During my first year of graduate school and teaching in Charleston, South Carolina, my friends and I would meet several times a week for daily Mass, and then, if our work or class schedules permitted, have coffee or breakfast together. Though we routinely attended the same Bible study each week, the morning Mass group was much more free-form, and the days we went varied week to week. Like everyone else in the group, I was single, and had a vibrant spiritual life because I had a great deal of time to spend in prayer, both in and out of church.
I moved back to my hometown shortly before meeting my husband. Though there was a strong young adult group there too, we were less involved in community as he did his dissertation research. We married just over a year after we met.
Our prayer life together has always been strong, but after marriage I started feeling nostalgic for the girl I had been in Charleston, the one who nurtured her prayer life so thoroughly.
I had been so used to the spontaneity of my personal spiritual life that I wasn’t sure what to do now that I had a spouse to consider, as well.
Ever the English major, I turned to several books to help me balance prayer and work as a newly married woman. They continue to hold valued spots on my bookshelf.
In those early months of our marriage, my husband worked seven days a week to finish his dissertation. Sometimes I felt guilty about the nights I spent proofreading for him instead of going to Wednesday night Mass or Bible study with the young adult group. My perspective started to shift, though, after reading Dom Hubert van Zeller’s Holiness for Housewives (and Other Working Women) and St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life.
Holiness for Housewives encourages married women to cultivate an attitude of prayer, one that pervades all aspects of life in our domestic churches. van Zeller points out that everything we do can become a prayer if we align our wills to God’s will and strive to do what he calls us to in each moment. For me, in that busy dissertation season, that meant a lot of proofreading. Even when I didn’t want to give up my leisure to help my husband with his work, doing so became a prayer out of love for and obedience to the God who has called me to marriage. The book is rather general, though, so when I wanted specific practical advice, I turned to de Sales.
Because the chapters in the Introduction are short, I didn’t have to devote a great deal of time to reading, yet still gleaned rich practical steps to help me incorporate active prayer into my daily life, such as St. Francis’ method for morning prayer. One of the key aspects he describes is to “anticipate what tasks, transactions, and occasions for serving God you may meet on this day and to what temptations of offending him you will be exposed.” Using this method helps me keep sight of God’s will as I’m going through my day, having made my to-do list prayerfully.
As I learned what prayer and work looked like for me as a married woman, I realized part of my initial struggle was rooted in only thinking of myself in terms of my vocation.
I’d been seeing myself as more of a wife than as a daughter of God. I had wanted to get married for so long that when I did, I got distracted by my excitement over the reality of marriage. I needed to remember that the love I felt for my husband, and his for me, was rooted in divine love.
Recognizing this, during Lent of my first year of marriage I revisited I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux, a gift from my college spiritual director. Accordingly, I spent those 40 days--which began just a few weeks after our wedding--meditating on the fact that I was loved first and best by God, and that growing in my love for him meant I could love my spouse and fulfill my married vocation better.
St. Francis de Sales says,“Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to a perfect life.” My prayer life looks different now from when I was single, and it will change again when, God willing, we have children. The wisdom of these authors has encouraged me to listen continuously for how God is calling me, in this moment, to pursue holiness.
About the Author: Maggie Strickland has loved reading and writing stories since her earliest memory. An English teacher by training and an avid reader by avocation, she now spends her days reading, writing, and volunteering in her community, trying to make her part of the world a little more beautiful. She and her husband are originally from the Carolinas, but now make their home in central Pennsylvania.