Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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October 24th, 2013

The Devil Is Watching You

The devil is portrayed in this stained-glass church window. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

The devil is portrayed in this stained-glass church window. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

God, today was one of those days.

I love my oldest daughter with a fierce love but from the moment of her birth, I knew God decided that she was going to test us. She is more stubborn than Brandon and I combined (which is saying a lot) and she simply won’t stand for not getting her way. Combine that with me, a stay-at-home mom with a pretty bad temper, and you would immediately see the bad match. Since her birth, I have tried my hardest to keep my cool and be patient while she has tried her hardest to throw more and more completely out-of-control and outrageous tantrums.

At the end of most days, if I don’t pass out immediately from exhaustion, I reflect on what happened and figure out how to make things better. Did my tone of voice escalate the situation unnecessarily? Was my anger justified or did I get mad at her simply for being a kid? Then the next day I work harder at noticing when my frustration is approaching a tipping point and try to say a quick prayer for patience or walk away for a second.

And as happened today, on the days that I don’t keep my cool and I end up screaming at a 4 year old who has turned into a little monster over wanting to eat with the green spoon instead of the pink one she has already starting eating with, well, I just chalk it up to not being disciplined enough. I think to myself that I just need to keep working on the habit of keeping my anger from boiling over. And I don’t feel too bad about it because habits are hard to form and I’ll just try again next time.

But then I read Pope Francis’ homily from October 11. He said we must maintain “vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever.” He later exhorts, “Please, let us not do business with the devil! He seeks to return home, to take possession of us.”

While some have spoken of Pope Francis’ frequent mention of the devil as part of Ignatian spirituality, which I am not disputing, it is also part of Latin American culture. Pope Francis sounded just like La Lupe in that homily. La Lupe is always talking about the devil. When I call her on Sunday and ask her how Mass was she’ll often reply that the devil was working hard trying to distract her. Or her most frequent scolding to her grandchildren is that they need to fight the devil and not follow in his ways. He is ever present just waiting for a chance to sneak into your heart, she’ll warn.

When I was little, I was so terrified of the devil and the idea that demons were just lurking around the house waiting to push my anger a little further, goading me to fight with my parents a little longer, encouraging me to say something a little more hurtful. It scared me so much that at some point in my life I explained the devil away. I knew there was evil in the world but if I did something wrong, I justified it as a slip in self-control. I didn’t like the idea that if I messed up it could be the result of something else helping me to mess up. It was only me. I was my only problem.

And that is what I have been telling myself about my anger and reactions to toddler antics. I’ll console myself with: Oh, I just need to work harder at maintaining my patience. I’ll try harder next time. I’m only human and bound to slip up sometimes. While I can push La Lupe’s words out of my head calling it superstitious, I can’t do that with Pope Francis.

It is important to take responsibility for our actions and not blame our sins on the devil. We do have control over what we do. But that does not diminish how powerful the devil can be if we allow and how seductive and easy it is to do the wrong thing. Taking Pope Francis’ words to heart makes my struggle with anger much more urgent. Me yelling at my kid is more than not having self-control, but is me letting the devil in. Doing the devil’s bidding because I have not been able to keep him at bay.

“Do not relativize, be vigilant,” urges Pope Francis. The devil is always trying to sneak into my heart in little and big ways. And even me explaining the devil away for so long is the devil’s doing that I happily accepted because it calmed my fears. But Pope Francis is clear — if our actions are not for Jesus then they are for the devil. There is no middle ground. This reminder has left me much more resolute in my journey toward more self-control.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • YaraGreyjoy

    Thank you for writing about a barely addressed question of what do we do with our “difficult” daughters now that the watch words are no longer “Obedience & Subservience!”

    Let me write to you & @rckymtnmama:disqus both from the headstrong daughter’s place (who is getting ready herself to be a mama – but that’s a whole ‘nother post!).

    You are both clearly bright, thoughtful, concerned women – and I’d venture you have a strong personality & sense of right & wrong. So do I – and I was always thus & it was a trial for my mother especially bc, I think, we don’t have outlets for girl children’s aggression and frustration. It’s more tolerated & even encouraged in boys sometimes – they’re culturally allowed to play & act out their inner “violence” & turmoil. But what to make of the formidable & powerful miniature woman that’s our daughter(s)? How do we “deal” with that? I wish I had an answer. I wish I had even a partial answer. Maybe a reflection on the strength these daughters manifest can help guide us. (and I know I’ll have a girl at least as stubborn as me! But in truth, I wonder how I will respond when the tantrums come and it’s on me to “deal with it.”

    All I can say is that after all the turmoil and strife (and oh yeah did it only get worse with the teenage years) – and my mom was nowhere as self-aware about this sort of thing as you guys are – even though looking back we cut some pretty good strips off each other in our time… When adulthood hits, mothers & daughters come back together. And we are all the tighter for the experience, which I think needs not be the painful one my mother and I remember, not for the fights – but for what the fights signified: mutual intelligence, strength, moral clarity. I dare say we see each other more clearly than some who have had smoother sailing & a more docile nature. Just food for thought & I mean it – no matter how bad it seems to get: she loves you & hurts & doesn’t know why these fits of temper happen to her as they do. It will be better & easier for you & me hopefully. Maybe a headstrong daughter is not as bad as it seems at all – after all, we wouldn’t have La Lupe without it! :)

  • RckyMtnMama

    Thank you (and thank God for speaking to me through you in this article). My husband and I are both struggling with a, shall we say, “feisty” 5 year old daughter. Not being the ‘grown-up’ and allowing myself to give in to my more angry moments will not only let evil win in me, but will break down the good in my daughter as well and open her to easier access to evil as she grows up. (Sort of giving the Devil a “two for one”.). I will keep working on my “challenges” with my daughter (and if I’m honest, the challenges are more me than her) and I will pray for you and yours. :)

    It’s funny – in American Catholic culture we really don’t talk about / think about evil and the devil all that often – and look where it seems to be taking us… I think someone once said “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince Man he didn’t exist.”

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