It occurred to me recently that I spend a large percentage of my time being tired — often really, really tired. These past few months have been worse than usual, this pregnancy bringing with it a crushing exhaustion that I haven’t been able to shake. Even before this pregnancy, though, long stretches of feeling well rested have been few and far between ever since my first child was born. A certain amount of weariness just comes with the territory of building a family.
The other day I had one of those all-too-frequent moments of wondering how I would get through the rest of the day. I leaned against the wall before I headed upstairs to get my two littlest ones up from nap, pausing to take a deep breath and look at all those stairs that loomed in front of me. If I’d had any other options, it would have been easy to tell myself that I “couldn’t” do it. It seemed impossible that I could muster up the energy to haul myself up those stairs and then lift a wiggly 24-pound baby and a wigglier 28-pound toddler out of their cribs, change diapers, listen to the inevitable post-nap whining and crying, help my other toddler with whatever he needs, and be on-call for two more hours until my husband got home.
As I leaned against the wall, I thought it was interesting that this is the life I want for my children.
I thought about how counterintuitive it is to say, “Hey, kids, I’m really freaking tired all the time because of the duties of my vocation, and I pray that in twenty or so years this will be your life, too!” I can see why so many of the Baby Boomers and their parents adopted the mentality that the best life you could give your kids is one of physical ease and personal freedom to do whatever you feel like doing — after all, that’s a whole lot more comfortable. Surely a “good” life would involve more relaxation than work, more pleasure than sacrifice, more amusement than perseverance.
Yet it only takes a glance through the Self-Help section of any bookstore to see that there is a silent undercurrent of angst raging through our society; that the “good life” isn’t as good as it seemed it would be; that something is missing in the lives of many people, and it’s something big.
When people start searching for the meaning of life, they often picture that once they find it it will involve sitting in the lotus position on a Tibetan mountaintop, or sipping Chianti in a Tuscan villa, or perhaps posing in a photo shoot for the cover of a major magazine. Those visions of discovering the meaning of life and reaching the pinnacle of the human experience almost never involve images of sitting in a foul-smelling nursing home room holding the hand of an abandoned Alzheimer’s patient, or kneeling in prayer in a nondescript church, or running to the grocery store to buy an economy-sized jug of generic brand detergent to get through yet another mountain of laundry.
That’s why it’s so easy to miss the truth when you hear it. It was for me, anyway.
When I heard the Catholic notion that each of us has a vocation, and that it’s not about what you’ll do but whom you’ll serve, it sounded outrageous. Insane, even. In this worldview, living for yourself is not a valid option — regularly taking time for yourself, yes; but structuring your life around selfish pursuits, no. It went against everything I believed. It seemed to even go against common sense.
But, as I’ve also said many times before, when I tried it, the proof was in the pudding. The way years of underlying angst melted away, how all areas of my life suddenly had so much more order and clarity, that feeling of peace I’d always yearned for but had never experienced (and wasn’t even sure it was possible to experience) — there was no doubt in my mind that Christianity had a lock on the answer to the meaning of life. Through a life centered around agape, self-giving love, I found He who is Agape itself; I found what every human who’s ever lived desires most, whether they know it or not: God.
So as I leaned there against the wall, my eyes drowsy as I mustered up my last few ounces of energy to get to the top of the stairs, I thought of how very much I want this life for my children. Not necessarily my exact circumstances — some of them may be called to the priesthood, religious life, or another vocation other than married life — but whatever it is it will revolve around living for God and others. It won’t be the easiest or most comfortable life, it will come with many challenges, and they probably won’t get as much sleep as they’d like. They will have their own moments of leaning against the wall, weary from the service of others. But they will have the peace of Christ, an invaluable peace found only in the practice of agape that I missed out on for 27 years while I was trapped in a self-focused prison.
What I will tell them is what I would tell myself if I could travel back in time and deliver a message to the younger me. I imagine walking up to a twenty-year-old girl who’s a little too thin and wears a little too much black eyeliner, catching her in mid-daydream about discovering life’s secrets through mountaintop meditations or strolls down sunset-soaked beaches, and leaning over to whisper in her ear, “Pssst. When you discover the meaning of life, it just might involve being a little tired.”
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