I was thirty-eight weeks pregnant and our entire department was being forced to watch a comedy sketch involving Twinkies. Suddenly actual Twinkies were being thrown at us, bouncing off cubicle walls, and I longed for the home, the baby, and the domestic realm—enough of team-building exercises and staff pep talks. That freedom G.K. Chesterton wrote about sounded like a promised land to me:
I would give a woman not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free.
— G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong World
The very next day, I went into labor.
I became a mother and quit my job. And somewhere between the elation of giving birth and the first weeks at home with a newborn, I thought of Chesterton’s words again. Only this time I was pretty sure prisoners had more freedom than mothers. They got more sleep. They didn’t have to cook meals one-handed, and they had the privilege of eating their food warm. They had time to read.
I have now been “free” for four years. Would it be more “freeing” to catch a bus downtown and work in an office all day? In many ways it would. There wouldn’t be the unrelenting questions, the diapers, the discipline that begins when I am woken up by a child and ends when they finally fall asleep. I could leave at the end of the day—just walk right out the door. I could even quit. There would be weekends.
I have worked jobs that I thoroughly enjoyed, jobs where I felt I was “making a difference.” But motherhood has changed me.
When I worked in an Ethiopian orphanage, that choice was lauded by strangers, friends, and coworkers as an incredible sacrifice. But nothing could have made me happier than boarding a plane to Africa with a one-way ticket. To me that was freedom.
I am not always thrilled with the freedom inside the home. There’s always running water and electricity, but patience and fortitude run out regularly.
Expectations are high, failure happens on a daily basis, and some days real freedom comes only with the end of the day, a prayer that tomorrow will be better, and falling asleep.
As a mother, I’m no longer pelted with Twinkies, but regularly deflect blocks and stuffed animals. Pep talks are more nuanced, even brilliant, as they occur, not under the fluorescent lights of an office building, but during Mass and concern the soul and the love of God—not the almighty dollar. The stakes are higher, for they have an eternal dimension for myself, my husband, and our children. This is not a job; it is a vocation.
I am free—to love in abundance and sacrifice for the least of these: the unborn child in the womb and the crying ones in my arms. On any given day (sometimes hourly), there is another opportunity to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, counsel the doubtful, and admonish the sinner—days, nights, and years spent practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the means of grace. There is certainly abundant freedom, but it is less freedom from something and more freedom to do something and to become some one who is willing to serve and sacrifice, joyfully and abundantly, for another.
Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
—Saint Ignatius of Loyola
image: Procession on Woodstock Road by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr