A good friend of mine asked me to write about the struggles and the joys of my particular season of life. I am posting it on our blog because it was something I needed to reflect upon, and maybe it's something you can benefit from too.
So I guess I should start with where I'm at in this season of my life. I am currently a mostly-stay-at-home mom to my little girl named Miriam (with one on the way!). I say “mostly” because I’m also working here and there in the campus ministry department at a high school where I used to teach religion. My little family and I live in Pittsburgh, which is about 1000 miles away from most of our friends and families who live in New Orleans. We moved here two years ago for my husband Jonathan’s residency program. So in this season, I guess I’m a new mom, fairly new wife, and above all I’m trying to remember that my most important role is that I am a daughter of God. And that is actually a real struggle right now.
Why is it so hard for me to remember my role as a loved daughter of God? Because I’m constantly on the move. One of my favorite and least favorite traits about myself is that I’m task-oriented. If you give me a task, I’ll do it and I’ll work my butt off to do it well. I love checking off boxes, tying things up with nice little bows and sending them off for someone to enjoy or critique. Unfortunately, this often keeps me from being present to what’s directly in front of me. Let me give you an example. Right now, my house is probably the cleanest it’s ever been, since I’m home most of the time and have the time to pick up, do the dishes, etc. I actually have plants that I’ve kept alive for more than a week. This is a big deal. However, all I can see are the piles of laundry on the floor of my kitchen waiting to be brought to the basement; all I can see is how I still haven’t hung my shower curtain up and there’s still no mirror in my bathroom. I can’t just tie a pretty bow on my house and look back and admire it because there’s always something to do. What I should be saying is, “Thank you, God! I actually have a clean sink, and look! There aren’t crumbs and oil splatters all over my stovetop. Oh, and thank you for the fact that I even have a house.” If I could learn to just sit back and admire what’s in front of me, I think I’d be more in touch with God’s blessings in the every day.
I received a post card in the mail with an image on it that I think can depict for you what I mean by not being able to stop and enjoy God’s love in the moment.
I hung this picture on our fridge because I thought it was cool and vintage-looking and maybe if people saw it on our fridge they’d think we were hipster or something. Whatever, I digress. When you first look at this image, you’ll probably see the couple dancing, which is the obvious focal point. But if you look closely, there’s a girl sitting down in the position closest to the camera and she’s staring at the ground. After I looked at this picture a few times, I saw this girl and immediately thought to myself, “THAT’S ME.” Like, can’t she see the cool scene unfolding before her? They’re at this beautiful bridge and people are dancing and most likely singing and laughing. And homegirl’s over here probably thinking about what storage bins she can buy to organize the cabinet underneath her kitchen sink.
I’ll give another example from my life. One of my favorite things to do is to talk about how great I think Jonathan is. Whether I’m sharing with my students, my friends, or on social media, I love talking about him because he seriously. is. the. best. But on a regular basis (maybe daily?) he may, say, move in for a hug and I push him away because I have to make my coffee (okay that one doesn’t count; I am not responsible for my actions before coffee) or because I have to finish cooking dinner. What I need to be doing is just stopping—even just for a second, or goodness sakes, thirty seconds — and hugging my husband. Because at the end of the day, God isn’t going to look at how clean my house was or how many good meals I cooked for my family, or what storage bins I did end up choosing to organize the cabinet under my kitchen sink. He’s going to look at how I loved the people entrusted to my care when they needed my love.
I should put a disclaimer here and say that there are many, many saints who testify to the good of doing small actions with great love. So for most of us, tasks like washing the dishes and cooking tasty meals for our families, while tedious, are great acts of love because they allow us to step outside of our need to be seen or appreciated and just do things for people because we love them. My issue is not at all with that philosophy or way of living. My issue with this mentality is specific to my personality and my weaknesses because “doing small things” is something I take too seriously sometimes. “Doing things” at all is sometimes a distraction from loving in the way my family needs my love (e.g., a hug for my husband or reading a book to my daughter).
And this is how it is in my relationship with God. I get so caught up in “checking off the boxes”—did I pray today? did I go to Mass? did I say the rosary? —that I don’t always allow the Holy Spirit to really move within me. I’m satisfied that I did what I set out to do, and I just leave it at that. I think my struggle in this season is really letting go of my tasks, my schedule, my daily plan, and surrendering to the Holy Spirit. It’s allowing God to speak in the stillness, something I shy away from because I worry things won’t get done.
Though this is my current struggle, I do feel like I have to be honest here about the joy in this season. The joy I experience now is such that I truly feel like I’m living my best life. What I mean by that is that I have never felt more freedom, more peace, more serenity, more love, more true joy than in this season of my life. The way my heart soars, literally goes to new heights, when I see my daughter’s face smiling at me in the morning is unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced. The way I can watch her play with her toys and talk to herself and that can make me feel as though I’ve never been given a more life-giving blessing (other than God himself) before is unbelievable.
The other morning it was cool outside, I was wearing a cozy robe sipping my coffee, Miriam was playing with her toys in front of me in the living room, and I had this moment like I was looking at Jesus and he was looking at me, and all I could say was, “Thank you.” It was the first moment I think in my entire life when I knew that beyond a doubt this was what I was made for. And all I was doing was sitting, enjoying, wondering, being.
So while I do struggle in this season, I have never experienced such peace or such celestial joy. And I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of in that. I think sometimes, especially on social media, we’re afraid to show how happy we are because we don’t want people to think we’re fake. I think this is a shame. Saints aren’t sad; they rejoice in the gifts God has given them, and they share them! Not in an artificial, look how happy I am when I’m actually really miserable inside, kind of way; rather, they are joyful because they have God living within them, walking with them in the day to day.
I guess the lesson I need to take from writing this article (and maybe you will from reading it—hopefully you’ll at least be given something!) is that tasks are important, but there’s nothing more important than the love that is before your eyes. Whether we experience God’s love in our family, in the beauty of nature, in the loving and piercing gaze of Christ in the Eucharist, there is absolutely nothing more important and life-giving than this Eternal Love which makes itself present and visible to us everyday. We just have to stop for a second, or maybe thirty, and let Love embrace us.