Monday, November 14, 2011

Creating Expectations

Peter has a book of illustrated Bible verses, one for each letter of the alphabet. The sixth one is, "Fear not, for I am with thee" (Isaiah 43:5). Good verse for kids, right? The picture, though, is of a little boy at a doctor's office. The doctor is smiling kindly and using his stethoscope while the boy tucks his chin and looks unhappy.

By saying, "Fear not!" the verse implies that there is a reason to be afraid. Not a glowing endorsement of pediatric care! It reminds me of advice I read for preparing children for their first visit to the dentist. Don't tell them, "Don't worry, it won't hurt," because that only serves to plant the idea that it will hurt. Phrasing is important.

On Saturday evening, my family and I went to Mass to witness my Dad's Confirmation and reception of Eucharist. On Sunday morning, I stayed home to spend a little more time with my brother and his wife before they returned to Boston, then went to teach Sunday school. I anticipated questions about why I hadn't been at Mass, particularly as I was wearing jeans, which my class has never seen me do. I thoughtfully considered how to reply.

"I went to Mass last night to see my Dad receive sacraments. This morning, I chose to spend more time with my family before coming here."

It is a little more information than they really needed to know, but it beats the alternative of "I went to Mass last night, so I didn't have to come this morning." This answer implies that the only reason I go to Mass is to fulfill my Sunday obligation.

I enjoy Mass. In fact, I recently went alone on Sunday morning after attending the vigil Mass with my family. (I love bringing Peter to church, but it is nice once a year or so to go without him and be able to focus on my prayers instead of his behavior!) And yet, I know I have been guilty of phrasing Mass as an obligation in the past. I am trying to be more mindful of the subtext of my speech to ensure I am saying what I mean to say.

Actions may speak louder than words, but words are powerful, too.

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