“If you want world peace, go home and love your family.”– Mother Teresa
When I first stumbled across this quote several years ago, just a few months into my marriage, I found it comforting, inspiring, and even a little sentimental. “Is that all?” I remember thinking. “I feel like attaining world peace is much more complicated and difficult than that.”
Today, with various shelter-in-place directives coming from government officials across the world, this quote has transformed for me into a consequential call to duty. We need to “go home” and stay home out of love for our vulnerable neighbors. But exactly how are we supposed to “love our families,” especially when many of us are spending more time than ever before in cramped quarters with our spouses and children?
If you are anything like me, the last few weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions: deep gratitude for extra time together, the means to supply my family with food and activities, and the strangers who are working hard to keep us healthy and safe; utter bewilderment as we adjust to a new routine that involves working at home while caring for little ones; sometimes overwhelming fear and anxiety about the ever-evolving headlines and grim predictions surrounding the virus; sincere solidarity with neighbors and friends who are all experiencing the same joys and struggles. These feelings — which will likely continue for several more months — have left me wondering in prayer, “How can I better cling to God during this difficult time?”
In Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales offers a definition of “true devotion” that we can use as a compass during this time of uncertainty. St. Francis focuses on devotion to God, but we can also apply his definition to our devotion to our families. After all, living our vocation faithfully is one of the primary ways we can make a return of love to the God who has blessed us with a spouse and children.
St. Francis explains that when our love of God “makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently, and promptly, it is called devotion.” How many times in my spiritual life, marriage, or motherhood have I known the right thing to do, but have dragged my feet or waited until the last possible second to accomplish it? Or failed to accomplish it at all? Whether it comes from a place of fear, sloth, or inconvenience, procrastination usually does not help build up the Kingdom of God. Now more than ever before, because I am quarantined at home, I can see the countless opportunities I have throughout the day to “do good” on behalf of my husband and preschooler. Although I continue to feel anxious and tired, I am finding that responding to my family “carefully, frequently, and promptly” is helping me to focus on what I can control and to cultivate a deeper sense of gratitude in the midst of this crisis.
While it is certainly not always easy for this exhausted and overwhelmed mom to act “carefully, frequently, and promptly” for the good of my family, I am heartened by St. Francis’ encouragement that devotion “not only does no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it.” As he writes to lay people who want to cultivate a relationship with God while also fulfilling their daily duties in the world, St. Francis speaks of the positive effects of devotion: “Care of one’s family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service of one’s prince more faithful, and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.” When I try to see my daily tasks — unloading the dishwasher, providing snacks for my daughter, folding laundry — as moments of grace where I can practice devotion to God and my loved ones, these relationships do become more “peaceable” and “sincere.” I find myself less resentful and more willing to do good “carefully, frequently, and promptly.”
Although St. Francis paints an ideal picture for us to aspire to, he remains realistic. He writes, “In this enterprise we must have courage and patience.” Devotion is not something we can attain quickly; rather, it takes time and practice. We will stumble and fall along the way! But St. Francis assures us that these failures are actually helpful as we pursue true devotion. He writes, “We must not be disturbed at our imperfections, since perfection consists in fighting against them… Our victory does not consist in being unconscious of them but in not consenting to them, and not to consent to them is to be displeased with them.” When we are aware of the areas in our life that need work, we are better equipped to put in that work and strengthen our weaknesses. You have to see a problem in order to fix it. As I attempt to grow in devotion to God and my family, I am becoming more comfortable with — and even grateful for — my imperfections because they can show me the path forward. They are not a sign of irreversible failure but of sincere effort!
As we finish Lent in the time of a pandemic, it is more important than ever to “go home and love our families.” Doing so can be edifying, challenging, and overwhelming all at once. Choosing to see this unique time as an opportunity to grow in holiness slowly and patiently has helped me to quiet some of my fears and focus some of my pent-up energy. As I continue to pray through this uncertain situation, I am convinced that God is walking with us on this path and providing the graces that we need at each turn in the road.