Around this time of year I get letters from women asking how best to use their time. As we contemplate the beginning of the school year and the natural rhythms of the autumn, we look to be better stewards of the gift of time.
This year, I drastically overhauled my own schedule after some serious soul-searching. Here’s a bit of what I’ve shared with the women who have asked me to discuss this topic with them.
Several things converged recently to give me a real picture of what it is to be a good wife. I desired to truly embrace and live the “Little Way” of St. Therese and to be what God really calls me to be. I knew that if I could do that my yoke would be easy and my burden light, because I’d carry the cross He desired for me (as opposed to other inappropriate ones). In a way, I guess I was looking for balance but not secular balance. To the secular world, my “new” life would look pretty unbalanced. I went back to tradition and the teaching of the saints and I rejected the cultural messages. Then God literally had someone call me who could offer sound guidance a total stranger who called on a very somber day and dropped a big chunk of all this in my lap.
For about six months, prior to this phone call, we'd been contemplating a move out west. I considered that I would go there and absolutely no one would know me. I would be hidden. There, my phone wouldn't ring for days unless my husband called home. Here, I have dozens of friends who call all the time and ask me to do all sorts of interesting things. Here, I was involved in a zillion worthy projects that would go on quite nicely without me if I moved 2,000 miles away. I spent a whole lot of time thinking about that and I decided that if those relationships that would move with me weren't strong and good and filled with joy, it really didn't matter much what the people back here thought of me. If the one adult who would move with me isn't my very best friend in the world, I have a problem. And if I spend more time nurturing relationships with friends and neighbors than with my husband, I'm in trouble. With God.
The woman who called shared with me the story of a homeschooling mother, my age, who had died and left nine children and her husband behind. If I died tomorrow, where would my treasure be? I have no doubt God wants me to write occasionally, but I do that far better when I live a hidden life. I do it better when I have time for observation and introspection. And when I put that calling in its place and answer the all-encompassing call of being a truly good wife and raising seven children, there is little legitimate time for much else.
As I was pondering all this, the Sunday Gospel was from Matthew 11:25-30. Never before had I noticed how Jesus's exhortation to be little (childlike) is linked to the promise that His yoke is easy and His burden light. To me, this says that if we simplify, if we are little and hidden, then the yoke won't be too much to bear. When we are striving to be much according to the world's standards to produce, to succeed, to know and be known we are no longer little, even when we are doing those things for the Church. We are no longer childlike and entirely dependent upon God. Instead, we are looking to the world for affirmation, for solace, and for amusement. He has called us to a vocation. In that vocation, we are wives and mothers. We must do that well. Answering that call is our only path to heaven. It's a little path, a narrow path. If our lives feel out of balance, if they are not peaceful and our burdens feel anything but bearable, it's not God's burden. The yoke is ill-fitting and we are carrying the wrong load.
But isn't carrying a cross supposed to be hard? How do you figure out if it's hard because it's the cross or it's hard because you're shouldering the wrong yoke? When we are out of step with His will, striving to be more or different from what He has called us to be, then the yoke is unbearable. There are certainly real crosses in His will for us. Life can be difficult, but if it's from Him, it won't be without peace. It can be arduous, but not without joy. If we are in His will, there is His joy and peace on the journey.
Americans especially seem to be so production-oriented whether producing actual goods or producing a list of services and accomplishments. St. Therese writes: “In the evening of this life, I shall stand before you with empty hands.” He wants nothing except that we are filled with His love and we love with that love. And He will fill us in the homes where He has called us. As wives and mothers, we are particularly blessed. It will take all of our time and all of our energy and all of our hearts to “just” do that well just love our families as Christ does. It's simple. It's as hidden as a little house in Nazareth. Admittedly though, it does take some courage to downsize, particularly if we have defined ourselves as “strong” women. Sometimes strength is a quiet, gentle virtue and not one that the world readily recognizes.
Some questions we must consider as we decide where to invest the treasure of our time: Is my husband happy with all that I am doing? Is he completely supportive of my work or my ministry outside our home? If not, it's not God's will that I do it. God has an order and a method for prioritizing in a family. Do I meet the requirements of my primary vocation faithfully? Is my home orderly? Is there time for guiding relationships and tying strings with my children? Is an illness or an emergency just a shift in my mothering or does it require unbelievable juggling and apologizing? Can my husband count on coming home to a woman who smiles at him and gives of herself to him every single day?
That we have a primary vocation is not in question. We are to be good wives and mothers. One hundred percent good wives and mothers. If we fail at this, we've left the path He chose for us to get to heaven. God has a perfect plan for the family. The thing is, when you conform to that plan, you're really happy. Peace reigns at home. You sleep well at night. Your husband starts to act like a newlywed. You feel truly loved. It's amazing.
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.