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Threading the needle

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... I think it's good for us to attempt things we don't know how to do, things that are aligned with other people's talents, education, and experience rather than our own.

Jaymie Stuart
Wolfe

I grew up surrounded by people who knew how to work with their hands. My grandfather was a factory tool maker, but he could draw, paint signs, hang wallpaper, and a hundred other practical things. My grandmother was an avid crafter; she was always making something. But her forte was sewing. My grandmother never needed a pattern or a fancy sewing machine. She could sew anything.

And that's one of the reasons I have never been able to sit down at a sewing machine without sweating bullets. My hemming is more like hawing, and the thought of winding a bobbin has always scared me to death. There are way too many things I just don't know, things like salvage edges, cutting on the bias, and seam allowances. The one thing I do know is that I will never be able to sew the way my grandmother did.

But you know what? That's ok. In fact, I think it's good for us to attempt things we don't know how to do, things that are aligned with other people's talents, education, and experience rather than our own. Why? Because we tend to spend our lives doing what we know we're good at. We busy ourselves with what makes us feel smart, not dumb, things that make us feel useful and competent, not worthless and inept.

In the past month or so, I've spent more time in front of a sewing machine than I have over the past 20 years. I don't know how to change the stitches on the machine, but I do know how to thread it properly and have even successfully wound a few bobbins. I don't qualify as a seamstress by any standard, but between a few tears of frustration and a handy ripping tool, I did manage to sew a few pieces of the medieval costumes we wore in the St. Joan of Arc parade. I'm sure my grandmother is smiling.

I don't know about you, but there are a lot of sewing machines in my life, including in my spiritual life. The truth is that I'm not any better at praying than I am at sewing. I may be able to thread a needle, but my skills (if you can call them that) are very limited. I've met many prayer warriors over the years, women and men whom I admire because they are far more disciplined and dedicated to prayer than I have managed to be.

Perhaps you're not very good at reading the Bible, praying the rosary, or going to confession. Maybe you'll never sing well or be comfortable teaching a religious education class. You may not be very knowledgeable about your faith; you may even struggle with persistent moral failings. Sit down at the machine and do your best anyway -- even if your best isn't very good. Don't worry too much about whether you will ever be able to win Project Runway. Ultimately, the quality of what you're capable of doesn't matter all that much.

Humility is the beginning of virtue. It is also the beginning of deepening faith and serious Christian discipleship. Certainly, it is good to offer our gifts and talents to serve the God who gave them to us as well as making use of them to benefit others. But it is also good for us to try something new, to reach beyond our talents and our comfort zones from time to time and give God our weaknesses and limitations. Those who do so know what it is like to see both the reality and power of God's grace at work in their own lives.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.



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