Ever hopeful of keeping my paltry French skills alive, and even adding a few words, I receive lovely emails regularly from an American living in France. I was a little startled, though, to read in the header that the word for this week is tuer (to kill). Would this really augment my path to the crèche? Indeed, I found it most helpful.
Evidently, there is a French phrase that can be used with a variety of words, and when this writer perused the Christmas wish list of one of her children — a list which proved rather short — the daughter explained: Trop de cadeau tuent les cadeaux (“Too many presents kill the presents”). How right she was, and the mother delighted in knowing that her daughter had come to understand this nugget of wisdom.
With the Christmas holidays approaching, there may not be much we can do about changing their requisite expectations, but close on their heels is a new year with the opportunity to make some resolutions. Often we imagine sweeping changes that will rattle our world — and those around us — and unfortunately we fail miserably before January has ended.
The authentic Christian response is actually more balanced. Too much of anything is unhealthy — yes, even prayer, if one speaks strictly of formal devotions. As scholars have posited from time immemorial, “virtue lies in the middle,” meaning that all excess should be avoided.
My French writer elaborated with some other helpful uses of the phrase: “Too much work kills the work,” “too much cake kills the cake,” and “too much fun kills fun.” Any mother who has spent too long at Chuck E. Cheese type venues knows that last one very well!
While going “cold turkey” on particular little vices may be difficult, for those that are not sins, attempting moderation can prove even harder. Years ago when we were pondering what to do with the television, I begged my husband just to toss it. The temptation would be gone — there would be no resorting to it “on rainy days,” or “just for an hour.” He wouldn’t do it at the time, suggesting rather that we learn discipline, which we all found a cruel response.
We lurched along with varying degrees of self-control; yet indeed there came a time to tuer the thing when one too many a vile image had snuck fleetingly across the screen. Now our discipline must be exercised with a VCR alone, so that it really does boil down to balance without concern for depravity.
So as we approach the new year, perhaps we can take the question of balance to prayer. Where are the excesses in our lives? Is it work? Is it fastidiousness? Is it Facebook? Is it curiosity? I remember peeking into the FlyLady website a few years ago, and learned that her advice to those seeking to establish order in the home was to start by making sure the sink was clean and wiped before retiring to bed. It was so simple — and nearly manageable. I actually went months with finishing the dishes and putting them away before realizing that she meant the bathroom sink — which was even easier!
So love yourself; love your family, and love God in a balanced and human way. Look for virtue in the middle, between sloth and the slavish work, between despondency and unsustainable giddy joy. In return, God will come to you in his own quiet way, affirming your good intentions and smiling tenderly over your well-meaning foibles. Find balance this year, and resolve firmly to tuer l’excès!
[The Anchor 12.9.11]