Ten years into stay-at-home motherhood, I stopped feeling the flickers of envy whenever I saw Facebook pictures of richer Catholic sisters' pictures of island vacations with their husbands in midwinter. “What was the point of leaving?” I suddenly told myself. The pointless feeling of acedia had permeated into my bones.
After that odd experience on Facebook, I stopped seeking escape from my feelings by planning more dates with my husband, or by searching for a new job, or by discovering a better book. Instead of asking to avoid the hard work, I started asking God a new question: “How can I find fun inside this cycle of uncomfortable work?”
I’m a sanguine. I’m the original party girl. After a hard Saturday spent racing sail boats or debating guys from Princeton, I used to spend my Saturday Nights dancing at Smith College. I rode horses and danced the Cha Cha at Law School. Before kids, my way of coping with a hard work was to live for brief moments of fun and distraction.
Motherhood is not a party. I clean toilets. I bake bread with minimal ingredients. I tell small children to wash their hands and I coach teens how to develop emotional resilience. I spend too little time with my husband and too much time with my car mechanic.
The answer to my acedia was to stop escaping my work, and start to embrace my work. I made myself clean the house with care even when I felt stuck and negative. I started decluttering the little girl’s room even when it felt useless. I kept my advice simple and repetitive to my teens.
As a Mother, the work that I do is a routine. I get up. I help a baby. I make food appear and I wash the laundry. I decrease the dirt around me. I lead. I teach. I parent. I problem solve. I try my best to pray and make art happen everyday. I write some stuff on Facebook that is beloved and some stuff that is misunderstood and some stuff that is hated.
Somehow after 18 months of doing the same stuff in different moods everyday, I realized that I’ve grown into a more decent human being. I now have original thoughts on commonplace problems in our society. I have the stamina to write a novel, create an environmental conference, and attend city council meetings. All the things that I wished I could do at 25, suddenly become more possible because of my faith.
This Lent I want to focus on Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you.” A key word is whatever. Our society likes to make distinctions between “work”. There is paid work and important work and menial work. My spiritual bff, St. Teresa of Avila, models something outside of this cultural paradigm for me. There is no menial work when something is done unselfishly for Christ.
This Lent may we all shine in our interior internship with Christ.