Since becoming a father I can’t even count the number of times I have heard variations of “Oh, you’ll see, just wait. Once you have kids all of that (exercise, holy hour, reading, blogging, etc.) goes out the window. You won’t have time for that any more.”
Actually, it started before Evie came along. It started before we got pregnant. It started before we got married even. “Once you’re married everything changes. You don’t have time for staying in shape. You won’t have time for reading. You won’t have time to do holy hours, volunteer, etc.”
Perhaps it is a flaw in my personality, but such sayings irritate me. They irritate me in the way it ground my gears as a kid when people would say with a condescending nod, “Oh, just you wait. You’ll see once you get out in the real world. You can’t really be knight, or an explorer. Childish dreams, how cute!” Or when grownups shook their heads and said, “Just you wait until you are older, you won’t run around so much, you’ll settle down.”
The implication being that growing up, or what passes for maturity in our society, involves mediocrity, the loss of ideals, and a truce with comfort, convenience and ease of life. Eventually, you will lose the boundless energy of youth, settle down to a nine-to-five grind, and unwind with a beer at the end of the day just like the rest of us.
Sometimes I wonder if grownups say things like that specifically to discourage children (which ought to be classified as a form of child abuse) or simply to console themselves for having lost their youthful drive.
Whatever the reason, it irritates me. My instinct is always to fire back, “Oh really? Why is that?”
There have been three staples of my life up until now, three practices that have bound it together and provided the rhythm and structure of my day, and shaped the life of body, mind and spirit. These practices are prayer, reading and exercising. People say, “Oh, well, say goodbye to that physique, now that you (are engaged/married/have kids). Get ready for middle-aged spread, because you won’t have time for working out.”
But isn’t the truth that we really do have the time for it? I mean, just because I am married, is the day now less than 24 hours long? Do fathers have only 22 hours in a day?
The truth is that we get fat and out of shape, or we get spiritually slack in our prayers, or we let our minds rot, not because we don’t have the time to pray, read and exercise. We have the time, and we choose to use it for other things.
Do you have time to sit down and watch a football game? Then you have time to work out, you are just using it to watch football. Do you have time to watch the news in the morning? Then you have time to pray, you are just not using it for that. Does it take you thirty minutes of hitting the snooze button to get out of bed? Learn to get up right away, and there you have thirty minutes for exercise or prayer time. Do you have games on your phone that you play at odd moments throughout the day? Delete them and replace them with a kindle app. The world’s great books are at your fingertips, you are just using the time to play “Angry Birds” instead. Do you have time to listen to “The Men’s Room” or other early morning talk shows on your way to work? Well then, you have plenty of time for the Divine Office, or the Rosary, you are just choosing to use it for something else. Are you getting up in the middle of the night to feed an infant? Get up with a Rosary or devotional book.
Even when the children get older, why should that mean you get no time for these things? Pray with the kids and teach them to pray. My parish priest would go so far as to say that if you are not making family prayer part of your daily routine, that is spiritual abuse!
Read to them. Instead of sitting them down in front of the TV in the evening, sit down with them and read them a book. What a great excuse to revisit all the classics that meant so much to you as a kid.
Instead of coming home from work and trying to veg out in front of the TV, go out in the yard and run around in circles, yelling at the top of your lungs. The kids will love it and you will feel better.
My point with all of this is that we, as a society, sell ourselves short. We are addicted to mediocrity, and we lack the vision to question the status quo. We take it for granted that once you are married you automatically put on 15 lbs, without questioning whether that might be because we have gotten lazy in our leisure habits, or less temperate in what we eat. We assume that we have to be in touch with the news, without pausing to question whether such a steady diet of negative stories of terrible things we are powerless to change is really all that valuable in the long run. We have less free time, so we spend it playing video games or catching up on TV shows, instead of using it to refill our spiritual, mental and physical tanks. Video games and sitcoms are easier.
This is not the path to Sainthood. The way to Sainthood never runs by the way of mediocrity. The saints were those who asked, “Why not?” Why can’t I get up at 4:00 AM to pray? Where does this unquestioned certainty that I won’t be able to do it come from? Have I ever tried it? Have I ever prayed for the grace to be able to do it?
What would happen if I had the faith of a little child?
I am not for a moment saying that recreation is a waste of time. Recreation is a gift of God, and there is such a sacred quality about play (at its best) that I would consider it a duty before God. Nor am I here to tell anyone what a proper balance of work and play is, or how to choose their recreations. I am only pointing out that it is not quite accurate to say we don’t have time for reading and exercise (prayer is a non-negotiable). It is more accurate to say that we have used the time for other things. Whether those things are more important is between each individual and God.
I sometimes think, however, that in our society most of our choices of recreation do more to enhance our weariness than to refresh and re-create or bodies, minds and souls. We have been taught that we are delicate creatures who must protect ourselves from discomfort, suffering and weariness at all costs, but have we ever really tried to live? I say “I can’t go for a walk because my back hurts.” But maybe my back hurts because I spend my days sitting at a computer and never go for a walk. Maybe sparing myself the discomfort of working out is the direct cause of my ill health and bad attitude later on? It’s a thought, anyway.