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Deserving a break

First slide

“I deserve a break.” 

For some of us guys — allow me to speak in hypotheticals—  these four words are intoxicating. 

You come home tired from work. Up since 5 a.m. The kids are fighting. New bills to pay, old ones yet unpaid. A new question from your boss dings your inbox. A kid mouths off at you. Nothing’s ready for tomorrow.

The evening’s edge comes on mightily.    

“I deserve a break,” the thought steels in quickly from nowhere and everywhere. “I work so hard for this family.” 

You reach for a beer, or the smart phone, or (insert procrastination-from-home-duty diversionary tactic of choice). You slip away from the voices and the needs, just for a second. I never get a break. I just need a minute to myself before I scale this cliff. Forty-five minutes later, you’re downhill from where you began the climb.  

The force field around you now widens. People with issues are not bringing them to you. People with good news —  an A on a spelling test, a new line of Joplin’s “The Entertainer” mastered — are not informing you. A child’s worry about tomorrow’s bus ride is repelled by the force field, and he takes to killing aliens online before drifting off to sleep without a goodnight kiss from his dad. Just hours earlier, he christened his frigate LEGO ship, but news of its maiden voyage does not reach you. 

This is because you are partaking of a mighty elixir. Diversions are but your surface ruse which hide what is beneath: your dark, vast waters of entitlement. You have “given” enough — hours, days, even months of uninterrupted service — and decided that you “merit” a break. You deserve it, after all you have done.   

It will do the kids good to tap their own inner resources tonight. You surmise that your wife will not miss you and will even benefit from bonding with the kids. You tell yourself what you want to hear.  

You insulate yourself further. Your resolution to lead the family every evening in the rosary slips. Tonight you also pass on story time. Far be it from you to be an uninformed citizen, so you settle deeper into the couch as you surf cable or online news sites. 

You have pivoted. 

Just one hour ago, pulling into the driveway, you had resolved to put the fires of your job behind you and steer directly into the headwinds of the evening with the steel bow of your generosity. But the stiff winds reminded you of how far you have already traveled today. You have given so much. I deserve a break … I never get a break … .

The winds forced you into a harbor and you stole below the deck. You have pivoted inward. Below the deck you take stock: you have earned a reprieve from neediness. You can draw on the deposits you have amassed. You are a hard-working man justified by the ledger of your actions, secure in the knowledge of what you have paid out. You are a landlord, and the time has come for your tenants to pay. 

Through the gauzy haze you faintly hear your children fighting on the deck above — “I hate you” you overhear — and you grin, considering how character is formed. An ambassador is sent below deck with an urgent appeal, and is rebuffed. 

You deserve a break this evening, and this is the evening you deserve. 

Sitting there alone, you dimly understand that another kingdom is available to you: a mystical place where you can climb unaided by elixirs, where there are no ledgers; a place of uncommon peace where these very same people sing instead of fight and where frigates sail and where you meet needs with tenderness and where your children join you and your beautiful wife on your knees before that source so far beyond yourselves yet so near. 

You know this place. You do not deserve this place, but yearn for it anew.   

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is the bishop’s Delegate for Evangelization and Media.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017