On my wedding day, it was easy for me to look at the man I loved, excited to create a home and family with him. To shepherd him to heaven and let him do that for me. When I looked at our friends joining the priesthood or struggling in single life, I was even more overcome with gratitude. How lucky was I to have found my vocation so young, and to have a partner who would help make things easy and joyful!
I was right in how blessed I was, but easy is now the last word I would use to describe my vocation.
I hear love is a verb. It’s much easier to choose sacrifice when you’re on a honeymoon high and want only to dote than it is to let your spouse sleep in the middle of the night when your baby starts screaming.
I knew marriage--and the Catholic faith at its core--is to lay down your entire life and will for Christ. Doing it joyfully has been the most humbling lesson of my life, one I could only learn through the throes of marriage.
When I got pregnant earlier than I anticipated, I didn’t expect my joy to mingle with sadness. We had talked about children and thought my staying at home with them would be best for our family. Yet my career was such a huge piece of my vocation that leaving it earlier than expected felt a lot like dying.
So here I was at twenty four, trying not to blame my husband for this position while feeling like it was his fault, trying to put on a good face through an incredibly painful pregnancy, and trying desperately to let go of the sadness I felt to be having a child. I felt like a terrible person for sharing love with guilt.
And then our son was born. My world exploded and our marriage crashed into an entirely new dimension. We had just learned how to live together, communicate, and give things up to make the other happy, only to make room for another even needier human. The baby needed so much attention we literally had no time for our relationship as husband and wife.
I worked for seven months more, thinking if I worked while my baby was young, I could still have that time to chip away at this non-mother piece of me before my son got too big. In every moment I wasn’t caring for my son, I was struggling: to hit deadlines, to make us food, to clean the house. To take a shower once every few days. Ultimately, I realized it wasn’t possible anymore and drove to work sobbing as I prepared to give my notice.
It’s a story I’ve hashed out many times in the months since. And I’m home now, which makes me both terribly sad and indescribably happy. It’s only recently that I’ve had enough perspective to reflect on what this all has done to me--to the three of us--and the what now? piece I had been desperately searching for.
Why is this admittedly self-centered tangent even relevant to marriage? Because marriage, as I’m learning, is not about me. And it is not easy.
Being a wife, a mother, a Catholic--and hopefully someday, a saint--means taking on a cross and laying down my life. I’m not trying to be heroic about this, and it is not something I do only with grace every day.
But in the months since letting go of my job, my son has grown so much more full, happy, and joyful. He is leaping across the expectations we had for him; bringing joy to everyone we see, everywhere we go; he is flourishing, in large part, because of the new attention I’ve been able to love him with. He needed me.
My husband and I have, for the first time since I gave birth, had time together. Because I’ve had some time to get chores done I no longer need to work until midnight, I’ve been able to get our son down for bed at the same time every night. We have our nights back to heal, take time together, talk about where we are struggling, and date each other again.
My husband saw how sad and scared I was and has been able to love and comfort me; I was finally able to be vulnerable with him. And I was able to see how I was stretching us all too thin, and in making a decision to give something up for him, he is flourishing too now. There is a peace and a calm in our house that had been missing when everything felt desperate and urgent.
Being a partner--being in it this deep with my husband--is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I don’t have all the answers yet, and I may never have them.
I am not advocating that women give their identities up for their families. That’s not a vocation.
But seeing the fruits of my particular call in this season have reminded me my life is bigger than me, for more than me. And so is marriage. Leaving my job, for this season, was a decision best for my particular family, and maybe not for yours, which is alright and good. Perhaps I will find a more flexible job outside of nine to five that lets me work again in the future. For now, I will grow a little boy’s soul and be a balm to his father’s. Being a Catholic, being a Christian, being a spouse, means dying every day for something greater. And eventually, it will mean wanting to.
When we were dating, my husband and I frequently read the writings of John of the Cross--He read to me from The Living Flame of Love a few minutes before proposing! I’ll leave you with a piece of these words. This is marriage, and this is our joy: