A month or two ago, I came across a Facebook post from a former coworker of mine. It was a meme of a little nugget of wisdom — “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” — and underneath, she’d proudly proclaimed “my new motto!”
After I giggled, I dismissed it as nonsense. As Christians, aren’t everyone’s monkeys our monkeys? Aren’t we our brother’s monkey’s keeper? Or something?
It took me a few days to realize that God might be trying to speak to me, using my favorite animal as his mouthpiece.
There is someone dear to me who, for the past 10 years or so, has been drifting further and further away from Our Lord. It has been such a painful thing to watch, as he slowly forgets the love and the relationship he once had with Christ, and with His Mother. Through the years, I have begged, pleaded, cajoled, cried, and yelled at him, trying everything I could think of to “win” him back for Christ. The struggle has been especially hard because I know he “knows better.” He’d been taught the Faith. How could this be happening? Then I remembered that even Christ lost one of His own. Judas, who spent the better part of three years seeing our Savior love others, perform miracles, and declare the Kingdom, decided that he would not serve – and Christ did not stand in his way. Free will and all that. So, I resigned myself to the advice regarding fraternal correction in Matthew 18:17: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen to even the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” READ: If your brother ain’t listenin’, treat him as though he’d never experienced conversion and repentance. Start from scratch.
Over time, I’ve realized that we must be fully cooperative with God’s grace in order to advance in the spiritual life, and that there isn’t much God can do with one who isn’t receptive to His grace. This was never more clear to me than during the seven years it took my husband to journey from angry agnostic to baptized Catholic. Basically, I learned to be effusive about my own faith life, but strove to keep it in the context of my own experiences. I learned to pray earnestly and keep my mouth shut, and to lead best I could by example. Mostly, I had to fall in love with my Faith before he could learn to fall in love with it himself.
As a powerless bystander in relation to my loved one’s life choices, I realized “not my circus – not my monkeys” might prove an effective guideline in my relationship with this person. Painful as it is, I realized that my loved one’s circus, my loved one’s monkeys, were indeed not my own. My circus is my home – my monkeys are my kiddos – and I have plenty to orchestrate as Ringmaster of my own life, thankyouverymuch.
Funny thing is, Jesus wasn’t quite finished with this little metaphor and how it applies to my life. Heh heh heh.
As I stood in line for Confession during Holy Week, I went through my pre-game warmup exercises: examination of conscience, prayer of intercession to St. John Vianney and St. Pio to pray that I make a good confession, and asking Jesus to hand pick the confessor I needed to hear His Words from most that day. There were three priests that day, and as I stepped into the confessional, I was relieved that our parish priest was acting in persona Christi for me. I love confession with our pastor! He is so kind and gentle while hearing confessions. Truly, I have no trouble picturing him in the person of Christ, counseling and mercifully loving me in spite of my sins. Well, in the course of the conversation, I admitted to some spiritual struggle with finding meaning and motivation to consistently do my work well. I also decried the moodiness of some of my coworkers, and my pitiable efforts at rising above. Shamefully, I admitted my failure to be a “light in the darkness,” and instead making things worse by reflecting back the bad attitudes around me. I mean – this is a serious struggle for me right now, and I was bawling by the end of my confession.
Then Father asked me where I find joy. Instantly, I replied with, “My family – my babies!” He made me promise to focus on the source of my joy – God’s blessings in the form of my family. He made me promise to spend five or ten minutes in the car before going into my house at the end of a workday, to give me time to decompress and to unwind a bit. He promised me that this would go a long way in making sure I was able to smile as I walked through the door, instead of instinctively biting the heads off of my unsuspecting spouse and children. And then, almost as an afterthought, he added: “You know, when you feel unappreciated at work, or someone is taking their bad day out on you – just throw their monkeys right back at them! Tell yourself, ‘that’s not my monkey!’ and then walk away. You don’t need their monkeys!” I kid you not.
Got it, Lord. Message received.
Not my circus. Not my monkeys.