Happy feast day of Pope St. Julius! 🙂
It just occurred to me how easy it is for me to cheerfully describe the joys and interests of life as a young woman at home. The Faith, family life, courtship life, friendship, tutoring, femininity . . . all of these things absolutely delight me. Writing about happinesses and about blessings is so necessary, and is the default for the sanguine, I’m thinking.
But . . . womanhood at home is hard, too. It is work. Labora. It is labor–the labor of pursuing virtue, the labor of struggle, and of making choices between little things, in which reside either heaven or hell. I am slowly learning that, if choosing young womanhood at home means choosing joy (which it does), it also means choosing labor, struggle, and sometimes suffering. If remaining at home (by which I mean in the family atmosphere) augments that which is beautiful about being feminine, it also emphasizes that which is most difficult. If it enriches a girl’s natural good inclinations, it also sharply highlights her habitual failings. It isn’t my nature to bring difficult things to the forefront . . . and yet they are there, nonetheless! Choosing to remain a young woman at home is simultaneously very beautiful and quite hard.
In my life right now, labora means something like these things . . .
It means battling for the heroic minute. It means rolling over in bed, turning off the alarm, and confronting Self lying in the bed beside me, fuzzily whispering at me not to get up, because I need rest, because last night was a late night, because today will be a long day–or, at least, because I can simply lie here and rest briefly without going back to sleep. I’ve chosen to be home, I don’t have “a job,” so why get up until I want to? It means mumbling through the Regina Caeli, it means wrestling with myself. It means getting up . . . or failing to.
It means going downstairs and finding dimness, chilliness (if the morning is cool), and observing the silhouettes of scattered throw pillows and unfolded blankets and other little piles from family time the night before. It means turning on the lamps (and the heat) and straightening things up (one of my chores here at home). It means making coffee if I forgot to assemble it the night before. It means either fully waking up to my good mood (fortunately, I usually wake up happy in the morning, or at least peaceful!), or dealing with an unexpected groggy/cranky/stressed mood and contemplating how I’ll present myself to my siblings and mother when they get up (my dad already being gone to work). Sometimes it means practicing my expression and my words for when they’ll walk into the kitchen.
And then it means kneeling down and offering my full morning prayers, which normally seem at least slightly longer than I have initial willpower for. It means either persevering, or cutting them short with some excuse that seems quite reasonable. It means sometimes getting consolations: sometimes not. It means fighting the imperfections in my prayer, those mainly of distraction. And then it means either choosing spiritual reading, or reading up on my phone. And then it means having breakfast and either being generous with my time towards my newly awakened siblings, or not so generous and rather distracted. It means choosing to watch Mass if I have legitimate time for it, or postponing it “just a little while.” It means starting my laundry or waiting an hour. It means embarking on my work and various obligations, or peeking at blogs. It means adhering to a hierarchy of daily priorities, or randomly following whatever is my newest interest or desire. It means choosing work first or choosing leisure first.
It means choosing to deny myself something small throughout the day, or simply eating whenever I want to. It means giving my attention and care to a sibling who is hungry for a little time, or finding an excuse to get back to the computer. It means embracing the present work with contentment and purpose, or it means constantly living in futuristic expectation of what may never come.
It means going out for my tutoring work, but coming home again and–despite my lack of energy–making up for all the time I’ve spent away from a family who misses me. It means choosing cheer and not tired reclusiveness; it means choosing the funny stories instead of the vague details.
It means scrubbing algae out of a shower, getting soggy food scraps out of the sink, folding underwear, rubbing shoulders.
It means crying from hormones; it means hugging someone else who is crying for the same reason; it means offering to cook or clean or assist with school when I really don’t want to, and before I’m asked; it means being patient when someone else is having a bad day; it means making someone’s bed when they deserve to make it themselves. It means trying to use my feminine intuition to sense if someone needs to talk, needs a shoulder to cry on, needs a break, needs a defender, needs a helper, needs a joke-maker, needs a prayer . . . although sometimes it might feel like I’m the one who needs these things. It means choosing to accept sicknesses and potential medical issues with trust, and prudently combating them when to not combat them is far easier.
It means using my funds unselfishly when I want to save it all from the motivation of having security: putting gas in the car, buying someone a snack. It means serving when I am tired; it means choosing against irritation. It means remembering to pray whenever, wherever I or someone else is in need, especially spiritually. It means imitating Our Lady when all I want is a fuzzy sweater, a bar of chocolate, and a bed to curl up in. Sometimes, if there must be a choice, it means dressing modestly instead of comfortably, or instead of what appears to be slightly cuter or newer or just simply different when all your clothes begin to appear the same to you. It means eventually leaving my hair alone and choosing to leave the mirror. It means defending the purity of my thoughts and resolving, again and again, that reason would rule emotion.
In family, in friendship, in courtship, it means having conversations I don’t want to have. It means being honest when I would rather not be honest. It means forgiving and guiding and listening and submitting. It means developing my femininity concretely through tasks, through creativity, through reading . . . without being lazy and without being guided solely by my own whims. Again, it means remembering and choosing to pray for grace.
Most of all, sometimes, it means choosing (through an act of will!) to not be wistful or even envious towards someone who is ahead of me; of young women who are married to their beloveds and building homes and raising children of their own. It means absorbing and enjoying the pictures and words of others that capture the beauty of traditional life and of virtue so well . . . and yet being mindful that life is far more than pictures and words. It means striving to be compassionate and encouraging, choosing just the right words for those who are not even where I am. It means not settling for where I am in my own courtship, but striving to become a better woman for God’s sake, and the sake of the wonderful man who asked me to court him!
So yes . . . labora can mean all these things for a young woman at home . . . and far beyond. It really is simply the Christian calling; it is the laying down of one’s life, it is the carrying of the Cross. It is always a battle for virtue and holiness–for me, specifically, it always seems to boil down to a battle against laziness, against a day that is steered by what I want to do, instead of what I should do. May God give me renewed grace to combat my faults, and let us all pray for one another!
But even with all these difficulties and trials, my life as a young woman at home has had, and continues to have, beauties and graces that far exceed the struggle! Again and again, Chesterton’s words breeze into my mind, filled with truth and with challenge:
“Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one massive narrowness – a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of mono-maniacs.”
Indeed, being a woman at home demands that she becomes broad, broad in virtue and in heart! And what a beautiful thing that is 🙂