Do Not Be Discouraged: Domesticity and Virtue

Note: This article was originally written for and published by Chaste Love. It was an honor to be invited to write for such a wonderful resource, and I’m very happy to share my article again here. 

Growing up, I always felt called to marriage as my vocation in life. I believed that God had a romantic path in mind for me: true love, a happy home, a wholesome family. I never really considered religious life. I just never felt drawn to it.

That is, not until I experienced just how hard family life can be.

Cloistered religious life, specifically, never seemed attractive to me until the noisy, hectic unpredictability of raising toddlers took over my daily experience.

I think we sometimes fail to see the beauty in other vocations until we deeply know the difficulties of our own. But while I may, here and there, yearn for the solitude and quiet devotion of a religious sister, I know in my heart that God made me to be a wife and mother.

Still, the struggles of this life have surprised me. I didn’t realize motherhood could be so lonely. And I failed to anticipate how the devil might trick me into thinking all my domestic labors are empty, circuitous, and invisible to the rest of the world.

Labor of Love

I can’t tell you how deeply I feel like my days are filled with little more than cleaning up messes and watching them be made again.

The work of raising a family is full of monotony and seemingly petty demands. Though the blisses of your wedding day and your children’s first smiles or laughs are enough to make these labors worthwhile, the responsibility of it all remains a heavy burden to bear. It’s difficult not to feel completely spent by the end of every day.

Then, when you’re feeling exhausted and frustrated, it’s so easy to let your spiritual growth fall to the wayside. Tapped out of energy and patience, the silence that fills your home after the kids are finally asleep seems like an invitation to nothing but your own bed. And attending Mass? It’s more about wrangling the children than it is about encountering the Divine.

Before you know it, weeks go by before you realize you can’t remember the last time you uttered a sincere prayer. And suddenly the guilt of neglecting your Father is added to the guilt you feel over your impatience with your children, the tasks you’ve left undone, and the mistakes you’ve made along the way.

Your Work is a Prayer

Know this: These negative thoughts are how Satan exploits your vulnerabilities. The real truth is simple: If you’re living according to God’s law and raising your children to love Him, your every effort is a prayer.

Our world is a busy and self-interested one, and it’s easy to feel like your contributions are miniscule and obsolete compared to the goings-on of the culture around you. But God sees your labors and He loves you for them. He sees your contributions to His kingdom—and there is no greater work than that.

So long as you’re living as His daughter or son, doing your best to fulfill His will and glorify His love with devotion to your family, your life is a prayer and He knows the needs and good intentions of your heart.

But don’t take my word for it. The Church and the saints have much to say on this subject.

Find Assurance in the Faith

In fact, Church history is chock-full of praise for the family. As the domestic church, the family is the most foundational microcosm of what the Church herself should be: a community of devoted brothers and sisters who put one another’s needs before their own, and place God’s will at the center of their life together.

Pope John Paul II, who had many wonderful things to say about the beautiful work of building a family, expressed this so well:

Catholic parents must learn to form their family as a “domestic church,” a church in the home as it were, where God is honored, His law is respected, prayer is a normal event, virtue is transmitted by word and example, and everyone shares the hopes, the problems, and sufferings of everyone else. All this is not to advocate a return to some outdated style of living: It is to return to the roots of human development and human happiness!

There are also plenty of examples in the catechism—a comprehensive catalog of the central beliefs of our faith.

Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the family of God.” From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household” (cf. Acts 18:8) (CCC, 1655).

The home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life (CCC, 1657).

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC, 2207).

As for the difficulties of this life? As we Catholics know better than most, suffering can be sanctifying—especially when it is endured for the sake of others. I can’t think of a better way to validate the sacrifices we make for our spouses and our children in this life.

So, rather than descend into complaint or self-pity over these struggles, we can endure them with patience and selflessness and thus transform them into a very special kind of prayer. Lifting up our pain—physical and emotional, petty or profound—to God is a boon to our growth as well as the growth of our families.

What’s more, bearing our trials with humility breeds the kind of virtue this world so desperately needs. “Do everything without grumbling or questioning,” Saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world” (Philippians 2: 14-15).

Finally, in our efforts to see the holiness and virtue-building goodness of this repetitious and often frustrating domestic life, we can pull inspiration from the saints. Their insight on the love of God and the righteousness of submitting to our families’ needs is enough to motivate all of us to greater selflessness:

Know that even when you are in the kitchen, our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans. – St. Teresa of Avila

I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors’ defects—not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues. – St. Therese of Lisieux

They who, by a generous effort, make up their minds to obey, acquire great merit; for obedience by its sacrifices resembles martyrdom. – St. Ignatius of Loyola

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