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The Roughest Part About Community Life

alec vanderboom

One of the most soul searing moments in my life happened during my Carmel scrutiny interview. Picture a long table filled with super Orthodox Catholic men and women. I'm sitting alone at the head with my pregnant belly scraping the edge of the table.

 I got thrown the soft ball question "So how is your prayer life going?"

 I said "It's going badly and it's going great!'

 An interesting change happened during this pregnancy. Before I had a built up this strict prayer schedule that was so strong it held fast during my Father-in-laws unexpected death and my daughter's unexpected NICU stay. I used to be able to pin point these measured insights from my morning prayer routine.

But this pregnancy had left me with very bad morning sickness, no matter what time of day I tried to pray. So since it doesn't ever get better, I just resigned myself to the goal of praying during sickness. I get up every morning at 6 AM and I do the next half an hour "for God." It almost always sucks. Sometimes I actually spend the full 30 minutes in my bathroom throwing up. Some of the time, I'm just obsessed with the thought "I'm going to throw up." Sometimes I'm trying to pray and I'm so tired from throwing up during the night, that I fall completely asleep while holding my bible. But the crazy thing is that when I pray--this awful, "nothing is happening, I'm so not getting anything productive out of my meditation" prayer---huge things start happening during the rest of the day. I said I was so grateful that I got this opportunity to pray during Morning Sickness because I learned so much about humility, detachment, and "letting God do the work and not me."

When I finished my little five minute happiness speech I looked around. There were open jaws all around the table. There was a moment of stunned silence.

Then the attacks started to come.

People where stunned at my self-confidence at doing prayer badly while pregnant with a baby. There was all this suggestion that I'd really let God down by getting pregnant during this important year of discernment before making my temporary promise. In their minds, I should defer for a year (and then abstain from getting pregnant again) because it was critical to have a full year of prayer before making a temporary promise, and I couldn't pray "right" while I had this interference from morning sickness.

I remember thinking so clearly in my head, and finally summoning the guts to say it outloud "But Jesus gave me this baby! How can he be disappointed that I've got Morning Sickness during Morning Prayer?"

The more I grow in Faith, there is this beautiful growth in self-confidence. It's not like "self-esteem" as much as this quiet confidence that I'm in a relationship with Jesus, and he's the one feeding me. He's the one inspiring me. So if my eyes are firmly fixed on "Him" I don't have to take my esteem from matching the crowd around me.

Having a sort of "Jesus is my guide, not the world reference" is beautiful for me because it comes out of a growth of obedience. As an adult convert, there were many things I had an intellectual issues with the Catholic Church. I had to check my ego at the door and say in obedience "Okay, what does my new Mother Church say about this issue and how can I start to get myself into that shared mental space?"

Yet the more I confirm, the more I surrender--the more individual I become. My life has become my own. It doesn't look like other women's lives. Sometimes the most tension I have is with other Catholic women who have a deep faith because we get easily annoyed "You see so close to me, yet you're a little different. Therefore, You Must Be Doing It Wrong!"

I'm really learning to embrace differences among my friends. There is not a cookie cutter ideal of what a loving marriage looks like. Holiness is not defined by a set number of kids, or matching housekeeping habits, or even identical prayer habits. Holiness is defined by a real and authentic relationship with God. 

Community can have rough moments. There are times in Carmel when I want to crawl under a table and die of embarrassment. There are times in Family Life when I daydream what life would be like as a hermit. Yet Community refines me. It helps me clarify my thoughts about God. Community helps me practice my virtues. Community revels to me my hidden sins. Community life is vital to my Faith.

Teresa of Avila, pray for us. Help us grow in community.