Monday, 15 July 2019

The Time I Confronted a Priest

I hate confrontations... Something I think I have in common with most other Indians. If you want to stress me out, just come up to me and say with a serious face: "Hi, can we talk?"

It is SO much easier to find a zillion excuses why I don't need to talk directly to someone about a stressful situation or a problem I am having with them.

But here's the thing. When I don't confront, typically one or more of these things happen-

1. I grow resentful of that person.
2. I write them off.
3. I don't give them a chance to change.
4. I spend a lot of time venting about them and the situation to others.
5. The situation doesn't change or gets worse.
6. I start actively avoiding the person.

Passive aggressive behaviour across cultures

Some years ago I was struggling with a priest I was working with. It wasn't just one stressful incident, but many encounters with me and others. So of course I did what anyone else would do in that situation. I complained about him to the people around me (who could do nothing but empathize), I got a sick feeling in my stomach every time I had to interact with him, and my opinion of him went lower and lower.

Okay, I did do one thing differently. I prayed regularly for him. And as I prayed, I eventually heard God speaking to me.

I guess I was hoping He would say something like, "Shake the dust off your feet."

Instead He said:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one." Matt 18: 15

"Ha ha, Lord, I know You don't really mean that. For me. In this situation. But great concept for other people. In other situations."

But it came up again. And again. To the point where I felt that if I DIDN'T go, I would be directly disobeying Him. So with fear and trembling, and a lot of encouragement from my close Christian friends, I prepared. I prayed a lot. I wrote down clearly what I wanted to communicate. I revved myself up. And finally I went to meet him.

How did I do it? I tried to remember some basic guidelines I had learned earlier:

1. Go with the right attitude: Don't look at the other person as a bad person, but believe that they are your brother or sister, capable of good, just with sins, weaknesses, wounds and blind spots. Believe the best, hope for something good.
2. Affirm the relationship: Start the conversation sharing that you value the other person, the relationship that you have, and the good you have experienced in and from them.
3. Don't accuse, but share your experience: Don't say 'You were rude and mean', instead 'I was hurt when you said...'
4. Be charitable: 'I know you probably didn't mean it' or 'You probably didn't realize that your tone was so sharp.'
5. Give them a way forward: 'I hope that we can have a better relationship moving forward. Next time, could you -'
6. Listen: Allow them to share their perspective and feedback, in case there was something you were missing. Be quick to take responsibility for any way that you messed up. 'You're right, I probably should have come to you earlier with this. Please forgive me.'
7. Don't expect an apology: You can't control how other people respond. Ideally, they would take responsibility for their actions and ask for forgiveness, but we live in an imperfect world, and most people are not used to being directly confronted. You may experience defensiveness, anger, blame, or just indifference. That's okay. You did your part. Trust that God will do His. You can forgive them whether or not they are sorry.

That day I faced one of my worst fears, confronting a person in authority. But I was able to speak calmly and clearly and kindly. I bet that was the first time that priest had ever had a lay person have that kind of conversation with him. And to give him credit, he sat and heard me out. It didn't end perfectly. He didn't acknowledge that he was wrong, but told me that I had misunderstood him and that was just his way. But we ended on an amicable note. I'm sure the Lord planted some seeds in that conversation, even if it was just modelling how to have a respectful confrontation. I grew a little more confident, and the priest seemed to do better after the conversation.

There is so much good fruit that comes from holy confrontations:

1. Restored friendships and relationships
2. Honesty and clarity: Suspicion and mistrust thrive in the darkness. When we talk about things, they are brought into God's light.
3. Freedom from resentment and unforgiveness
4. A clear conscience: 'If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.' Romans 12:18
5. Unity and a good witness

I feel very strongly that Christians in India need to learn how to confront each other well. Relationships within families, and within parishes and communities and ministries are suffering because of our unhealthy culture of avoiding direct confrontation. We have not had good models of this, so it is a new and scary concept. But the only way to learn is to start somewhere and learn from our mistakes.

Is there anyone God is nudging you to confront?

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Seven Things I Have Learned about Wedding Planning

My sister got married last year, my brother and a bunch of cousins in the past four years, I've been a bridesmaid seven times, and I'm getting married in four months, so obviously I am an expert on wedding planning. Not. But I'm here to share some great tips, that will give you an insight into the wonderful world of wedding-planning.

1. It's not like Hollywood. Actually, that goes for everything about life, but especially romance, marriage, wedding planning and weddings. For some reason, my entire life I thought wedding planning was this dreamy, magical activity where a normal woman becomes a BRIDE-TO-BE, and is surrounded by a sparkly glamour as she shops and picks out colors and tastes cake. But.... There are no soundtracks. It's not magical. It's not everything you ever dreamed of. It's just life. Sorry for the false expectations. It's your own fault for watching too many cheesy rom-coms.

Pro tip: Stop comparing your life with the movies, and just enjoy the normalcy of everyday magic.

2. Wedding planning is really just organizing and planning a very big event. I totally understand why rich people have wedding planners, because not everybody has the time or the skill or the inclination to actually plan a huge event. Yes, at the heart of a Catholic wedding is the sacrament which IS magical and awesome, but mostly everything else around it is a big event. This can be overwhelming if you've never planned a huge event before, and sometimes it means you don't even know where to start and how to answer every second person who asks you "How's wedding planning going?"

Pro tip: Start planning early enough so that there is room to make mistakes and fix them.

3. It's all about everybody else. I used to state very confidently to my sister that *I* was going to have an unconventional small wedding that was going to be tailored to be fun and it didn't matter what everyone else thought I should do. Well, she had the last laugh as it turns out that weddings ARE largely about what works for everyone else, and it's a big fat lie that 'it's all about the bride' or 'it's all about the couple', or 'it's YOUR day'. I have seen every single bride-to-be across cultures and countries having a version of this conversation with her mother:

Bride (in tears): But I want it this way! Isn't it supposed to be MY wedding day?
Mother: It's not all about you! You have to consider what the guests will want and like and expect.

It's easier to move forward when you accept that fact and that everything is not going to be exactly the way you would have preferred.

Pro tip: Tell yourself it's the marriage, not the wedding that is the goal you're moving towards

4. Weddings are not worth losing your peace over. Actually, nothing is worth losing your peace over. I'd like a pretty, aesthetically pleasing wedding, with a beautiful liturgy, and everything well organized and planned beforehand. I want everyone else to be relaxed and pleased with my choices. But I don't want any of that so much that I'm gong to lose my peace over not getting it. That doesn't mean I don't have temptations to lose my peace, but I have to make the deliberate choice every time something comes up to say a prayer and remind myself  to chill out because it's all going to work out one way or another in the end.

Pro tip: Don't forget to spend time in quiet prayer every day. Helps with perspective.
5. You can't invite everyone. When we were kids, we would eagerly check if wedding invitations has '& fly' on them. Sometimes they didn't and we indignantly wondered why anyone wouldn't want to invite my parents AND their five lovely children. NOW I know. We all have such big social circles in our lives, and so many people we have been friends with over the years. But you just can't invite them all. So now I don't worry about it if I'm not invited to a wedding, and I hope other people feel the same about mine. But I'm also aware there will always be some people who are offended, and I can't control that. #boundaries

Pro tip: Don't make your guest list decisions based on who expects to be there, because that's a losing battle.

6. Wedding planning is a great way to get to know your fiancé better. Is your fiancé a control freak? Do either of you struggle with anxiety and tend to micromanage things? Is he disorganized? Does she procrastinate? Do you both have very different taste in music and colors? Does one insist on their own way every time? Does she cry over stupid things? Does she like to consult her entire friends' network before any decision? Does he refuse to consult anyone before making a decision? How do you each feel about excel sheets and budgeting?

Wedding planning is when you find out those things. This is, by the way, a good thing, because you need to love and accept this person with their weaknesses and struggles and blind spots, and learn to communicate and compromise and call each other on to holiness, and you can't do that if you don't get to know each other well. But wedding planning can also be a great time to discover you LIKE working on projects with your sweetheart, and that you have fun doing things together - something kind of important if you're planning to spend your life together.

Pro tip: Make sure you're doing MARRIAGE prep during engagement, and working on communication, conflict resolution, etc. It actually helps with wedding prep too!

7. Relationships are the most important part of wedding planning. If you're happy about getting married to your fiance, then all of the trouble is worth it. It's about this person. [REMINDER: You should be DELIGHTED when you think about marrying your fiance. If you're not, you're cheating yourself and the other person.] Old and new friends show up to offer help, and that is a beautiful part of this time. Family steps up and takes on different responsibilities. Everyone in your life who bumps into you is SO HAPPY for you. Your parents reflect with you about God's goodness and faithfulness in answering prayers. You make sure you have shared your news with everyone who has been important in your life. The outfits and decor and food and theme are not as important as these relationships.

Pro tip: Take time to hang out with family and friends and fiancé and enjoy their company as you get ready to transition into a new stage of your life, even if it means less than perfect wedding details.

I still have a few months left, and a lot more to learn. Any wedding planning insights or tips you would add?

Related Reading

The Strange Effect Weddings Have on Me 

When Your Facebook Feed Explodes with Weddings 

The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress

Monday, 1 July 2019

Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear young, awkward, skinny Sue,

First of all, don't freak out, but you turn out to be 33 years old and not yet married. Yeah, you don't get married in your early twenties and have a bunch of kids. Didn't expect THAT, did you? But that is the least of all the unexpected things your life holds! I have some news, and some advice, and some lessons I want to share (because people in their thirties like to do that kind of thing).

1. Stop obsessing about romance, marriage and crushes. It's not just something people say to make themselves feel better about being single, but there REALLY REALLY is a LOT more to life than romance. There are SO many good and exciting and challenging things to do and learn and explore, and YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME READING ROMANCE NOVELS AND WATCHING CHICK FLICKS.  Did I say that loud enough? Did you hear me? Put that book down (or even better, throw it away), and jump into something more challenging and interesting.

2. Life gets better once you cross 25. There is nothing like the confidence of the late twenties and thirties. Man, you just won't care anymore! Remember when you were excruciatingly aware of your awkward gait, and self-conscious body language, and you used to practise walking confidently on your way home from college? That totally stops being a thing. You start fitting into your own skin. Also, bonus, you finally start having regular good hair days, and even know how to look pretty without too much effort. But sorry, you never really figure out make-up and how to switch on a photogenic smile, but that's okay. You're beautiful and you finally believe it.

Making weird faces at cameras for three decades

3. You need to start working on discipline. It's not something that magically appears when you cross a certain age. If you don't exercise those self-control muscles now, you will be struggling with it fifteen years later. You have GOT to learn to switch self-indulgence for self-denial. I promise you the fruits of self-denial are much much sweeter. If you don't know where to start, make a daily schedule, set goals for yourself, and make yourself accountable to someone. Start something, and keep at it. It will get easier.

4. Adventures are not as scary as you think they are. Guess what, you travel to the US three times, live in the Philippines for two years, leave your home and family to start afresh many times in MANY different homes, and with many different sets of people, and you actually enjoy a lot of that. You are sometimes homesick and you make mistakes, but you also make lifelong friends, and learn to survive on your own, you learn to travel (although home is still your favorite place), and to figure out how to get things done when you need to without paralyzing anxiety. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. If you cling to it too firmly, you will never grow or change or become the woman you were meant to be.

Adventures: Even boring introverts need them

5. Your faith means nothing if it is not transformed into LOVE. Yes, I know you are super into apologetics, and understanding and explaining the truth of the Catholic faith. And you may be happy to know that 33 year old Sue still loves the beauty and the truth revealed by Jesus through the Catholic Church. But reading blogs and hanging out on Catholic forums and arguing with people is never going to change the world. Look for ways to love people. Fill up your time with service to the poor. Spend more time sharing your faith than defending it. I promise it's worth it.

6. You don't land up marrying ANY of the many crushes you have now. Instead, you meet and fall in love with a doctor (I know, what?!!) from a very different culture than you. You're 32 when you meet him, but all the experiences and lessons of the previous decade have prepared you for this man, and the new life God is inviting you into with him. You can't skip steps. God works things out exactly when and how He wants to, so stop worrying or obsessing about it and live fully the present moment. There is no shame in being single. By the way, when romance finally happens, it is exactly as sweet and beautiful as you hoped it would be, and makes the years of waiting worth it.

Romance in your thirties is just as sweet

7. You never have everything totally figured out. Apparently, nobody does. There are many unanswered questions, self-doubt and struggles with impostor syndrome, problems to solve, decisions to make at EVERY stage of your life. It's not that you magically find your one true career or calling and then live it our perfectly. You're a teacher, a blogger, a full-time Catholic worker, but you will soon be a wife, hopefully a mother, and probably an author (yes, you're supposed to be working on a book). You may do other things and be other things too as life goes on. You don't have to have it all figured out. You just need to ask God what's next, and be faithful to that thing.

Life is good, young Sue! Be happy! Don't be afraid. Stay close to Jesus, and trust that He's going to help you figure things out. And like they say, survive, chuckle, show affection.

P.S. You're no longer young, awkward or skinny.

Related Reading

Breaking Out of the Bubble

Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t the Pretty Girl

Thursday, 27 June 2019

The Crisis of Masculinity and Femininity in Marriage

I was listening to a Catholic women’s podcast yesterday (no, not Abiding Together), and the podcast host and her two guests kept talking about the crisis of masculinity and femininity. They said that the modern world has told men and women that there is no difference between them, that they are not just equal, but the same, and this has resulted in widespread confusion and shaky marriages, increased likelihood of divorce, and a weaker family life.

I’m inclined to agree with them until there. I recently read a Humans of Bombay story about a woman who grew up in an extremely conservative family that married her off at a young age, but her husband supported her in completing her education and pursuing a career. All well and good. But it ended with this woman sharing that she now lives in a different city than her husband and young child (with their full support), in order to continue pursuing her career. Almost all the comments were congratulatory, because it seems that everyone thought this was WOMEN’S LIBERATION AND IF MEN CAN DO IT, WHY NOT WOMEN?!!

I have thoughts about this but before I express them, let me tell you how the Catholic women’s podcast progressed. According to one of the guest speakers, the solution for these blurred and confused gender identities and struggling marriages was for men and women to return to their ‘traditional gender roles’.

According to her, women WANT men who are earning more than them, more intelligent than them and stronger than them. She quoted a study that said couples who stuck to traditional gender roles and household tasks enjoyed a better sex life. (To be fair, the podcast host said SHE found it incredibly attractive when her husband folded laundry.) According to her, women turn to masochistic and abusive sex stories like Fifty Shades, because it’s a warped desire for strong men, in a world which has told men that their strength is not needed or appreciated. She kept harping back to ‘John Wayne’ type men. Ugh.

So here you see two extreme ideologies both of which seem unhealthy and unbalanced.

If people tell women that being a mom, or caring for a home, or being supportive of her husband diminishes her value and her worth, then she feels as if she has no choice but to be a ‘career woman’ who gets back to a 9 to 5 job a few months after giving birth, no matter what her desires are. (In India, she is also expected to cook and keep house WHILE holding down a full-time job outside the home.) The only path laid out for her is to ‘do it all’.

If people tell women that her ONLY role and worth in life comes from her husband and children, then she starts feeling trapped and undervalued, her many other gifts and talents are never developed or used, and she may never learn what she is capable of or what she has to offer the world. Jennifer Fulwiler had an awesome talk about it at SEEK, and the Abiding Together podcast often talks about the ‘feminine genius’ needing to be uncovered, a JPII reference.

What about men?

If people tell men that women don’t need them ('women need men like fish need bicycles!'), that they have no value or unique gifts to add to anything because WOMEN CAN DO IT ALL, that when they use their strength to serve or protect, they are being sexist or condescending, that they are superfluous, and the world would do much better without them, then they believe it and become physically or emotionally checked out fathers and husbands, or resentful and passive and afraid to ever take the initiative (because women don’t NEED men to take the initiative). The superwomen never let on that they too are vulnerable sometimes (perhaps because they have been hurt before?) and so the men sit back and make jokes about bossy wives, but secretly struggle with their value and identity. Everyone needs to be needed.

But if people tell men that a woman with an opinion or a salary is undermining their role, or that the right order of things is for men to be the decision-makers and women to blindly trust their judgment in all matters, that it is less manly to admit weakness, that strength and aggression are synonymous, that respect is owed them and expressed in unquestioning obedience, and that women are weak indecisive creatures who love nothing better than a man to figure out everything for them, then at best, they are losing out on a mutually satisfying equal partnership and carrying burdens alone that they could have shared, or at worst, they turn into tyrants in their own homes who lash out (physically or verbally) when challenged in any way.

So what is the happy balance, one that respects both the equality and the differences between men and women, that allows them to be unashamedly who they are? Should there be a difference in the roles of men and women, and if so, what should they be?

I think the key is to remember that men and women ARE different, but no one else can tell us exactly how that's going to play out in each individual marriage. One may prefer cooking to cleaning, one may be more skilled at tech support or fixing things than the other, one may like doing the accounts, while the other may prefer buying the groceries. Women tend to be more sensitive to people's needs and feelings, men tend to like to work with their hands. But not always. Women tend to be more empathetic, men tend to be more logical. But not always. You need to get to know that unique man or woman, and allow them to be who they are, use and develop their gifts, and affirm each other while doing so. You need to listen to the other person express their feelings and desires about your roles, and be willing to accommodate their needs.

But here's the catch that most people don't talk about, and it works for men AND women. The choices you make, and the way you live out your masculinity and femininity is not just for your own fulfillment, but should be at the service of each other and your family (in the context of marriage). So if young children need their mom especially in the early years, embrace that call. We have differences that can help and serve each other. Only a woman can bear a child in her body, and men can use their strength to serve and protect his wife and kids when they are the most vulnerable. That could mean being the primary earner, but it could also mean cooking and caring for the older kids when the wife is pregnant or breastfeeding.

'A mother who watches over her child with tenderness and compassion helps him or her to grow in confidence and to experience that the world is a good and welcoming place. This helps the child to grow in self-esteem and, in turn, to develop a capacity for intimacy and empathy. A father, for his part, helps the child to perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort. A father possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother. There can be a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities, depending on the concrete circumstances of each particular family. But the clear and well-defined presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child.' Pope Francis

Prioritizing the needs of the family sometimes means that a woman may need to work outside the home while the man stays home with the kids. It means for both men and women that your career goals should never be more important than the needs of each other or your children. It may mean giving up a promotion so that you still have time to help your kids with their homework. It may mean giving up cool travel opportunities because your relationship with your spouse takes time too. It may mean travelling together with your family even though it will slow you down.

Using your strengths to serve each other as spouses should work both ways. It may mean one spouse taking a step back from their own goals and dreams at a particular stage in their life to support the other in pursuing theirs. It means men stepping up to be servant leaders and present fathers, because women need to know it's NOT all on them. It means women not trying to micro-manage everything and not acting like dads are 'babysitting' when they're look after their own kids.

It's not a competition, it's a collaboration. We don't have to be independent beings pursuing our own personal goals while happening to be married to each other. We need to allow ourselves to be dependent on each other, to be vulnerable with each other, to respond to each other's vulnerability, and to allow the other's gifts to enrich us.

When women affirm men in their natural gifts and strengths, men feel confident enough to step up and use those gifts and strengths. When men affirm women in THEIR strength and ability, then women feel seen and valued. Both feel a confidence in being the men and women God called them to be because they no longer have to fight their own spouse to be that man or woman.

This is a hard adjustment to make because we've all grown up influenced by the ways our own parents and families did things (for better or worse), our own assumptions, insecurities, and wounds, and by the messages social media is shouting at us constantly (for better or worse). Sometime we overcompensate, sometimes we feel threatened by new ideas or ways of doing things that feel unfamiliar and not socially acceptable.

'There are those who believe that many of today’s problems have arisen because of feminine emancipation. This argument, however, is not valid, “it is false, untrue, a form of male chauvinism”. The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity.' Pope Francis

I think three things can help us rediscover how to be authentically 'masculine' or 'feminine' within marriages and relationships - a relationship with God, regular prayer and discernment about what needs to change, and how, and when. Good and regular communication and listening to each other's feelings and needs. And good community, with other healthy and happily married couples whom you respect and who are willing to share from their own experiences and mistakes.

Nuptial blessing during a Catholic Wedding Mass

O God, who by your mighty power
created all things out of nothing,
and, when you had set in place
the beginnings of the universe,
formed man and woman in your own image,
making the woman an inseparable helpmate to the man,
that they might be no longer two, but one flesh,
and taught that what you were pleased to make one
must never be divided;

O God, who consecrated the bond of Marriage
by so great a mystery
that in the wedding covenant you foreshadowed
the Sacrament of Christ and his Church;

O God, by whom woman is joined to man
and the companionship they had in the beginning
is endowed with the one blessing
not forfeited by original sin
nor washed away by the flood.

Look now with favor on these your servants,
joined together in Marriage,
who ask to be strengthened by your blessing.
Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit
and pour your love into their hearts,
that they may remain faithful in the Marriage covenant.

May the grace of love and peace
abide in your daughter [name],
and let her always follow the example of those holy women
whose praises are sung in the Scriptures.

May her husband entrust his heart to her,
so that, acknowledging her as his equal
and his joint heir to the life of grace,
he may show her due honor
and cherish her always
with the love that Christ has for his Church.

And now, Lord, we implore you:
may these your servants
hold fast to the faith and keep your commandments;
made one in the flesh,
may they be blameless in all they do;
and with the strength that comes from the Gospel,
may they bear true witness to Christ before all;
may they be blessed with children,
and prove themselves virtuous parents,
who live to see their children’s children.

And grant that,
reaching at last together the fullness of years
for which they hope,
they may come to the life of the blessed
in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Through Christ our Lord.


Related Reading

I’m a Catholic Feminist – What Does That Even Mean?

Don't Be Afraid of Strong Women: A Reflection on Wonder Woman

Why I Can’t Stand Marriage Jokes

Pope John Paul II's Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

You Are Delightful

A couple of weeks ago, my fiancé, Joel, and I were attending a friend's wedding in Bangalore. We were staying at a hotel with the family and family friends of the groom. I didn't know any of them, and they only knew me as the fiancée of the groom's best friend. But one evening after we returned hand-in-hand from a pre-wedding party, an elderly friend of the family came up to Joel and said, "You are a very lucky man - I see the way she looks at you!"

Ugh, I didn't know whether to be totally embarrassed that apparently my face was an open book to the world at large, or to be pleased that the love I felt for him was not so deeply buried that no one could tell it existed (possible side-effects of the non-demonstrative British and Indian culture I grew up in).

Sunday's first reading at Mass was from Proverbs 8 and refers to the relationship between Jesus and His Father.: 'I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.'

It's so much easier to think of God as a teacher, a coach, a formator, a guide; someone who is trying to make us better, working on us, challenging us, calling us on. And really, He is all of those things and does all of those things. He loves me enough to want what is best for me and to help me be all I can be.

But more foundational to the relationship He wants to have with me is mutual delight. He looks at me and takes pleasure in me being me, and in me being His. And that's how I feel around Joel. When I look at him, I smile because of who he is with all his quirks and personality traits and desires and hopes and interests and even imperfections, because this human being is an unrepeatable, interesting, multifaceted creation, and because this human being is MINE (or will be soon), entrusted to me by God.

I know it's easy enough to slip into a different way of viewing even the ones we love, to focus on their flaws, to see all the ways they need to improve, all the rough edges that need smoothing, and the dull edges that need sharpening, and suddenly they are a project instead of a person. We see that with parents and kids all the time. For some reason, when they are babies and toddlers, it's easier to just unashamedly delight in them, in their tiny little fingers and toes, in their gurgles and mispronounced words, in their cheeky grins and displays of affection. But pretty soon the easiest way to relate to them is by correcting them, teaching them, directing them, and improving them.

Even worse is when we start to see the people in our lives as a means to an end, as only interesting to us in as much as they are useful to us. When we overvalue the achievements of our children because they make us look good, when the good looks or success of our spouses or children or family members are more of a status symbol or a reason to boast, when their gifts can be used to further our goals, or when we only look at the other with approval and love when they are behaving in exactly the way we want, then we are guilty of using people instead of loving them.

How do we delight in the people in our lives? First, by remembering and experiencing the delight that God takes in YOU. You are delightful! Yes, you with the crooked teeth, and the tendency to argue and over-analyze, and break into song, and laugh at inappropriate moments. You with the social awkwardness, and the extra belly fat, and the big hugs, and the habit of tearing up every time you get excited abut something. You with the agonizing self-doubt, and the frizzy hair, and the snarky comebacks, and the terrible puns. You with the stick legs, and the love of baking and cats and code and cheesy TV shows. You with the little secret acts of kindness, and the tendency to overshare and over-schedule and be late to everything. You with the love of excel sheets, and over-planning, and micro-managing, and cleaning. YOU ARE DELIGHTFUL, just as you are with all the weird and wonderful and wise and whimsical traits and habits.

No, you are not perfect, far from it. No, God does not love your sins. But your sins are not YOU. Sometimes our sins can obscure our delightfulness, but it's still there. And when God looks at you, He sees the REAL you, not just your sins and failings. And He loves you, and delights in you.

Love should be expressed in delight. Simcha Fisher in an article about choosing the right spouse wrote, 'But, women: when you think of marrying the man you’re planning to marry, you should be delighted. Delighted! Are you delighted?'

When we learn to stop and bask in God's delight, we are far more able to delight in the people around us. I once asked a couple of friends three things they liked about themselves. It was surprising how good but how hard that exercise was. It's almost as if we think it's wrong to be delighted in. No wonder it's hard to delight in others.

So take some time to delight in the people around you. Hold back the words of correction and criticism or suggestions for improvement the next time they come to your lips. Just stop and look at them. Look at them and smile. Listen to them when they tell you what they're excited about. Tell them the things about them that give you pleasure. Remove the critical or corrective lenses through which you survey the world, and instead see people the way they are, as delightful children of God. Let's rediscover delight.

Related Reading

A Ten-Year-Old Teaches Her Auntie To Pray
To Be Someone's Darling
How To Love Well - Some Practical Tips

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Ask Sue: What is Flirting and When Is It Okay?

A few months ago I wrote a series of posts about The Stages of a Relationship. In The Dating Stage, I wrote, "Important tip to people who take themselves too seriously - please don't forget to be lighthearted, kid around, flirt and pay compliments. This is not a set of serious job interviews you have to get through. You want to see if you can fall in love with each other, and that's part of figuring that out."

Someone texted me to ask: "What exactly do you mean by flirting? In one of your posts you seem to convey that it is okay to flirt... but flirting is suggestive language. How can that be okay? Just wanted clarification."

Great question!

Flirting can mean different things to different people and probably in different cultures (even within the same country). When I talk about flirting, I refer to the most generally accepted meaning: 'playfully indicating attraction to someone'. How do you flirt? You usually know it when you see it.

Well, usually.

But there's some flirting that can be obviously inappropriate if your goal is chastity and holiness.

Chaste flirting: Paying special attention to someone, making personal comments about their appearance, hinting at romantic interest, creating and using inside jokes, drawing physically closer, playfully creating and drawing the other person into an intimate world where only the two of you can dwell. We see it happening all the time. Two coworkers always taking breaks together, a guy and a girl giggling together at youth group, someone going on checking their texts with a silly smile on their face.

Lewd flirting: Sexually suggestive comments or jokes, hinting at or suggesting sexual favors or a sexual relationship, complimenting someone's body, touching in a sexual way. This is never okay (outside of marriage), and can often verge on sexual harassment. I don't know why this has become so normalized, but I'm here to say: THIS IS NOT NORMAL OR HEALTHY. No wonder some men are confused about how to flirt with or relate to women after the #metoo movement happened. It's because their idea of flirting was already sexual and suggestive. Unfortunately too many women play along. (This also happens with women being the initiators, and guys given no socially acceptable way to reject them.)

Just plain dumb or gross flirting: Strange guys sending messages that say 'Hi sexy, wanna make frandship with me?' Most Bollywood style stalking, wolf-whistling, singing songs and over the top grand gestures or expensive gifts. I think many men in India need classes on how to pursue women if they think that is flirting.

So, let's say that lewd and dumb/gross flirting is never okay. Is flirting okay otherwise?

Like most things, context matters.

So when when is it a BAD idea to flirt with someone?

1. When you have no serious intention of following through: Flirting is sending a signal that you are interested in something more. If you flirt without having that interest or intention, then you are being dishonest, and can and will land up hurting a great many people.

2. When you are just trying to get some validation: Time for some honest reflection. Ask yourself "Why am I flirting?" If it is primarily to get that feel-good buzz, to make yourself feel like you are important or powerful or beautiful or attractive, or you want other people to think you are, then you are guilty of USING another human being instead of treating them with respect. No one deserves to be used like that, and people don't exist just to validate you or make you look good.

3. When you are in a relationship with someone else: Seems fairly self-evident, but to some people, it's hard to get out of the habit. Maybe you need to go on a flirting fast (even if you're single), to learn how to relate to people in a healthier way.

4. When the other person is in a relationship with someone else: Do I really need to say this? In case you're not sure, flirting is never just 'harmless fun'. Cut it off before it gets worse. If you'd prefer people not to flirt with your significant other, then make sure you are never that person. That goes for flirting with seminarians or priests too. Yes, it happens, and it's never okay, so please stop.

5. When the other person has shown they are not interested: Flirting can turn into throwing yourself at someone if you keep going when they don't respond. Take the hint, maintain your self-respect, and move on. And DON'T drunk-text, or drunk-flirt, or hang out with friends who encourage you to do stupid stuff like that. You're made for more.

When is it a GOOD idea to flirt with someone?

1. When you are interested in something more, and want to test the waters: If you are genuinely interested in someone, in a place where you are able to start a relationship, and you want to know if they are even a little interested before you ask them out, go ahead and flirt a little.

2. When you are dating someone or in a relationship or discerning marriage: Some religious people take themselves a little too seriously. Sometimes couples are trying so hard to be intentional and holy, that they forget that romance can also be holy. And when you're dating someone or discerning marriage, that is a great time to show that you're attracted to them. You can't (or shouldn't be) impersonal about something as personal as marriage. If my now-fiance hadn't flirted with me when we were dating and courting, I probably wouldn't have fallen head over heels in love with him and decided to marry him.

Obviously there is so much more to discernment than attraction and flirting, but it has a significant role to play. "Can I play with you? Are you attracted to me? Can we have fun together?" All of those questions are answered (one way or another) when you flirt, more than when you talk about serious topics.

3. When you are married: Sometimes in arranged marriages, and even in love marriages (as they're known in India), couples forget that they still need to show their spouse they're still attracted to them. There are too many jokes and references to 'the end of the honeymoon phase' as though all of the attraction and romance and fun are strictly reserved for courtship and the first few months of marriage.


But you have a choice to keep the romance alive. I overheard my dad once instructing members of his men's group on the phone, "Buy her a gift for Valentine's day! Make a card! Do something special!" Maybe some people need to be reminded (especially men?), but flirting with your wife can be a great way to keep your marriage healthy. And hey, marriage is a great place for PRIVATE sexual jokes and intimacy. God has given the beautiful gift of sexual intimacy to enrich and nourish a marriage, why waste that gift or act like it's the domain of the unmarried or the unchaste?

In conclusion, if you are the kind of person to whom flirting is second-nature, maybe you need to work on relating to people as people, not objects of your romantic interest or manipulation. When you learn how to have fun or interesting conversations with people that are very obviously NOT flirtatious in nature, then when you DO choose to flirt, it means a lot more. Girls don't take guys who flirt easily or a lot very seriously, and I assume it's true the other way too.

But if you are the kind of person who is very serious or logical or intentional or cautious, don't forget that there is a right time for playfulness and flirtation and fun.

If you are not sure which one you need to work on, talk to the most sensible and well-balanced of your close friends, or a mentor that knows you in real life for their honest opinion. You may not like what they have to say, but you probably need to hear it anyway.

Have a question for me? Leave a comment or email me on and I'll try to answer it in my Ask Sue blog posts

Related Reading

Guys, Stop Texting Girls! And Other Super Helpful Advice for the 'Good' Guys 

How (and Why) Not To Fall in Love 

Why and How to Crush-Proof Your Heart

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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Divine Renovation: Practical Ways to Renew Your Parish

If you are a disciple of Christ who attends a parish regularly, or works in a parish setting, you must be aware that there is something sorely lacking in the way our parishes run. Parishes do not seem to be forming disciples, instead either there seems to be indifference or lukewarmness, or bitter infighting and hypocrisy, or a focus on activities over discipleship, and sadly often it is experiences within the parish that seem to be pushing people away from the faith.

Most Catholic disciples I know came to faith and were formed in their faith outside the parish setting. It was either through the Charismatic renewal, or through a lay community or movement. When they try to work with or in the parish, it seems very challenging to thrive in the parish environment.

As someone who has worked with and in the Catholic Church for many years, sometimes in parish settings, I have often written about the need for change within the Church. I wrote about When I Get Tired of Being Catholic, The Different Levels of Conversion Needed in the Church, What’s Wrong with Catholic Youth Groups and The Two Big Missing Pieces of Our Catholic Faith.

Imagine my excitement when I came across a book called Divine Renovation: From a maintenance to a missional parish. Fr. James Mallon seems to have faced these problems first-hand as a parish priest in Canada, but instead of rolling over and dying, he allowed the Holy Spirit to work in bringing about real change. What I love most about the book is how PRACTICAL it is.

I want to share a few cool tips and ideas that you should definitely incorporate into your parish if you have a voice there. But before that HERE IS SOME SUPER-COOL NEWS.

Fr. James Mallon is going to be in MUMBAI on Saturday, June 15th for a Transforming Parishes Conference. It's for parish priests with their assistant and a lay leader. If you know your parish priest well, convince him to attend! What a great opportunity, right on our doorstep! Sign up here.

So here are a few of the many great insights and suggestions Fr. Mallon talks about:

1. Equip and empower the laity: 'The primary task of the pastor is not to do all the work of ministry himself, but to equip the saints to do the work of ministry... Ministry proper to laity should be allowed to flourish without clerical control: serving the poor, feeding the hungry, evangelizing, and forming small Christian communities where people are cared for, loved and helped to move towards maturity.' If everything has to be run by or controlled or micro-managed by the priest, or everything has to be run on church premises, your parish is never going to flourish. Of course the key is placing DISCIPLES (with common-sense) in positions of responsibility and leadership, not just power-hungry clerical-minded lay people.

2. Create a welcoming, hospitable parish culture: 'Hospitality does not mean being friendly with our friends and all the people who look, think, and talk like us, but reaching out to the stranger.' Form a hospitality team, welcoming every person who enters the church with a smile and a handshake, reaching out to strangers, and unfamiliar faces (especially the poor and visitors from other religions). At weddings and funerals and Christmas and Good Friday services, acknowledge and greet the many newcomers from the pulpit, and help them understand what is going on. And for goodness sake, move to the middle of the pew so people who are standing have place to sit!

3. Create a welcome booth: Make it easy for newcomers to get information about joining the parish and parish activities. 'Staff it with friendly parishioners who are eager to help.' My team and I once did a Christmas day welcome booth at my parish, and we invited visitors to attend an evangelistic Christmas programme a few days later. People were visible touched by our friendliness, obviously not something they had ever experienced while visiting a church before. Why not every Sunday?

4. New Parishioner Event: Get someone from the hospitality team to get in touch with new parishioners, and invite them to a short hour-long event (with not more than 20 new parishioners) to get to know the parish priest, a member of the welcome team, etc and each other. Fr. James' parish did wine and cheese, we can do cake and coffee. People need to feel connected. In our big parishes in India, it's so easy to feel lost and invisible. We have to be very intentional about helping people connect.

5. Use uplifting, beautiful music: I loved Fr. James' entire section on music. There are different kinds of hymns, but we need to give pride of place to hymns that are not just talking about God, but talking TO God. 'It is in praise to God that we move away from fixating on the idea of God to the experience of God... It is hymns of praise that move the heart most and help lead those who gather into a personal encounter with Jesus.' How many of us can say that about hymns we sing at Mass? I remember the harmonized, melodic Mass hymns I experienced in the Philippines, and compare it with the jarring 60s pop music in churches in India. We can do better! Beautiful music is evangelistic.

6. Preaching the Good News: The kerygma should be at the center of every homily. 'Every homily.. ought to preach Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, and the new life found in him.' No more tired self-help, or vaguely inspirational messages. Last year I heard a young Salesian deacon give an excellent homily about 'second chances with Jesus'. It was simple, direct, clear, evangelistic and hopeful. Even the kids in the congregation were listening intently. Preach with joy, preach with love, and preach the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ. 'Have a group of parishioners who will give you brutally honest feedback about your preaching.' (Preferably clear-minded disciples.) Painful, but effective.

7. Create opportunities for every parishioner to encounter Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit: The tool Fr. James uses and I highly recommend is a programme called Alpha. 'Alpha is a ten-session process that re-introduces the Christian faith.' It's welcoming, non-threatening, always involves food and friendship, is a great way to invite and include friends and family, can be run in people's homes, and helps people feel a sense of belonging and community.

8. Name Tag Sunday: Once a month get every parishioner to wear a name tag, and greet people they don't know before or after Mass. It makes it easier to say hello to someone new, something I often struggle with. 'Just like the Cheers theme song goes, we really do have a deep desire to go where people know our names... We want to go to war with the notion of anonymous Christianity.' 

9. Prayer Ministry after Mass: I love this! Have trained prayer teams available after every Mass, and invite anyone who needs prayer to approach them. I have often tried to remember to offer to pray with people, in the moment and aloud, rather than the usual promises to pray later that are often forgotten. Prayer ministry is the next level. What an easy way to connect with and love the people who show up at church. I have often thought about how parish offices should have a cozy little room where there is always someone available to offer a cup of coffee, a listening ear, and a prayer.

10. Inviting people: If we want to be missionary parishes, we need to be willing to invite people for evangelistic events, to prayer meetings, bible sharings, Mass, Adoration, youth group, concerts, etc. We cannot continue to exist only for ourselves, but must go outside and invite people in. But how? Start by praying for the people you're planning to invite. Pray for courage. Don't be afraid of getting a no. 'We are responsible for inviting, but not for the response to the invitation.' Also, 'success is the number of people being invited, not the number that show up.' Sow the seed, and allow God to work. And be persistent if the answer is 'Not this time'.

Okay, obviously there is a LOT more in the book which I highly recommend that you read. Buy a copy for your parish priest. Look up the Divine Renovation website. And invite the Holy Spirit to transform your parish!