The past three days have seen the start of our home school’s school year, with my younger brother and sister diving courageously into a new world of hard work and growing knowledge, lovingly and painstakingly prepared and directed by Mom. It’s a familiar time of year to us all–summer break lasted just long enough, and before boredom and idleness can set it, it’s back dutifully to the books, with a renewed spirit of work and purpose in the day (even if, by Monday evening, some of us were peering with wistful, bloodshot eyes back at the summer and wondering where it went).
The only strange thing about this familiar cycle is. . .this year, it didn’t include me.
Yep, folks, I’ve joined the ranks of homeschool graduates and I have a fancy-schmancy diploma hanging over my desk to prove it (and to remind my younger siblings that yes, even though I’m no longer plowing through the rigors of Saxon Math, I did my fair share). Heaven knows I was excited when I finished my last textbook in the late spring, when Mom sent off for the diploma, and when, at the little ceremony our parish had for its homeschool seniors, I officially graduated and came to the realization of what Mom and I had accomplished together. This was topped off by a wonderful summer of having loads of time to write, hang out with family and friends, work on this blog, and continue (hopefully) to grow closer to God.
As the second-oldest of my family’s four children, I’ve certainly had it easier than my older sister did. She had the grace, courage, and confidence to first blaze the pathway of deciding not to go to college or in any way pursue what society would deem a “career”, simply because she wanted to be a Woman at Home, cultivating the truest skills and qualities of a woman in the place where God designed women to be, with the dream of one day being a holy wife and stay-at-home-because-I-love-home mother. This wasn’t something many of our friends considered important, and certainly none of our relatives had done so or were overly eager to jump on the bandwagon of the idea.
I got the cream of it all by the time I graduated; I was following an already-trodden path after a bright example, with her graces and encouragement to benefit from, as well as the enormous support that exists for the Woman at Home in the whole of traditional ‘salty’ Catholicism that the Traditional Mass had led our family deeper and deeper into. And it was fun; with a happy, peaceful heart full of dreams, I left the school of my childhood with only my future vocation in sight; my beautiful, beautiful road to Heaven that I pray, one day, I will walk well, hand-in-hand with my man. This was something I’d already been desiring for a while, and I’d had my fits of struggling with patience (which, if you read about my discernment so far, you have a good idea of).
But now I can suddenly see, with a strange, frightening, and yet peaceful breath of salted air, I’ve just embarked on the seas of waiting I thought I was already sailing across at full speed. Now the hard part begins, as I live this beautiful but difficult time of waiting–the real test of patience, the real purification of intent, the real steps away from childhood and into all that lies beyond.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
1 Corinthians 13: 11
With so much to work on in these areas, it may seem, at first glance, as though this strange new chapter of life between childhood and vocation should feel anything but empty. However, for a young woman who desires Heaven, sainthood, God’s will, and the vocation that will enable her to love as she was created to love, that will make her the woman she was made to be, the waiting can feel exactly and, at times, terrifyingly like that. Empty.
And, honestly, there are effects of the choice of a young woman to stay at home after high school graduation that can easily feed this sensation of emptiness. Of course we’re not giving in to idleness; we know time is precious, life is short, and we keep ourselves busy (and happy!) between cultivating our prayer life, spending time with our family, helping keep the house and learning (mostly by mistake) the ins and outs of running one, our creative endeavors, our reading, our friends, and the million other little things that we find to fill up the time between dawn and dusk.
But that’s just it; it can feel an awful lot like just “trying to fill up” time while we wait. Not that this is an unworthy goal–and of course it is necessary to stay busy and use our time well for God’s glory–but emptiness can still creep up into the middle of it, with all its accompanying doubts. What am I really doing with my life? Why did I stay here? Shouldn’t I be doing something really productive, like going to college or working? or, on the other hand, Why isn’t anything happening, Lord? Don’t You hear all the novenas I’m praying? Where on earth is he?
The fact of the matter is that it is very easy to, when you have chosen this less-than-common, against-the-world’s-grain period of humbly waiting, feel purposeless. Of course I know I’m doing good things now; of course I know God has a perfect plan for my vocation to unfold and that the purpose of my life is His glory and Heaven; no, the temptation is more subtle than that. In the place where I find myself standing, right between childhood and the purposefulness of my vocation, its goal is to sow a slow and quiet sense of despair and listlessness that will (supposedly) only be cured by the beginning of my vocation, and thus make me lose sight of any purpose at all in the day-to-day of life right now.
I’ve been blessed with the understanding that going off to college or trying to bury myself in a job would be no cure for the sensation of waiting purposelessness; it would be nothing more than a distracted killing of time that would, I’m sure, pull me away from the beautiful (though challenging) world of my faith and family life that I’ve been immersed in all my life. As a young woman, that’s exactly what I don’t want.
So I had a talk with Dad. It’s what you do when you’re wearied by questions.
My parents’ wisdom never ceases to amaze me. Dad listened, absorbed what I was saying with understanding as his fingers fiddled with a tune on his guitar, and replied, “The best thing you can do now is work to sanctify your efforts; because God doesn’t expect success in our work, just faithfulness.” I sucked on this thought like a piece of hard candy whenever it came back to me, with a new sense of joy, for the rest of the day.
But it wasn’t until the next morning, as I settled into my daily five-minute-meditation, that the fullness of it settled onto, or rather into, my soul.
The topic of meditation happened to be the imitation of Jesus. This brought the oft-repeated wisdom of my spiritual director to mind: “Holiness is the imitation of Jesus.” My mind began to wander to what Jesus would have been doing, what His divine dispositions would have been, when He was my age; for, it’s far too easy for me to forget, He was an eighteen-year-old once.
As I pondered this, it began to hit me that Christ’s earthly life not only included, like mine, a period between His Divine childhood and His embarkation on the work He entered the world for; His life on earth was mostly that period.
Considered for a moment, it’s easily seen: Jewish boys left childhood for manhood at the age of twelve. Christ did not begin his public ministry until the age of thirty. So he actually spent eighteen years in His hidden life at home, in Nazareth, in humble work and subjection to Mary and Joseph; in waiting.
“Jesus Christ gave more glory to God the Father by submission to His Mother during
those. . .years than He would have given Him in converting the whole world by the working of the most stupendous miracles.”
St. Louis de Montfort
Somehow the full magnificence of this had never fully dawned on me before. Over half of our Lord’s life on Earth was spent in this exact phase where I find myself between childhood and the “life’s work” of a vocation. The true life of a Christian is, as its name suggests, to be an imitation and image of Christ’s life, and one of the reasons He became man was to show us how to live in every stage of life. What a tender grace there is for people just like me in His eighteen years of patient, hidden, virtuous, work-filled waiting; of His growth in “age and wisdom and favor with God and men”.
So, I have to wonder, how exactly did Christ spend those eighteen years? Just how did He manifest this growth in age and wisdom and favor in His life in Nazareth? Certainly He, the Fullness that fills the universe with purpose, did not spend this time in emptiness or purposelessness. Surely those years were, though hidden, just as beautiful in their own way as the years of His infancy, His public ministry, His Passion and Resurrection.
And so must this time of my life be. I want to see Him in these years, to show Him forth in these years of waiting. There is purpose and fullness here–because He is here–because it is God’s will that I am here, and God’s will is never devoid of purpose and fulfillment. I may not be treading the road of my vocation yet, but as I wait for that (hopefully not for eighteen years!) I’m still following Him, growing close to Him in His hidden life.
And what exactly is this “hidden life” I am spending in the sanctuary of home, voluntarily hidden from most of the world so as to be closer to Him? What is the beautifying secret in the hours and days and weeks and months of “continuing in subjection” to my parents and of serving my family, of waiting for the signal of the Father that will send me on that vocational road?
It is nothing less than the sanctification of effort. It’s the will to color, immerse, and immolate the smallest of my thoughts, words, and actions in Divine Charity. Surely every push of the saw, every rest and rising of Our Lord at Nazareth burned with charity.
It’s the picking up and following, not only with the big crosses, but with the splinters. Surely Our Lord got splinters under His fingernails.
It’s the unremitting effort to allow God’s grace to enter, purify, and sanctify every bit of our days, every bit of what God has entrusted to our care, whether or not our projects fail or succeed outwardly. Surely even Jesus had to deal with some unsatisfied customers in the carpentry business. But the intention, the love that we put into our work is all that will ever remain of it.
I know that when, God willing one day, I am happily married and trying to keep up with my fifteen children, I want to look back on this time in my life and, whether or not my book was ever published, whether or not I ever managed to make a perfect Boston Cream Pie without catastrophe, whether or not I managed to be a wonderful, effective, and pleasing grammar tutor to my younger siblings; I want to know that I tried my hardest to sanctify my efforts, to sanctify this time of waiting, after the example of the Lord Who not only became Man, suffered, died, and rose for me; but Who even, in the greatness of His humility and loving condescension, spent eighteen years of hidden waiting to show me how valuable, full, and purposeful this time is now.