looks over is me on my phone, I won’t be giving him what he needs most in that moment.

Now, instead, I watch the whole time as best I can. I try not to take my eyes off him, just at the small chance I’ll get to give him another smile that says, “I’m with you, son!”

I watch him run. I watch him listen. I watch him help others. I watch others help him. I watch his eyes light up when he breaks a board with a single kick, as he realizes just how powerful he is. In that moment, how could there possibly be a more “productive” way to spend my time?

Sure, when he’s older he’ll appreciate a dad who loved him by putting a roof over his head, worked hard all his life, carted him around to his various activities, celebrated with him and encouraged him to be his best. But I think what he needs even more than that is a dad who’s willing to watch.

I love simple prayers. They are versatile, so they can be used at almost any time and for any reason. They are also short, meaning you always have time for them.

Some prayers you just say in your heart. Some you also speak out loud or sing. Others still are sacramental, becoming visible signs of something deeper.

Making and praying the “Sign of the Cross” is one such prayer. As a Catholic, I grew up making the sign of the cross before and after prayers, upon entering and leaving churches, etc. But I always took this profound and simple prayer for granted, quickly throwing it in and treating it as a trivial formality.

But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate it, and therefore benefit from it, much more. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. It’s a very old prayer. So we can pray it in solidarity with all Christians throughout time.

One of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian, documented just how common a practice it was among the first Christians: “In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30. 250 ad).

2. It’s prayer incarnate.

It engages our physical senses, which is kinda nice since we’re physical beings. When you pray it, you can simply trace a cross with your thumb on a forehead, etc. Or, more commonly, you’ll use three fingers on one hand to make a motion from your forehead and down to your chest, then from your left shoulder across to your right shoulder — making a cross. So not only do we pray it in our heart, but our whole body prays it with us — bringing it to life for us and those around us.

3. It tells The Great Story.

The cross is the central sign of our salvation. It should be constantly on our mind.

We usually pray this prayer saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” This invokes the Trinity – the central mystery of Christian faith and life. But this simple formula also tells the great story of salvation history at the same time.

Fr. Barron tells the story of this simple prayer this way: [while making the sign of the cross] “God the father so loved the world, he sent his only son all the way down that we might be gathered into the Holy Spirit.”

This prayer tells a love story. The Love Story. And we’re all wonderfully tangled up in this overflowing Love Affair.

Every time we make the sign of the cross, we tangle ourselves up in it even more, entering into and retelling this great story. How wonderful to be so tangled.