The truth is, I don’t always enjoy motherhood. I often feel trapped in a never-ending cycle of food preparations, clean-up, laundry, groceries, organizing, sweeping, mopping, diaper changes, potty training, sleep-training, breastfeeding, modeling good manners, correcting bad manners, disciplining children who throw tantrums… and just re-read that seven times.
The truth is, I often long for more free time in my life: more time to sleep; more time to clean my home, myself, my soul; more time to earn money; more time to read; more time to socialize; more time to sit in quiet reverie sipping a stellar latte at a cozy mom and pop’s coffee shop.
The truth is, I don’t love knowing that every time I have sex I am “running the risk” of getting pregnant (unless I’m already pregnant). I am actually quite frustrated that more Catholics don’t talk about the difficulty involved in openness to new life. Months ago, in the early stages of my current pregnancy–39 weeks now, by the way, woot woot!–our parish priest mentioned the burden of openness to life in his homily. I was so grateful that he put it in those terms–a true carrying of the Cross of Christ. I think that Catholics often feel as if they are supposed to enjoy every pregnancy and convince the world that every pregnancy is/was intended and therefore wanted. After all, how “irresponsible” is it to get pregnant accidentally (and repeatedly accidentally, for that matter)? Especially considering that child-rearing is expensive and exhausting, and child-gestating and bearing is physically painful and takes a permanent toll on a woman’s body.
The truth is, this current pregnancy was unplanned (at least in my limited perspective) and unexpected. Thomas and I thought we were being called to abstain from conceiving more children for the time being, for both financial and mental health reasons. And yet, on the day we conceived I prayed: “Lord, we are doing our level best here to live prudently and avoid another pregnancy, so if we conceive now, it is because You must want this specific person to exist.”
The truth is, I am thoroughly convinced that I don’t always know what is best for me. Honestly, sometimes I think I’m just plain too busy to realize how much I love my life. Some people’s lives are so busy they don’t realize just how empty they are. But for me, life is so full I sometimes don’t realize just how full, how gratifying and deeply fulfilling, my own life is. I glimpse the size 2 working woman in a perfect outfit ordering a skinny latte in front of me at Starbucks as I try desperately to keep my children from breaking anything or screaming too loudly or running around, and I think, “Ah, what a life she has! To be standing in uninterrupted deliberation as I make an espresso selection! She must be so happy!” But what do I know?
The other day at the doctor’s office I was waiting (with my children and husband) in the waiting room beside a Carmelite nun in full habit. I smiled at her. She smiled the most joyful, pure, inspiring, peaceful smile back. My mind wandered to religious life (and oh! the peace it must afford!) and I concluded that God calls some to religious life to be a beacon of hope for the rest of us–a summit of perfection in prayer, Faith, Hope, Charity and so forth. “What a life!” I thought. “Sleeping a solid 8 hours every night, beginning and ending one’s days in the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, attending daily Mass, Lauds, Vespers and all the rest. Thank God for this woman beside me, so filled with tranquility, praying for poor souls like me who plunge on day after day just trying to keep my family alive and keep myself from losing my mind.” So when she commented on my precious children, I told her I was just sitting there thinking what a peaceful and fulfilling life she must lead, compared to the busy mayhem of my own. (Because God knows my children don’t seem too precious when they’re at home whining, bickering, hitting, biting, screaming, wiping poop all over the front seat of the car–yeah, that happened–and so on.) She almost laughed as she replied she had been sitting there thinking how busy her own life was and how I must lead such a joyful life–bringing a unique, unrepeatable facet of God’s love to the world in each child I conceive and bear. So, each of us carries our own cross, whatever it may be. The size 2 latte lady at Starbucks may be aching with loneliness as she waits for “Mr. Right”, the nun in the waiting room with me was aching for the joys of family life, and here I am aching for a latte in quiet reverie, or a solid 8 hours of sleep each night (or, well, at least a few nights a week), or just a smidgen more alone time than I’m liable to get for the next twenty years.
The truth is, I love my life and I trust my God and His love for me. I believe that marriage is a calling, a vocation like religious life, and in the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “Marriage, like all vocations, is a carrying of the cross.”
Each of us carries burdens in life, whether chosen or otherwise. As a Catholic, I choose the burden of family life–right down to surprise pregnancy after surprise pregnancy (replete with insomnia, roller coaster hormone rides, hemorrhoids, and then the crazy-making sleep-deprivation of new motherhood all over again)–because I believe with such deep faith that my God desires The Good for me, not just in Eternity, but here and now. And somehow, through marriage and family, my God is giving me The Good.
This alluring culture in which we live, and after which I so often pine, is a culture of selfishness that leaves the soul empty and lonely. When we are consumed with seeking the things of this world that do not call us beyond ourselves, we lose sight of those things that will actually bring us total fulfillment. We lose sight of the Truth.
The truth is, the Truth is. We are free to choose the Truth, or to choose the emptiness of self-gratification. The truth is, God desires only The Good for each one of us. But as high as the heavens above the earth are God’s ways above our ways and God’s thoughts above our thoughts, so we don’t always know that the daily grind is, in fact, bringing us more fulfillment than anything else we think will make us happy. And the best part of it all: whether we choose the Truth or not, the Truth IS.