Living your vocation means living the life that God had planned for you, and over the course of your life, that could be any number of things. Vocations (vocare: Latin, to call) can exist for a season or for your whole life. What we find in these callings should be the tangible reality of the mysteries of the faith.
My current vocation is a two-parter: marriage and parenthood. They have both taught me a lot about what my relationship to God should be, and what His relationship is to me. For this post, I’ll spend time on my first vocation: marriage. The kids will come second.
Marriage is nothing if not one long trial and error run in the art of communication. Seriously. Take any problem in marriage and it can be boiled down to an issue with communication, either a miscommunication, or lack of communication. The number of times an argument with my husband devolves into an argument about how we communicate is downright comical! Bottom line: communication is a very big deal.
Communication with God is simply what we call prayer. Many saints have tried to, for lack of a better word, normalize this for us by saying that prayer should be nothing more than a conversation with a friend. They’re not wrong, but the concept has always been a bit out of reach for me. I mean, He’s God. One of His working titles is Omniscient. Kinda hard to think of Him as a “pal”.
Then I thought about marriage.
Luckily, I married a good friend (not my “best friend” but that’s a whole other post that I’ll probably never write), and there’s lots of ways we like to/ want to/ need to communicate. We have to talk about important, heavy stuff sometimes, like finances, child rearing, NFP and so on, and these conversations may require that we carve out special time so we can hash out whatever we need to without screaming kids to distract us. These are cornerstones to our marriage. Then there’s also times where we just goof around and make jokes, where we tell stories about our day, and the hilarious things our kids do. There’s times where we don’t say anything at all, and enjoy each other’s company in silence, or do something we know the other will appreciate. We text each other during the day to check in or because we need something, or as a reminder for something later, and so on. If we maintained only one of these types of communication without all the others, we would have a very unhealthy marriage.
If I can humbly amend what the saints recommended, prayer should be like communicating with a spouse. Put this way, praying without ceasing seems more doable.
Still, Paul’s ideal can seem out of reach.
Probably one of the biggest temptations for busy people, moms especially, is to rationalize a minimalist or negligent prayer life by substituting the vast amount of work that goes into being a wife, mother, homemaker (insert all your other jobs). I’m so guilty of this one. It certainly feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things that need to be done while also enjoying the luxury of quiet prayer time. The truth is loving our families in the myriad ways we do over the course of a day is absolutely a valid form of prayer.
Back in college, I remember during my second year of architecture feeling particularly overwhelmed by my schoolwork, and making the totally smart decision that I couldn’t pray anymore because I didn’t have the time. (For reference, I was once told that someone switched from architecture to med school because they would have a more flexible schedule.) I was a student, it was my vocation of the moment, and if I wanted to be the good student God wanted me to be, I couldn’t distract from my schoolwork with church or prayer. I’d still be praying though because my work would be my prayer. I can hear Mother Teresa’s facepalm from Heaven. Also your laughter. Not so shockingly, it was the worst year of my life. It didn’t take long before my work ceased to be anything remotely resembling prayer.
Back to marriage. One of the things I love best about my husband is that he came to me housebroken. We never had to have a serious talk about dividing up household chores. One Saturday shortly after we were married, of his own volition he started a load of laundry and busted out the vacuum, and that was that (Friendly PSA: jealousy and envy are capital sins). After I quit my job to stay home with our daughter and now our son, there were times though where I would feel like the yolk wasn’t being equally shared, so I decided to broach the topic.
The exchange one day went something like this:
Me: “I need you to give me some verbal affirmation that you appreciate what I do because it’s hard sometimes. There’s a lot that I gave up to stay home, and even though I know it, I need to hear from you that it’s worth it.”
Husband: “If all I did was tell you I appreciate you, but I did that while parked on the couch with a beer in hand, those words wouldn’t mean anything. I do things to show my appreciation.”
Me: “Ok, yea you’re right, but I still need to hear it.”
Not included: the subsequent unknown amount of back and forth, lack of understanding and miscommunication, etc.
Laugh if you’ve had an argument like this too. #solidarity
It’s funny because it’s true. Words without deeds mean nothing. So do deeds without words. It’s not an either/or in prayer, it’s always both/and. Now when my husband does the laundry, or dishes, or helps with a meal, I know that he’s doing it out of love and appreciation for the work that I do for the family, because he has told me so. And vice versa when I do things for him that he has said he likes. His words enhanced his works in both of our minds. What he did didn’t change, but the meaning of it did, and that’s the whole point.
There’s days where all the hubs and I get is maybe a scattered 15 minutes of good conversation and then we’re passed out, and it’s definitely the same in my prayer life. That’s ok. God understands. He’s not asking for backflips. We’re spouses and parents with very real and important responsibilities, not monks whose lives can be devoted to prayer alone.
Prayer is many things: a rosary, mass, spontaneous conversation, requests, thanksgiving and works. It’s short at times, and deep at others. To have a healthy relationship with God, it can’t be any one of these things alone. Just as in marriage, it requires all of these. Thankfully, our patient and loving God gave us a lifetime to figure it out.