October 29, 2010

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Be mindful of those still taking baby steps

Sean GallagherIt’s been interesting watching my 16-month-old son, Philip, learn how to walk.

He has pretty quickly gone from taking just a few, slow, wobbly steps halfway across a room to going across the house almost at a trot.

My, how babies and toddlers learn quickly. If only we adults could learn from our own mistakes and past experiences in the same way.

Going up and down steps on his feet alone is still a challenge for Philip. He will crawl up the carpeted steps to the second floor of our home then slide down on his belly—a trick he learned from his 3-year-old brother, Victor.

That skill doesn’t serve him well, however, when he wants to step off of a sidewalk onto the lawn. It is a very short step, one that you really can’t crawl down. So I just had to pause and smile when Philip, who has gained such speed in his ordinary walking, still takes things oh so slowly when stepping off of a sidewalk.

It won’t be long until taking that little step is second nature to him. But, for the moment, it’s not. It’s a very big step.

This stage that Philip is going through is a reminder of the truth of relativity.

In some things in life, truths are absolute, no matter what the situation is. It is always wrong to kill an innocent person or to torture anyone, no matter what justification you might try to provide.

But some things in life are relative, and it is important for us to keep that in mind. It may be easy for Victor to step off of a sidewalk and run across the lawn. But if he is holding his little brother Philip’s hand while doing so, his baby brother is probably going to take a tumble. I’ve seen it happen.

A lot of times, we adults can be like Victor in this situation when we fail to take into account the limitations that some of our friends and loved ones have with living out in their daily lives various aspects of our faith.

We might forget that, either because of their newness to the faith or because addictions, compulsions or ordinary bad habits like gossiping are deeply ingrained in them, they need to take extra precautions to protect themselves.

We might, for example, be confident in our attitudes toward alcohol. But if someone we know is struggling with alcoholism, then we need to check our own behavior in that regard when we are around that person. If we fail in this regard, then, as St. Paul taught 2,000 years ago in his First Letter to the Corinthians on this same basic principle, we “sin against Christ” (1 Cor 8:12).

Now, unlike Victor, my two older sons, Michael and Raphael, are often mindful of Philip’s limitations. They usually won’t try to force him to walk in ways that he is not capable of yet. At the same time, they will really encourage him when they see him learning yet another new skill.

They have had the experience of watching younger brothers go through the same stages, something that is entirely new to Victor.

We adults should strive to be more like Michael and Raphael in this regard. We have lived long enough to have struggled with our own weaknesses, and seen those people close to us do the same.

If we kept in mind those past trials, we might just be a little more merciful with people who are still struggling. Like kind older brothers, we might also encourage them when we see them making progress, even if they are just baby steps. †

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