Benedictine monastics vow stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience. As an Oblate, I don’t make those vows. However, as a Benedictine, I try to live as though I have. But what does stability in the day-to-day life of an Oblate look like?
The Long View of Stability
It’s easiest to view stability through the wide-angle lens of time. Stability means faithfulness over the long haul. It means endurance and reliability, showing up and being present and active on a regular, on-going basis. Stability is a monastic who has been in their community for decades, or a marriage that has lasted decades, or a teacher, volunteer, or any other worker who has served in their capacity for a good number of years (usually–you guessed it!–decades).
It sounds romantic. It sounds comforting. In some ways, it seems almost magical.
But it’s a lot of freaking work.
Each Moment a Decision
Decades are made up of years. Years are made up of months. Months are made up of days, and days are made up of moments. Hundreds of them. And moments are decision points.
Every single moment is a decision point. Each decision involves not only the person’s values, but also how the person feels right then. It involves their environment, and whom they’re interacting with, and what just happened thirty seconds ago.
We’re not always at our best in those moments. In fact, we’re not at our best during most moments. But those moments define our stability.
The Basement Remodel
This reality has been on my mind a lot this week.
I have been married to my husband for fifteen years. I dream of us being together for decades: a couple that has weathered the storms of life together. In that view fifteen years is a good start, but it’s just the beginning.
And we still have to weather the basement remodel.
Let me be clear: we both want this basement remodel. We’ve been using the semi-finished basement as our shared office for most of our married life. I like silence. He likes music. I like curtains and decorations. He likes minimalism and utility. We both work from home. Stability in the day-to-day has been a challenge in this situation. So remodeling it to give us each our own distinct, individual space is definitely a good idea.
Have you ever seen those pictures of happy young couples repainting a room, or working together to lay pristine drop cloths over spotless furniture or gleaming floors? You know the ones who smile at each other over their electric drills?
That’s not us.
We’re stressed. We’re under a time constraint. This basement needs to be finished before my husband’s vacation time ends. I’m coming down with my son’s flu and not feeling great, but I have to paint. The paint fumes are not helping. Neither is the incessant hammering my husband is doing a few feet away. Because he needs to install the lighting. He needs to interrupt my painting so I can help him with the drop ceiling. He’s got to get as much done as possible before he comes down sick, because we all know he’s next.
The boxes containing our desk areas dominate the family room. We stored our office furniture in the garage. Random books, files, and test equipment have relocated to the living room and even my bedroom. The house is chaos.
I hate chaos. I don’t do well in chaos.
My husband can ignore the chaos, but he gets so hyper-focused on a goal that he forgets how to “people.”
Ideally, we wouldn’t snap at each other. We wouldn’t resent the interruptions we both cause. Instead, we’d graciously help each other and recognize each other’s needs. Especially me, since I’m a Benedictine.
I’m also human.
Fortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Small Moments, Important Decisions
It’s these moments that will determine our stability. I can try to not resent the interruptions. And when I fail, I can forgive the interruptions. I can forgive the snappish comments rather than shutting down in anger or sadness. And so can he. My husband may not be a Benedictine, but our marriage vows included a vow to forgive each other, and we both take care to remember that.
We will weather this basement remodel. Just as we weathered the six moves in the first six years of our marriage. Those moves involved a lot of small moments in chaotic situations, and plenty of opportunities to forgive each other. They also provided plenty of opportunities to choose compassion and kindness. Not all of our choices required forgiveness.
We look back on those moves now as something we got through, and someday we’ll look at this basement remodel the same way. It may not feel like choosing compassion and forgiveness in the midst of drywall dust and paint fumes and drop ceilings is a spiritual endeavor, but it is. In fact, according to St. Benedict, it’s the core of spirituality. My husband and I are living in community together. Every moment of every day, we’re in community. Our stability in the day-to-day ordinariness of our lives will build those decades. There’s no other way to do it.
Think about your own community, whether it’s at home or at work or within another context. When can you choose compassion or forgiveness? What choices can you make, even in the midst of challenging circumstances, that will add up to a long view of stability?