Month: February 2014

Individual Roles, Mutual Subjection, and Equal Respect in Marriage

My husband and I are two exceptionally different people. I love chocolate; he likes vanilla. I could spend entire days reading; he gets bored after a few pages. He enjoys hunting (for food, not sport); I can barely carve raw meat without cringing. He finds peace in woodworking; I relax while I write.

Every relationship is like this in one way or another. Each of us is a one-of-a-kind blend of nature, nurture, opinions, and habits. For that reason, no two people are the same—and wedding rings don’t turn husband and wife into a single-minded, tunnel-visioned creature. Two become one, but that happens because they complete, support, and accept each other without question.

Given our differences, practically speaking, one component of a healthy marriage is settling into a mutually satisfying set of responsibilities, checks, and balances. In our case, that means Erik pays bills while I go grocery shopping; he shovels the driveway while I do the laundry; he cleans out clogged drains while I toss the expired stuff out of the fridge. We have a pretty traditional approach to household tasks, but not every marriage does. Some men love cooking, like cleaning, and know nothing about home repair. Some women love yardwork, enjoy changing their oil, and have no clue how to patch a pair of jeans. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any combination of shared tasks will do.

The point is finding a balance in which both husband and wife contribute to home and happiness. No one likes chores. But when spouses compromise based on what’s more agreeable for each, they can define their roles easily. Of course, we all trade tasks here and there, when the mood strikes. Again, the point is a shared balance—not formality or normality. You fulfill your responsibilities not because you like it, but because it must be done and you love your spouse enough to share the load. This applies to small stuff like cleaning and setting up dentist appointments, and to larger things like career paths and home defense. That’s family. That’s the partnership that a strong marriage requires.

So, given that well-rounded approach to sharing individual but mutually necessary marital responsibilities, what does the following passage tell us about the roles of husbands and wives?

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24

Let me begin by saying it does not tell us to be slaves. We are not the unthinking, helpless creatures that pop culture has misinterpreted and twisted this verse into implying. We are capable, beautiful women—wives, mothers, sisters, daughters—and we are strong, so don’t get that wrong.

I recently read a wonderful article that sums up what this passage means. You can read it here. I believe it’s clearly and beautifully voiced the truth behind these verses, so I’d like to share it with you. The following analysis largely mirrors and learns from that article.

Ephesians 5 tells us to accept our husband’s role in our marriage. The Greek word for ‘head’ in this reading is kephale. It doesn’t, literally or figuratively, mean ‘boss’ or ‘king.’ It literally means that thing that sits on your shoulders. Figuratively, the Greek word kephale means ‘source or beginning or completion,’ or ‘one who brings fullness.’ From that perspective, if a wife cannot accept her husband as the one who completes her or brings fullness to her life, she isn’t looking at marriage the right way.

The family unit is where the Church begins, so each family is called to be a mirror of the perfect love exemplified by Christ and the Church, his bridegroom. Husbands fill the role of “head” for a number of reasons. His job is to be a deliberate, logical, and emotive leader. He is a provider and a caregiver, and he takes responsibility for his family’s health, happiness, and safety.

You might still argue that that’s an outdated, hyper-traditionalist way to look at the role of the husband. But being a provider doesn’t mean his sole task is to bring home a paycheck while his wife keeps house. It means doing what he can to make his wife and his children comfortable and happy, and accepting his responsibility for their success. That role can take many forms, and Ephesians calls all wives to be humble and loving enough to accept that role for their husbands.

The rest of this letter’s passage on marriage adds more color to the role of the husband:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the water of the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his own body loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes it tenderly and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ Ephesians 5:25-31

The added emphases are mine; they’re meant to call out the depth of humility husbands are called to offer for their wives. The love Paul asks from them here is not erotic or domineering—it is profound, selfless, and sweet. Nowhere in this passage does Paul tell husbands to dominate their wives, give orders, or put themselves first. Instead, Paul is calling for men to offer themselves as servants to their wives: love her, cleanse her, make her holy. Put her first so that she may be without blemish; nourish and care for her tenderly so that you may live your fullest life.

Given the practices of Paul’s time, this message is a radically humbling one for men in the Church. He calls each husband not to be a property owner or a monarch, but a loving, kind, and humble husband whose life’s work is to meet the needs of and support his wife. I don’t see anything misogynistic in that.

Women are blessed with the sublime and completely unique gift of femininity. Naturally, her heart is uniquely open to nurturing love, and that’s true even if she struggles with fertility. In that way, a woman’s role is biologically and spiritually unique to her: she is ordained to be a sister to her family, a wife to her husband, a daughter of God, and a mother to all children. There is no greater blessing than the outpouring and influx of love in a mother’s heart.

Husbands, though biologically separate from the birth of children, are ordained as fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands. Their role, though different, is no less and no more important.

To call men and women the same is an insult to both their geniuses. They look, love, serve, and behave differently. They were created differently, so that each might have their own characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. They were made to balance one another, to complement each other’s unique needs, and to serve one another.

So masculine and feminine roles in marriage aren’t defined by 1950s standards of social acceptability. It’s not about who cooks, who works, who cleans, and who decides. It is about the two of them becoming one cohesive, loving body—one union to live and share life as beautifully and fully as they can. The day-to-day breakdown of responsibilities isn’t what’s important; the love, selflessness, and balance of their relationship are. And where those priorities are in place, mutual respect will inherently dwell.

Marriage is not 50/50 or 70/30—it is 100/100. It is an equal partnership in which both spouses give everything they’ve got. What they each have is unique to them—that’s why it works. And that’s why we love one another.

 

Why I don’t use hormonal birth control.

When I tell people I don’t believe in using artificial birth control, they often think I’m one of three things: a hippie, a nut, or an overly religious, old-fashioned conservative.

I can tell you I’m a religious, old-fashioned, and fairly conservative young woman. But I’m not crazy and I’m not into conspiracy theories.

My husband and I chose to save the ultimate union for our wedding night, largely because it’s what we believed was morally, physically, and spiritually right. But we were also scared. Scared of getting caught, scared of getting pregnant, scared of regretting it later. No matter the reason, it was the best decision we could’ve made.

For that reason, I didn’t need to think about birth control until a few years ago. I had irregular cycles and acne as a teenager, but I never wanted to ask for birth control pills to address those things. I didn’t want to give my family the wrong idea, and I didn’t, frankly, want to tempt myself.

As Erik and I matured and began planning our marriage, we did a little more digging into church teachings about family planning. We knew the church taught against artificial birth control, but we didn’t know why. Was it just outdated, like everyone said? Was there an alternative that wasn’t just plain risky? Were we prepared to have a busload of kids?

So we looked into it. When we read that the pill—which seemed like the easiest option—could serve as an abortifacient form of birth control, we decided to do even more research.

I’ll get into why we don’t use physical methods of birth control in another post. First, I want to talk about the pill. I don’t think women know enough about it, simply because we’re never taught enough about the way it works. So I hope this is helpful.

In sex ed, everyone tells you the pill works by tricking your body into thinking it’s already pregnant. In fact, people still tell me that if I ask them how it works today. The thing is, it’s not really that simple. It adds hormones to your body in a similar way that a pregnancy would, sure. But that’s not all it does.

Hormonal birth control—i.e., the pill, as well as most patches, IUDs, injections, and other chemical forms—works in four ways:

  • Suppressing ovulation to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg during each cycle
  • Altering your cervical mucus so it’s more difficult for sperm to navigate
  • Disrupting the way the cilia in your fallopian tubes move to reduce the chances of a fertilized egg reaching the uterus for implantation
  • Inhibiting the growth of your uterine lining (the endometrium) so any fertilized egg could not attach properly
  • In some cases, the “mini-Pill” (a progesterin-only option) may not prevent ovulation or conception (those first two tactics) at all.

Two of those effects are designed to prevent conception. But the last two prevent implantation—meaning your body hasn’t been tricked, knows you’re not pregnant, and has ovulated as it naturally would. Your cervical mucus wasn’t thick enough to keep sperm from traveling through you. So an egg is fertilized, and pregnancy has begun.

The pill doesn’t give up, though. The third effect prevents the body from moving your fertilized egg to the uterus, where implantation would take place and the embryo would receive the nutrients necessary for development. The fourth effect changes the environment of your uterus and prevents that viable zygote from taking its place in your womb and growing. That zygote—though very tiny—has its own DNA. It is individual of the woman’s body, in that her DNA and her partner’s—two human parents—have joined to create a third entity. Science has proven that conception is the moment a new individual (and, therefore, a pregnancy) begins—not implantation. The DNA is human. Given the simple resources a pregnant mother provides (a warm, safe place, nutrition, and oxygen), that individual will grow into an infant who, in just a few months, can be held and tickled and nursed in its mother’s arms.

Occurring about a week later, implantation is simply the end of the embryo’s journey down the fallopian tubes. It settles into the uterus by attaching to the endometrium, which provides the nutrients it needs to grow and develop. That little individual—with new DNA and a separate makeup from its mother—has already existed for several days. When the lining of the uterus has been altered by the pill, the implantation factors of the lining—key chemicals, as well as special molecules known as integrins—are damaged and unable to perform their job. So imagine that zygote is a plane led by a pilot, and the uterine lining is the airport. If the crew at the airport can’t communicate with the pilot flying the plane, the plane can’t find a safe place to land. And if the plane can’t land, the pilot won’t survive long.

The “morning after pill” works this way, too. It’s just a high dose of the hormones that will alter the endometrium, with the hope that the uterine lining will be compromised before the embryo reaches it. The plain old pill just does it a little slower.

So, anything that works to prevent conception can be called contraceptive. But anything that fails to prevent contraception can’t share the same term. Conception has already happened. At that point, your pill becomes abortifacient. That is the scientific word for anything that stops a pregnancy after conception has already occurred.

That said, even if the birth control industry came out with a pill that didn’t have an abortifacient effect, I still wouldn’t take it. Aside from the health risks (which I’ll also address in another post), I don’t think it empowers women. In fact, it literally—by which I mean physiologically—suppresses the women who take it.

What message are we sending our future daughters when we say that taking the pill—effectively turning off a natural function of our bodies, and altering the way our biology works—is the only way to gain control over our love lives, our families, and our sex lives? That’s the opposite of support. It conceals a woman’s natural, complex biology so she can become an object of pleasure. It’s repression. And I don’t buy it.

Our bodies do amazing things each month. That’s part of our feminine identity—it’s the magic only we can make happen. And it’s not just about the fact that we can carry children. Sadly, some of us can’t. In every case, understanding the way our natural cycles affect our day-to-day wellbeing gives us greater insight into our health and physical selves. It’s about knowing yourself, truly. It’s about taking ownership of the complex, profound woman you were literally made to be. It shouldn’t be about stamping out your nature because you were never taught how to handle it on your own, or that it was worth protecting. We’re capable of so much more than that. All of us.

Respected and Beloved

Letting compassion come through.

I spend over two hours of every day on the train during my commute. I definitely prefer it to driving—sure, the schedule is restrictive, but at least I don’t have to deal with expressway traffic or ragoholic drivers—but it has its shortcomings.

One of those is a biggie. Train accidents aren’t common, but they’re not all that rare, either. Pedestrian accidents—sadly, often suicides—are, of course, the worst. I once sat on a train for more than three hours as crews responded to, cleaned up, and investigated a pedestrian accident. It was a heartbreaking experience. The conductor very plainly told us we’d hit someone. More than once, he used the phrase “There’s a body under the train, and they’ve got to get it out.”

He was just trying to keep passengers updated on the situation, but for me, it was way too graphic an overshare. I watched fire, police, and railroad crews moving in and out of the view from my window seat and thought, I’ve literally never been this close to death before. I cried quietly the whole time, imagining that poor man’s last moments.

I haven’t been on a train directly involved in an accident since then, but I’ve sat in backed-up trains waiting for clearance after a crossing accident several other times. This week, on a particularly snowy day with whiteout conditions and slippery streets, my train was stuck when the one ahead of us hit a car at a crossing.

When the conductor announced this delay over the intercom, everyone groaned. Many of us had caught an early train hoping to avoid weather-related delays during rush hour, and there we were, stuck anyway.

But do you know what I realized? While many people were vocal about their disappointment with the delay, not one person spoke up and said, “Wow, I hope the people in the car are okay.” Not one of us. I thought it, but I didn’t say it aloud. I should’ve. Instead, everyone was saying something like, “I hope this doesn’t take as long as it did last time” or “I don’t have time for this.”

For background, delays are longer when there’s a fatality involved. When that happens, all those fire, police, and railroad crews have to perform an investigation and document the accident. When it’s just a car that’s been struck, they can simply clear the tracks of debris, inspect them for soundness, and let the waiting trains move on.

A little while later, the conductor walked through our car and said he’d gotten word that there were no fatalities—a car had stalled on the tracks and the driver couldn’t move it in time because of the heavy snow. The driver managed to walk away without a scratch. Someone had caught the accident on video (a whole other topic, if you ask me), and it looked like the car’s front end was hit by the train—not the midsection, where the driver would’ve been vulnerable.

And do you know what I heard when he said that? “Oh, great, no deaths—we won’t be stuck here much longer.”

Not “Thank God that driver is alive” or “How great that no one was hurt” or even “I hope they had good insurance.” The passengers just voiced a general satisfaction that their schedules wouldn’t be interrupted too dramatically.

It’s amazing how easy it is for us to become desensitized to tragedies. When it’s the train in front of ours doing the hitting and you’re tired after a long day and want to get home, it’s easy to pretend that accident is happening in a different universe, and that makes it easy to pretend that your time is worth more than the life that was at risk. When it’s your train but it’s happened before and it was the victim’s choice to die, it’s easy to block the experience and cast it aside.

The thing is, we don’t even think about it sometimes. It’s not that we actively choose to believe our evening plans are worth more than that person’s whole life. It’s just that it never occurs to us to recognize that lack of thought.

The ability to avoid emotional reactions to catastrophe is a defense mechanism. It’s designed to help us continue surviving even as we face danger, or as others are hurt or killed. But that mechanism doesn’t really prevent the emotions so much as it blocks them. And the mechanism isn’t perfect, either. It’s not the end-all, be-all, and it’s not a solution to the struggles we face. Blocking emotions (or even memories) is simply the mind’s way of protecting us in the moment, much like our bodies elevate our temperature in an attempt to fight infection. Though it’s a valiant effort to address an immediate problem, it can often have longstanding effects on our minds, our emotions, and our souls.

As men and women of a single, global community, we owe it to ourselves and each other to overcome our instincts in favor of compassion and justice. So instead of letting your well-meaning brain stamp out your feelings, let your heart be free to care. Let it speak up, reach out, and make a difference. That’s what makes us human.

Barbie, Bikinis, and Body Image

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition came out this week. If you’re like me, you’re gearing up for several weeks of cringing at the same photos of basically naked, airbrushed, underweight supermodels appearing in the media repeatedly for no real reason except “sex sells.”

But this year, SI has given us a new kind of cringeworthy: Barbie, with her hair perfectly fluffed, her swimsuit perfectly cut, her feet perfectly buckled in risqué stilettos, and her impossible figure stretched across a glossy page published for 36-year-old men seeking soft porn to gawk at.

Yes. That happened. A doll marketed for 3- to 7-year-olds is all mixed up between layers of real, objectified, female skin.

Why? Oh, haven’t you heard? Barbie’s “#UNAPOLOGETIC” now. She doesn’t care what people say about her, with her impossible standards of beauty and her materialism. In the face of real criticism about her effects on body image, self esteem, and young girls’ physical and mental health, she’s decided to go the sexy route. Because that makes sense.

Because teenaged boys and middle-aged men browsing their annual not-quite-Playboy should definitely be thinking about the health and wellness of young girls while they “read” about this year’s biggest swimwear trends. And they’re definitely going to glean a new understanding of an “#unapologetic, strong, and independent” new persona for Barbie, too.

Makes sense.

There are few things that frighten me more about parenting than the task of overcoming pop culture—especially today, when every aspect of media is chock full of garbage and every man, woman, and child is berated with it 24/7.

Diaper changes, late-night feedings, and tantrums I can handle. I haven’t been there yet and I know those won’t be pleasant rituals, but all parents endure them and the best ones learn to find humor in it all. I think that, with my husband’s help and a little faith, I can do that. But the responsibility of out-screaming, so to speak, the messages our society sends our children is a truly intimidating one.

When we’re repeatedly told that casual sex and good looks offer more life experience than commitment and human connection, we’re in trouble. I want my daughters—and my sons—to know that they’re worth everything. Their value isn’t determined by their fondness for vulgar music or their propensity to break rules or their skills in any physical endeavor whatsoever. I want them to know that their goodness is in their personalities, their intelligence, their hearts, and their faith. I want them to be loyal without being called “naïve,” committed without being called “desperate,” and generous without needing to give their bodies for someone else’s concept of “fun.”

Our children should be given the chance to understand what beauty really is. They should be taught that sex is the ultimate expression of love and unity—not a means to just anyone’s (or their own) pleasurable end. Our daughters should be treated like sisters, not objects—and they shouldn’t need to starve, Photoshop, or berate themselves to meet an unrealistic, societal “requirement” of acceptance. Our sons should know that they are whole people, not hormone-driven animals, and that they can and should be appreciated for the real gifts they can give those around them.

I recently heard the phrase, “We complain about society, but we are society.” That’s the honest truth. And I hope we all think about it deeply. How can we influence those around us to make this world a better place for our children? How can we change the way we behave so that we begin and end every pursuit with love, not selfishness, lust, or ignorance?

It takes a village to raise a child. I hope I’ll surround myself with the right one. And I hope you’ll help me do it.

Praise to Blossom

My husband and I practice NFP. Now you know.

Pop quiz: What’s number one on the list of FAQs encountered by virtually every newlywed couple ever?

“So, are you planning on having kids?”

Bingo. All of us hear it. Even though it can get irksome from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our families asking about it. For some of them, it’s something akin to “Are we there yet?” They’re excited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet and see a little bundle at the next family gathering. Who isn’t?

Plus, it gives me hope. The fact that building a family of happy, well-loved children is still foundational to marriage—and the logical next step—is encouraging. Because that means family still matters.

Like anyone, Erik and I do our best to answer this question honestly, discreetly, and without awkwardness. Our children, after all, will be neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to these people. It takes a village.

But there’s something tricky about our answer that, if I’m honest, I could do a better job of addressing. And when I say “tricky,” I don’t mean “crazy” or “questionable.” I mean “misunderstood” and, often, “looked down upon.”

Natural family planning is hard for me to talk about. That’s partly because it’s hard to make people understand. Frankly, though, it’s also because I always expect to be judged. And the more I think about that, the more it bothers me—because, in my heart of hearts, I know there’s nothing crazy or questionable about it, and I know the people asking won’t react that way.

Typically, I’ll only barely discuss it with immediate family and virtually no one else. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Relative: “So, are you and Erik planning on having kids anytime soon?”

Me: “We definitely plan to have a family, but not right away. For now, we’re happy just enjoying each other as husband and wife.”

Erik and I are not shy about practicing our faith, nor are we shy about our efforts to adhere to the Church’s teachings. Maybe for that reason, I often get a really specific follow-up right about now. It’s typically accompanied by a skeptical look and mild concern.

Relative: “Well, are you doing anything to prevent it?”

And there’s the kicker. This is when I have to decide how deep I’m willing to get into the topic in that moment. Ultimately, I take one of two (very weak) approaches: vagueness or avoidance.

Me: “Yes, we’re being purposeful about it”  or “Yes, but nothing artificial.”

That’s the phrase I always use: “Nothing artificial.” And, usually, the relative will nod quietly and change the subject, or ask me a follow-up or two. (Examples: Does it work? Isn’t that rhythm method way out of style? Doesn’t that mean you can’t have sex?)

I’m a little ashamed to tell you that the conversation has never gotten much farther than that, unless I’m discussing it with someone I know is also practicing NFP, or at least in agreement with it. That’s because I’m afraid of judgment. And that shame is on me—not on the person who’s asking.

I should be excited to tell them how well it’s working for Erik and me, how close it keeps us, and how effectively it has helped us keep our lines of communication open. I should tell them how much better I understand my femininity and my fertility because of it. I should readily bring up all of the statistics I know by heart, all of the evidence, and the science behind the methodology we use. And, above all, I shouldn’t hesitate to bring my catechism into the conversation and talk about the most important question of all: why we do it. But I’m not that brave, and I am nervous.

For me, it’s pretty easy to be married. It’s easy to practice what I believe in private, with the support and close partnership of my husband. But sometimes it’s hard to bring that into the full light of day. And it’s hard not to worry about what other people will think.

So I’ll consider this my “debut” as an NFP user and advocate—even if it’s only in my circle of friends and family. I’ll keep talking about here, and I’ll try to be better in one-on-one conversations, too. Ask me about it. And don’t let me avoid giving you a genuine answer.

nfp-pro family

Celebrating Valentine’s Day for What it Is

This week is a doozy for my husband and me—both of our birthdays and Valentine’s Day fall in this little stretch of early- to mid-February. Because it’s so packed, it can be tough to balance all the special stuff. In the past, we’ve been tempted to more or less ignore Valentine’s Day. But if I’m honest with myself, I’d be disappointed if we did.

I know a lot of people complain about Valentine’s Day. Friends call it a Hallmark Holiday, or find it depressing if they’re single. And, in a lot of ways, I can see where they’re coming from. The materialism of it is both unfounded and unfortunate. After all, men and women shouldn’t feel boxed into “proving” their love with gifts. And no one should feel excluded just because they don’t have a romantic interest every February 14.

But I like to think of it this way: in an increasingly self-centered culture, what’s the harm in a chance to tell the people around us we love them? To give gifts of one kind or another, or create new memories that make the day special? Though it may seem like an excuse to go through the motions of gift exchanges and fancy dinners, at its heart, Valentine’s Day is much more meaningful as an opportunity to extend an expression of love to the people who are dear to us—whatever that means to each of us.

It’s also a feast day to celebrate a saint, who is ready and able to intercede for us if we ask him. History isn’t exceptionally clear about who St. Valentine (Valentinus in Latin) was, though they do have some clues. He was arrested and martyred in about the year 270 for marrying and otherwise aiding Christians living under Emperor Claudius in Rome. (Traditional stories suggest he attempted to convert the emperor himself to Christianity, which also contributed to his death sentence despite the emperor’s initial affinity for him.) While awaiting his execution, legend says that Valentinus restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter. [Source: Catholic.org.]

The Church calls St. Valentine the patron of love, happy marriages, lovers, and engaged couples, yes. But did you know he’s also patron of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, plague, travelers, and young people? So Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about romance. You can celebrate by greeting a stranger with kindness, thinking of loved ones who are traveling, praying for the sick, or sending a care package to a college friend or doing something nice for your younger siblings. That’s not too difficult, is it? And there’s nothing Hallmark about that.

There are many kinds of love. Don’t feel like Valentine’s Day is all rose bouquets and jewelry and greeting cards. Be genuine however you like. If you don’t have a spouse or significant other at your side today, don’t hesitate to tell your family you love them. Thank your friends for their presence in your life. Pray for the needy out of the goodness of your heart. And, though it may seem silly and contrived, take a moment to enjoy the frilly examples of love all around you. Love isn’t something to be scoffed at or ignored. Embrace it, let it fill you up, and be generous enough to spread it around.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and God bless!

Love and Beauty

Giving Faith a Boost in Just 88 Hours per Year

As a kid, I wasn’t very good about going to Mass. I complained, hated waking up “early” on Sunday mornings, and didn’t stay focused during the liturgy. I think a lot of kids are like that, unfortunately. It can be hard to get them involved.

What’s harder, though, is sticking with the routine when we’re older and our parents aren’t there to hold us accountable. Especially in young adulthood, it’s easy to neglect that weekly obligation. You’re tired. You’re working (or playing) hard. You’ve got a project to finish. Your friends aren’t going.

Fortunately, we Catholics are blessed with a special kind of guilt complex. That’s because the Church is always there to hold us accountable, even when our neighbors aren’t. She has our basic obligations cleanly and simply outlined for us: go to Mass on Sundays and holy days; confess your sins at least once yearly; receive the Eucharist at least once yearly; observe a handful of fasting and abstinence days throughout the year; give what you can.

Those obligations aren’t difficult to meet. At their hearts, all of them are about receiving much more than they’re about giving. And when you consider how much time it takes to fulfill them, it’s difficult to justify neglecting them.

Let’s assume each Mass takes an average of 1.5 hours to attend. In 2014, there will be 52 Sundays and 6 holy days of obligation (in the United States). 58 multiplied by 1.5 equals 87.

The Eucharist is part of the Mass, so no need to add extra time there. Fasting and abstinence aren’t about giving up time; they’re small sacrifices to make you think about the gifts God has given you. And giving what you can doesn’t have to mean more time—it means a few coins or bills out of your pocket, a few extra groceries in your cart.

So all that’s left is to add another hour for that annual confession. It probably won’t take nearly that long, but we’ll account for travel and wait times, just in case.

That’s 88 hours of your whole year devoted to God outside of your home—about the time you’d spend working and commuting for just two weeks. That’s it.

You have 8,760 hours to spend in 2014. Is it impossible to commit barely 1% of that time to thanksgiving, communion, and prayer? Does your faith make up less than 1% of your identity? After all, what we do reveals more about us than what we say.

The average American spends about 1,643 hours each year watching TV. A lot of us spend at least that much time on the internet, too. We spend at least 2,000 hours sleeping, and at least 2,000 hours working, too, if we have a full time job. Those aren’t necessarily fun, but we get them done, right?

We’re told to spend about three hours a week exercising our bodies. With work and intellectual activities like reading, we spend another 40+ hours exercising our minds. In the interest of improving ourselves holistically, isn’t exercising our souls worth two hours of our time each week?

For my part, I’m good about meeting those obligations, but I’m not good about committing more than that 1% of my life to my Church. In high school and college, I often went to daily Mass (at least partly thanks to Erik, who is fervent and passionate about his faith in a way I truly admire). I also participated in a handful of faith-based activities, which helped me stay thoughtful and devoted throughout the week.

Today, with a full-time job and a long commute, it’s hard for me to make myself do much more. But there’s a daily Mass offered walking distance from my building downtown. I could go several times a week if I wanted to; I just don’t. But I should, and I’m trying. I’m also hoping this blog will keep more of my mind and my time on God.

It’s also easy to supplement that 1% with learning: consume a few verses of the Bible each day; read the Catechism; follow Catholic blogs; have a conversation with your priest, your family, or your friends. Spend a little time talking to someone about your beliefs. Ask a few more questions (even if Google’s the one finding the answers for you, there are thousands of good resources to be discovered). Follow the Pope on Twitter. Read an article on EWTN. And, of course, there’s prayer.

None of us is perfect. But giving 1% of your time to improve your faith life, join your community, and thank your Father doesn’t require perfection. It takes just an hour or two of your week, an ounce of work, and a little bit of purpose.

1PercentGraphic