We recently finished celebrating National Vocation Awareness Week in America, and although the focus was vocations to the priesthood and religious life, I find myself increasingly aware of the importance of my own vocation.
Our family was recently blessed with our fourth child (our third living daughter, with one little baby lost to miscarriage). The busyness of my life has increased significantly since her birth. I do some freelance and some part-time work (mostly from home), am a stay-at-home mom, and homeschool my oldest two daughters. Yet, the busyness isn’t necessarily from any one of those facets of my life. What most of my time and energy is devoted to is trying to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of three little girls. If you were to read my resumé, you would read about my experience as a catechist, a speaker, a writer, and a social media manager. When I encounter people outside of our family and they ask what I have been working on, they aren’t asking me how many diapers I changed that day, or how many tearful faces I stroked. They’re curious what book I’m working on, what my latest article is, or if I’ve done any speaking lately.
And so, it is hard to reconcile the fact that my most important job – the job that fully absorbs my heart and my thoughts and the vast majority of my waking and sleeping hours – is not one that is seen as important or interesting by the culture we’re living in. Adding to this confusion is the fact that the women of my generation were all raised to believe that we could “do it all” – we could work, be mothers, have a social life…and be successful in all those areas. The reality is that motherhood compels me and draws me like no other job does. No matter what my other accomplishments may be, they just don’t grab my heart the way those four little souls do.
I was talking with a group of fellow young Catholic moms about this recently, and we ended up talking about how this affects our spiritual lives, too. On this particular day, I was at our homeschool co-op with my girls, and it was our co-op’s monthly Mass day. I love the Eucharist and daily Mass, and wanted to be able to go to Mass with every fiber of my being – but I was faced with one daughter desperately needing a nap, another having an excessively emotional morning, and a third whose blood sugar was tanking and needing to eat lunch right then and there. God wasn’t calling me to go to daily Mass that day, and that was painful to accept. I know and often repeat the motto of St. Frances of Rome, but sometimes I don’t want to “leave God at the altar” to find him in my home…sometimes I just want to go find him at the altar and stay there. I want to make an impromptu trip to visit him in the tabernacle and not have it end in an argument with my four-year-old about which pew we should kneel in. I want to be able to go to adoration without an SOS text telling me to come home because the baby won’t take the bottle I lovingly pumped, and has decided she wants her milk straight from the tap today.
Despite all of this, though, I know that these four children of mine are getting me to heaven.
I often underestimate how God can work through these adorable little distractions, not just in spite of them. Recently, though, I received a powerful reminder of this.
The seminary where my husband teaches hosts a monthly night of music, preaching, adoration, and Confession for the young adults in our Archdiocese. It is one of the highlights of my month, and a definite source of grace for me. However, my four month old has been in the midst of teething and not sleeping well. I knew that if I left after bedtime, I would be summoned back quickly to tend to a fussy baby. I wanted to go to pray by myself, to have a chance to go to adoration alone, in order to better hear God speaking in my heart. I adore my baby girl, but I just wanted a little break. Nevertheless, I knew that she needed me that evening, so I bundled her up and brought her along with me to the seminary.
I arrived early, and sat in the back pew to nurse and rock my daughter. Every priest and seminarian that I passed on our way smiled when they saw us. She fell asleep relatively quickly, and the pews began to fill up. Before too long, I found myself surrounded by a band of seminarians, smiling at my sleeping daughter and me. And, as I prayed, I realized – they were attracted to my motherhood. In the same way that I am compelled and drawn to them because of their vocation, they are to me because of mine. I realized that my vocation was attractive and beautiful – not because of anything remarkable I was doing, but simply because I am a mother.
When I was a college student, discerning my vocation, I remember being really struck by the words of St. Paul, who says, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” I didn’t fully understand what that meant, but felt my heart stirred by those words. As I prayed in the seminary that night, I began to understand what that meant. It wasn’t that I was drawing these priests and seminarians to myself by my greatness, but rather they were drawn by Christ living in me, at work in me through my vocation to motherhood. Yes, my own personhood is a part of that, but it is about so much more than just myself. It is about Christ’s love, being shown in dying to myself and my own ambitions and desire for importance. That is what a vocation is, after all.
This was further affirmed for me the following Thursday, when one of the seminarians stopped me before lunch to share with me that he had seen me at adoration with my little baby and had been greatly moved by it. In that moment, I felt a peace wash over me. My vocation to motherhood consists of mostly hidden, mundane moments, seen only by God. It is easy to forget that the sum of those small moments is anything but small. And, like Mary, I am left pondering it all in my heart.
God’s ways are not our ways, and some of the greatest vocations are the hidden ones. The cloistered nun, the silent monk, the seminarian rising for the day at 5:00 a.m., and yes, the mother soothing a fussy baby in the middle of the night – there is something compelling about these vocations. It is in the little, hidden moments that God reveals his love.