There’s something unnerving about having the phone ring early in the morning, far earlier than one would normally expect. It happened to me the other morning, and I immediately went into “Oh my God, who and what is it?” It was my daughter-in-law, a woman with whom I have seldom had a chance to talk to for very long, but who has been an excellent wife for my son for nearly a decade and a half. She went on to tell me that my son had become very ill on the evening of Halloween, so ill he was even willing to go to the hospital. That told me this was nothing to fool around about.
My son is known to be a stubborn person although he has almost perfect manners, a pleasant speaking voice, a nice smile, good looks, a work ethic the far surpasses most people in his generation, a generous spirit, and is a damn fine guy, if I do say so myself. But he is stubborn. He gets it from me, I guess, because I’m stubborn too. His wife and I have been trying for years to get him to go to the doctor about symptoms that he has had that he just decided to ignore, namely severe and almost constant headaches. Well, as of Halloween, it turned out to be something he couldn’t afford to be stubborn over and something he will have to pay attention to probably for the rest of his life. Otherwise he’s fine, more or less.
I always thought of Simon Peter as a stubborn person. Was he was born under the zodiacal sign of Taurus the bull? Bulls represent stubbornness. It’s one of their chief characteristics, if astrology books are anything to go by. Peter would bull his way into something, whether he understood it or not, and often cause himself a bit of grief and a sharp thwack across the knuckles from Jesus to get him back on the right path. I think about him jumping over the side of the boat to walk to Jesus because Jesus walking on water. Naturally, Peter started to sink like a rock, which is in very apt term since Peter meant stone, and the disciple is often nicknamed “Rocky.” Jesus stretched out a hand and Peter gathered enough faith to get himself out of deep water, so to speak, but it took help from Jesus to do it, help that Peter had to accept. Even then he didn’t totally get it. Several other times he had to be reined in for he would rush into something before considering it and often, the thing that he rushed into created an opportunity for Jesus to teach the rest of us a lesson.
James and John were considered Sons of Thunder, and they also had their streaks of stubbornness. They even had their mother go to Jesus to ask that they be given positions of preference at Jesus’s right and left hands. I would think twice before asking my son’s boss to give him a promotion even though I believe my son is more than worth it, has the knowledge and the ability to do the job I am pursuing for him. I’m stubborn, but that one goes beyond my level of bull-headedness.
It’s easy for any of us to be stubborn, especially about things we care about the most and things we believe in to the very core of our being. For some people there’s an inherent belief in a symbol such as the American flag being something sacred and to be defended in any and every way from defilement or even perceived disrespect. For some stubbornness is a religious faith and belief in a supreme being who watches over them and protects them and cares for them, but sometimes lets them get into hot water and then get themselves out.
There are some who have a stubbornness about politics, or the role of economics in our society, or societal norms that they believe we should be upholding, whether or not we agree with them. There’s so many ways to be stubborn. The old metaphor of stubborn people being like mules who have to make up their mind that they want to do something before it’ll actually do it. I have a friend who could probably deliver at least a two-hour sermon on the habits and traits of mules, with plenty of anecdotes to prove the point.
It is stubbornness to insist my way is the only way, which is only partially correct because it might be the only right way for me, nobody else. It stubborn to ignore good medical advice. It stubborn not realize that one day old age will arrive and following that will be the final chapter of life whether we’re ready or not. Sometimes it’s our own stubbornness that keeps us trapped, like cigarette or drug addictions, or alcoholism, or feelings of supreme egoism, or any of the many terms thrown around today like despotic, narcissistic, or hedonistic.
Sin boils down to stubbornness. We don’t like the words sin. It may feel dirty, and heaven knows, we don’t like feeling dirty. The thought of sin makes us uncomfortable while frequently the action has exactly the opposite effect of making us feel exalted, happy, enthusiastic, relieved, and so many others I can hardly think of enough words to cover the subject adequately. Sin is a form of stubbornness, the idea that I can do what I want, when I want, to whom I want to do it, and in the manner I choose to do it. It is setting myself up as judge, jury, executioner, and like Mme. Defarge, who sat underneath the guillotine, knitting away as imperial heads rolled, instigators, nonchalant observers, and potential victims of their own hubris.
I’m trying to let go of the stubbornness, and to some extent, I’m getting somewhere with it. I’ve learned I have to listen to the doctor, I have to obey traffic laws, I have to treat other people with the same respect I’d like to have be treated with myself, I have to trust that God has given us good rules to learn to play by, and a beautiful playground to play in. Still, I and others like me still managed to bring in mud and rocks and things that clutter up the landscape and make it dangerous.
I pray my son will moderate his own stubbornness just a little bit, enough to convince him that giving up control is just giving up having to be 100% right all the time. Needless to say, I love him dearly anyway, stubborn or not, because of flaws I see in him I know are in me too. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that. Probably James’ and John’s mother felt the same way — and undoubtedly Mother Mary, who had a sometimes very stubborn son of her own.
Image: Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons