Everyday Ignatian is a new monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
October 18, 2019 — My family of seven surrounded the table and the chaos of dinner began. I had promised myself I wouldn’t let frustration get the best of me this time. I would put into practice what I had learned of detachment from the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I would savor the grace of even having children to eat with at all. But in less than two minutes the baby was crying, the big kids were complaining about the food, the toddler was smearing tomato sauce all over his hair and I was taking the stress out on my husband with curt replies and sarcasm. So much for unattachment.
An hour later, with daddy upstairs overseeing bedtime like a circus ringmaster, I scrubbed soapy dishes over the kitchen sink, grateful for the quiet solitude to reflect and pray. The advice of parents who have gone before me rang in my ears, the wisdom unceremoniously handed down in grocery store checkout lines and Facebook comment boxes: “Enjoy every moment.” “Treasure this stage.” “It goes so fast.” I love my family passionately, but family life is rarely idyllic and that night had been no exception.
Another pot washed and dried with two more to go. The full dishwasher was already humming at my right, containing more than enough cutlery for a basketball team. My mind spun around the same old questions like a malfunctioning record player. Why do things never stay in order, literally or figuratively? Why must I be so needed all the time? Why does this life feel so far from what I once imagined it would be? You’d think that nearly a decade into parenting, I wouldn’t continue to hold expectations so tightly, but indeed, I could see my fists were still clenched around my own ideas of how life should be.
I dusted off my memory to call to mind what I’d learned not long before about Ignatian indifference. To be freed from my addiction to control, I must surrender to living in the present moment, embracing even frustrations and disappointments as gifts. After all, they are (at the very least) proof that I’m alive. St. Ignatius wrote that our disordered attachment to outcomes gets in the way of loving God, others and ourselves. He believed that the only way to spiritual freedom is to detach ourselves from our preferences and embrace things as they are rather than dwell on how we wish they would be. Choosing detachment means loving what is.
Remembering my impatient temper over dinner that night, I realized I had been so attached to my own feelings that I’d written myself into the narrative as a victim, preyed upon by the honest human needs of the people around me. I had missed an opportunity to experience joy and love because I wasn’t free to hold it all with open hands.
In contrast, I recalled an incident that had happened the week before when, while cleaning up someone’s very messy toilet training mishap, I’d breathed deeply and prayed, “Jesus I trust in you” over and over. I remembered experiencing supernatural patience and tenderness in that moment, graces I had passed up during this night’s meal.
I could feel Jesus inviting me to return to that place of freedom and peace more often, to abandon my disordered attachments and find solace in his companionship. As a human being on earth, the Jesus of the Gospels gave his full attention and care to the person before him at any given time. He lived with such unattachment that every interruption, every unexpected request, seemed to be welcomed as a gift. Unbound by disordered loves and self-interest, Jesus was free to disregard plans and expectations to offer himself wholeheartedly to the people around him. And wildly enough, the same Spirit that allowed him to do so also lives in me.
Wetting a dishrag and wiping down counters, I imagined what Jesus would say if he were standing before me. Somehow I couldn’t see him berating me for not being content or grateful enough for my blessings. Based on the Jesus of the Bible, I imagined he would probably ask me about my desires. What is it you want?
I thought it over. I wanted detachment from my inclination to control those around me. I wanted to be free to love and be loved in today’s reality rather than wishing my circumstances were changed or that the people around me would behave differently. I wanted to feel God’s presence there with me. And finally, I had.
My greatest desire in life is not that things might work out as I expect, but that I might be free to experience love as deeply and as often as possible — and sometimes it is the very disruption of my plans that offers me the greatest opportunity for growth in love.
I reached to flip off the light switch, taking a moment to pause and survey my work. The kitchen sparkled now: clear and restored, ready for life again tomorrow, ready for a chance to begin anew.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.