Pat phrases are part and parcel of casual conversation. It’s just how people are. We often chirrup, like birds, and what comes out of our mouths isn’t necessarily valid and that’s okay, for the most part. Because I’m aware of this phenomenon, I’m not too bothered when met with the phrase: “You’ve sure got your hands full!”
Truth be told, I imagine I made similar statements prior to my conversion to Catholicism. Large families are rare these days. If you didn’t grow up in or around them, or don’t have one of your own, it’s hard to understand how any parent could possibly survive, yet alone thrive, at the helm of such a large band of marauders. It doesn’t help that the media is fond of informing us that large families are bad for the environment and that parents of many children are zealots, shamefully irresponsible, and even (quite possibly) certifiably insane. Occasionally, we might be crowned with the title of “Saint” but given how wildly inaccurate that is, it tends to make us feel equally uncomfortable. The truth is we’re none of those things. What can I say? We just really, really love the little rascals!
Being a conversationally bunglesome sort of gal, I’ve always been awestruck by women who have the perfect response when faced with comments regarding the size of their large family. Upon being told that they “sure do have their hands full” they simply smile and with perfect kindness and sincerity state that God has been so good to them. With a confident wink, they add that their hands are better full than empty. Then, like mother swans, they glide off across the waters of life with their little goslings paddling along behind them, leaving naysayers stymied yet attracted to their strange, wonderful ways.
I am not one of those women.
Case in point: There’s a certain medical specialist I see who, at each and every visit, comments on my full hands and promptly offers me birth control. I decline, naturally, and she usually looks at me as if I’ve grown a second head. She has a strong personality and, just between you and me, I find her highly intimidating.
As my most recent appointment grew near, I prayed fervently for grace, for just the right words, and for courage. While I may not have altogether quelled those indefatigable butterflies in my stomach, I can assure you, I had my script all ready to go.
As I’d predicted, on the day in question, my physician came into the exam room, spotted my newest little one curled up in my arms and immediately asked whether I planned to have more children.
And I bombed. I mean, I really bombed.
I’d planned to exclaim with exuberance, “Yes! We’d love to have more children!” Instead I ended up muttering something along the lines of, “Um, well…we just kind of take them one at a time. So, yeah, we might want to have more. We’ll just see, I guess. Not right away, of course!”
Not exactly what I was hoping for. Not even remotely. “Why didn’t the Holy Spirit help me?” I thought with irritation.
While I was stewing over the ways in which God had just failed me a strange thing happened. Tiny cracks began to open in my physician’s pro-contraception armor. For the first time, to my knowledge, she seemed to see large families in a different light. She started saying things like, “What a beautiful family you have!” and “I’ve always wanted to have more kids, but I‘m not sure I’m up to the challenge.”
I did a double take. Was I imagining things? Had I unwittingly become the victim of some sort of practical joke? But no, the Holy Spirit had merely heard my prayers and, in His own mysterious way, had come to my aid. He knew that ultimately my prayer was for this woman to catch a glimpse of the beauty of large families and the blessings of children. And I dare say she did. The Lord didn’t orchestrate this in the way I’d hoped He would because He knew of a better way. I could have said all the right words. I could have exuded joy and peace. I could have put forth perfectly compelling arguments for being open to life, but if my doctor’s heart had not been open my words would have fallen on deaf ears.
Do you know what I took away from this? It’s not about me. God asks me to cooperate but ultimately He doesn’t need me to say the perfect words or be the perfect witness. He really just needs me to be there–to live my life prayerfully, keep His commandments and then to step out of His way.
I witnessed a profound change in my doctor at that last appointment — the kind of change that borders on the miraculous, if you’re inclined to believe in such things. It seemed her soul was stirred and, if so, it wasn’t due to any eloquence or cleverness on my part but rather simply because our merciful Lord saw fit to bless her.