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Of Noble Sentiment

A wife of noble sentiment who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Proverbs 31:10

I deliberately copied one word wrong in the above Scripture passage. Can you guess which one?

It struck me this morning that there is a monumental difference between noble character and noble sentiment.

I am full of noble sentiment. You can throw just about any hypothetical gut wrenching situation at me and I bet you I will know what the most noble/heroic course of action to take is. Not only that, I think there's at least a chance that if I were in said hypothetical gut wrenching situation, I would even take the noble/heroic course of action and do the right thing.

We all have a touch of the heroic within us and it's amazing how often people really do rise to the occasion.

Just don't ask me about the daily grind of my life.

That's where my noble sentiment lets me down every time! There's just nothing heroic about loading or unloading the dishwasher, folding a basket of laundry, vacuuming the floor, playing a silly game with my children or any of the other countless things a mother does just to get through the day. Translation: It's boring! It doesn't make for a good epic novel or movie, know what I mean?

A woman of noble character does those things as often and for as long as she needs to, and she does them with a prayer and a smile. A woman of mere noble sentiment balks. It is the faithfulness in the little things that builds that noble character we all want–that character that comes through with flying colors in times of adversity.

I think about Mary, Jesus' mother. She did some amazing things with her life, most importantly, bearing and raising the Messiah. The times she's mentioned in Scripture make it sound like she had quite the interesting life. She spoke to an angel at a young age, was the only virgin to have ever gotten pregnant, married Joseph, had a natural childbirth in a cave or stable following a long journey to her home town, had some shepherds and magi visit them to pay homage to the baby, fled to Egypt to escape a cruel king who was after her child, moved back to the home country (but a different place) after said cruel king died, had a harrowing three day search for her twelve year old son and about 18 years later asked him to work his first miracle. She was present at the important events of Jesus' ministry, passion, and death, was in the upper room with the disciples during Pentecost. We Catholics believe that at the time of her death she was taken up body and soul into heaven and then crowned Queen.

But what did she do in between all the exciting events? She raised her son and managed her home. She nursed, changed diapers, weaned, potty trained, played with, fed and bathed her child. She washed dishes and clothes, swept floors, cooked meals, hung out with her family. She attended synagogue meetings and large family gatherings and trekked to Jerusalem once a year to celebrate the Passover. And she probably was the one who made sure Jesus and Joseph had all their things packed for the trip.

In other words, a whole bunch of boring little things that never got chronicled anywhere on earth. And yet she did them day in and day out. She never complained or sought to be praised for any of it, but did it out of love for God and for her family.

We honor Mary for a lot of reasons. She submitted to God's will for her life at an early age, she raised up the Messiah and then watched him die. She quietly pondered her experiences in her heart. She nurtured the early Church with her prayers and presence. She was definitely an amazing woman, but how did she get to be that way?

She didn't just submit to God's will in that one epic moment when the angel appeared to her. She submitted to His will in all those little things in her life. Every moment that she chose to serve her family rather than looking out for her own interests or comforts was a moment that she surrendered to God's will. Every moment she lived both demonstrated and built her noble character.

I'm faced with a lot of similar choices in my own life. To serve my family or myself? To live for myself or surrendered to God's will? And these decisions are rarely played out in any sort of epic way. They are made and solidified, and my character along with it, in the little moments of each day.

My struggle with the little moments is not so much that no one is around to see how I handle them or praise me for them. It's just that those moments are often mindnumbingly boring! It really is difficult to believe that something as mundane and repetitive as sweeping the floor or changing a diaper could be eternally significant! It's obvious how a brave martyr dying for the faith is eternally significant, or a firefighter rescuing a child but himself getting seriously injured in the process has consequences that reverberate down through the centuries. But changing a diaper that the baby is only going to poop in again? Fixing a meal that the kids will pick at or scarf down in a matter of minutes. Soothing to sleep the baby who has already woken up three times in the same night? There are many days I'd like to skip all of that and go off and do something heroic, if only in my fantasy–my noble sentiment fuels that desire. The noble character lets go of the fantasy and takes hold of the moment and lives in it, with an attitude of humility, surrender, prayer and service.

In the end it's the noble character that's going to matter. Sentiment is little more than a fantasy, an illusion. Character is real and lasting. Character is the sort of thing that could one day stand up under God's judgment. Sentiment would be the first to burn up under His gaze.

What I really want is the noble character. Can I handle the often boring slog I have to go through to get it? It will take a lot of grace from God, and if I can keep the big picture in mind, I know it's well worth the effort.

Catholicism


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