Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Word of the Year: I choose to SERVE

 I chose a Word of the Year for 2011, but haven't for the past two years probably because I pretty much abandoned that year's word (obedience) after a few short months.  (Wait, I've seriously been blogging that long?)  I had no intention of choosing one for this year, but then it became glaringly clear that there was an area of my life where I needed major work.  Let me explain:

Last week, while staying at my in-laws', David and I were talking about our wonderful new parish, St. Catherine of Siena.  My mother-in-law offered me a book she had on St. Catherine since I mentioned I knew very little about our parish's patron Saint.  As I began to read, I was a bit overwhelmed and even disappointed.  St. Catherine was an incredibly devout woman.  She lived her entire life devoted to God and to the service of others.  She fasted to the point where she no longer ate anything but the Eucharist and used extreme self-mortification to unite herself with the physical suffering of Christ.  She had common visions and conversations with Christ and she talked about nothing but the Lord. 

It's easy to understand why she is such a great Saint and, though uneducated, became a Doctor of the Church.  But the Saints are held up by the Church as examples that can teach us how to greater love and serve God and I just couldn't figure out how I could apply any of her story to my own life.  As a mother and a wife, I am unable to devote my whole life to God, at least not in the way that she did.  I have very real, earthly responsibilities - to care for my child(ren), my husband, and my household.  I cannot devote hours to uninterrupted prayer.  I cannot spend my days serving the poor and the hungry.  I cannot, should not, weaken my body because my health is necessary to serve my family.  (It's important to note that the extreme fasting and mortification were common practices in her day among the devout, and have since become less prominent as the Church leans more toward moderation.)  And to be quite honest, I have a variety of interests and while I realize they should all glorify God in some way, I can't imagine giving everything up that is not explicitly related to God.  While talking to my sister-in-law about the book, I told her that I just couldn't relate and I thought I should stick to books about Saints who were wives and mothers.

But then a strange thing happened.  First, I asked St. Catherine to aid me in the salvation of my soul and those around me.  She had a great love for the salvation of souls and during her lifetime, her prayers were sought by many for their family members who had hardened their hearts towards God.  Many miraculous, last minute conversions and confessions were attributed to her intercession.  I asked her to help me see the barriers that were preventing me from leading my husband, my daughter, and myself to Christ.

And suddenly, I began to see my own selfishness I may not be able to devote my every action, my health, and all my time to God, but I certainly can devote more of myself to my family, which is my vocation, my route to heaven.  Over the past year and a half, I've become increasingly more self-centered.  I think it began when I started my part-time teaching job.  I somehow developed an idea of entitlement.

Because I'm away at work all day and I'm tired, I deserve to spend my evenings relaxing and enjoying my interests.  I shouldn't have to do housework or take care of Lucia.  I've already done my duty for my family.

And I didn't think it one bit strange that my husband could go to work and come home and help with the housework and the childcare and never acted like he should get a pass.  Nor did I realize the hypocrisy I practiced when I heaped the chores on David after he got home from work so that I could have my own time.

And it just got increasingly worse from there.  We moved to North Carolina and I was no longer working, but I came up with new excuses.

Being a stay-at-home mom is hard.  It's more than a full-time job.  It's an all-the-time job.  I never get any time to myself.  When David gets home from work, he can take over the childcare and straighten the house so I can get a break.

That thinking in itself isn't bad.  It's certainly rooted in truth.  Being a stay-at-home mom is hard.  It is an all-the-time job.  I do need time for breaks to refresh and rejuvenate.  BUT spending all evening, every evening giving myself a "break" while David does all the housework and all the cooking and all the childcare after he spent the day working? That certainly is taking advantage.  And it doesn't help that my husband is an incredibly selfless man who would never question me if I said I needed a break and gladly picks up the slack.  He would never think of coming home from work and tell me, "I worked all day, I can't help you at all tonight."

And then I became pregnant and the excuses continued.

I'm pregnant and I'm growing a baby and it's hard and that's all I can do right now.  Don't ask me to help with anything.  I just can't.

Who is going to question that?  Our society buys into that.  Pregnant women are so delicate.  After all, pregnancy is a disease, right?  No picking up anything heavy.  Can't do too much work.  Have to watch everything you eat.  Probably shouldn't exercise.  It's just so hard.  So tiring.  So much so, you should only expect women to ruin their bodies that way once or twice, if at all. (On a related note, I love this post at Catholic All Year, Hey America, Pregnancy: You're Doing it Wrong.)

I didn't sit out my first pregnancy as a princess.  While I do think that pregnancy is a beautiful thing and deserving of respect, pregnant women don't get a "pass" to do nothing.   Taking it easy? Sure. Avoid the tasks that make them sick? Yep.  Look, I'm not judging you.  I'm judging me.  You might have had to sit on the couch all of pregnancy, especially if you had complications (if you had hyperemesis gravidarum, I bow to you) but I know that I was capable of doing so much more than I did.  I just didn't do it.  Because I was on a roll.  I was thinking of myself first and...Great! I have another excuse to put myself first.  Of course, I wasn't going to pass that one up.

And then I lost the baby.  And I had another excuse.

I just lost my baby and I can't think of anything else.  I am just in too much pain and grieving too much to be able to think of anyone or anything other than myself and my needs.    

If you've every grieved a loss (of any kind), you may have been unable to function, at least for a period of time.  That's normal.  That's ok.  I'm not critiquing that at all or calling it selfish in the least.  But grief affects everyone differently.  I did have that non-functional phase of grieving and I'm not referring to that.  But I know in my heart of hearts that that phased passed quickly but I continued to use grief as an excuse for laziness.  I'm still grieving, by my grief is taking a different form now.  I'm perfectly capable of putting my family first.  I'm perfectly capable of serving them through my actions.  But I'm not.

I don't need to do exactly what St. Catherine did in order to be like her.  She served the Lord and others in the ways she was capable of and though my capabilities are different, I am still able to serve to the best of my ability.  That is all any of us can ever do.

And I choose to do it.  Selflessness does not come easy.  Love does not come easy.  They are a choice.  Not a choice made once at an altar.  But choices made a hundred times a day:

I can choose to read a book or I can choose to do laundry.  
Reading a book is not inherently bad and laundry is not inherently good.  But one will be better serve my family, and thus God.  Most of the time, that choice is laundry.  But sometimes, it's reading a book that furthers my faith or my abilities.

I can choose to make dinner or blog.
If I don't make dinner, David will.  We won't starve.  But if I made dinner, he can spend the time relaxing, or playing with our daughter, or getting work done, or reading a book that brings him closer to Christ. 

I can play with Lucia or I can set her in front of the TV.
Sometimes, screen time is helpful to get other things done.  And when my baby girl is sick, it's about all she can do.  But most of the time she needs me, her mother.   

I very rarely do things that are objectively wrong.  But I often make the wrong choices for my specific situations.  I put myself first.  I put my needs first.  And I choose to change.  I choose to put my husband, the man who has put me first every day since our wedding (and many days before it too), first.  I choose to put my daughter, whom God has entrusted to me to show His love through my love and to teach and raise, first. I choose to serve them.

As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
- Joshua 24:15

Joining Elisa's Word of 2014 link-up.


  1. "I very rarely do things that are objectively wrong. But I often make the wrong choices for my specific situations. I put myself first. I put my needs first. "

    I can so relate to this line (and much of what you wrote). Great post...just what I needed to read. Thanks for the inmpetus to change.

  2. I can so relate to this! I'm pretty sure God gave me a husband and a daughter to teach me to be more selfless (among other things I'm sure). It's so hard though! Darn path to sainthood and its steep bumpy uphill slope.

  3. Mandi, this kind of gave me chills because I also recently read a book about Catherine of Siena (Sigrid Undset's book, AMAZING--still working on it, actually) and I was also greatly unsettled by the huge gulf between myself and that kind of holiness. Especially my inability to endure any physical discomfort whatsoever. I feel like I've been having more trouble with that since I read it--I chalk it up to spiritual attack. This post is incredibly helpful to me though. Thank you.

  4. wonderful reflection Mandi! And St Catherine of Siena is on my list of books to read and you made me want to read it all the more! I already have it purchased on my kindle, just waiting to have some free time!

  5. I struggle to serve Steven every.single.day. and he is very much like David- selfless and just does whatever without questioning. I feel like I've been working on it for forever and I'm about 2% better than I was when we first married. Which means it should take me the rest of my life to get the skill down! This post was really helpful; probably hard to write, but really helpful to people like me who struggle with this internally but don't really talk about it!

  6. I think all of us go through periods of selfishness. Getting a real "grown up job" takes a lot more out of a person than people realize. Especially older people that have 3+ kids that are all 12+...and are used to working 50+ hours a week and take care of the house and have kids that are old enough to help with some chores.

    It's so hard to prioritize and get things done when you are exhausted. I need to work on what you are going to work on this year as well. I'll keep you in my prayers and wish us luck!

  7. This is such a wonderful post. It totally goes against our culture, but it is exactly the way in which motherhood can be a joyous vocation, not a struggle or a cross, as most people see it. When we give of ourselves, God blesses us and He can never be outgiven in generosity. I am so blessed when I let go of my selfish desires and focus on being Jesus to my children. Great reminders! I need it daily.

  8. This is an awesome post. It's honest and raw and truthful. Thanks be to God St Catherine answered your humble prayer and God granted you the grace to be able to see and accept the answer. Have a great year!


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