“See? It’s safe!” my son encouraged his sister as he slid down the steep embankment to the river’s edge. “I’ll save you a spot right here.”

Maggie cautiously edged her way towards him and then gave him her most radiant smile in gratitude for his encouragement as they surveyed the still water of the lake from their daring new perch. A blue heron lifted into the air from the far bank and glided by us to add his fair omen to their magical moment.

It warms my heart to see my children encourage each other. So often, when one is timid, another is bold and reaches out in gentleness and magnanimity to help a sibling achieve the unthinkable. Other times, they are both nervous about a situation, but their knowledge that they other will do it too inspires them to greater courage.

This is why friendship is such a gift in our lives.

This morning, I had the pleasure to share tea with a friend of mine. And woven between the snack requests, potty needs, and clothes hanger games of our 7 children, we were able to share our hearts a bit as well.

I’ve been working on establishing something of a rule of life in our home this year. Along with a slew of mothers on a Facebook group, I read A Mother’s Rule of Life this summer. In it, Holly Pierlot lays out the process for creating and implementing an individualized structure for home life. The idea is that you have a rhythm to your days and weeks and become more intentional about keeping your priorities at the forefront of your life. Let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell you a month in advance what day of the week and which hour I’ll do the baby’s laundry and run out to grab the extra basil and oil I need for that week’s perfectly planned dinners. But, gradually, I’m learning to get all of our homeschool work done in planned islands of time, have predictable bedtimes and naps, and actually stay on top of the kitchen cleaning, meal prep, and shopping. Best of all, I have pockets of time set aside for God–for a Morning Offering, Scripture, a little reflection, maybe Liturgy of the Hours, and an evening Examination of Conscience. Everything else seems to fall into place with greater peace and purpose when I place it in God’s hands!

Anyways, my friend knows that I’m in the midst of establishing this rule, and today she prompted, “So, how is everything going with your new Rule?” A simple question, but in it, an offer for accountability, encouragement, and empathy. I believe this is the art of nudging that women are so afraid to enter into in our everything-is-fine,-let’s-laugh-and-drink-more-wine mom culture. Not that I’m against laughter or wine! Quite the opposite. But, sometimes our struggles deserve more than a relatable meme or an exchange of worst-Sharpie-mess-ever stories. And sometimes when I feel like I’m not quite good enough at being a wife and mother, the initiative of a friend to recognize that I’m working on goals and need an opportunity to rejoice over my small but hard-earned successes and talk through my daily frustrations is a precious gift.

Accountability, gentle nudges towards the best version of ourselves, is irreplaceable in the spiritual life. When we treat each other as lovable as we are, but capable of more, we lift each other up and truly walk side by side on the path to happiness.

St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” It is also true that with friends, even the most tedious pursuits become agreeable.

St. Francis deSales would add, “But for those who live in the midst of the world and yet strive for true virtue, it is necessary to ally themselves to one another by a holy and sacred friendship through which they stimulate, assist and encourage each other toward good.” [emphasis mine]

At various points in my life, I fostered a heart for judgement, for scolding, for critiquing without pity, and for lecturing. I felt like I was helping, serving justice, or like Hamlet, “I must be cruel only to be kind” (Hamlet III, iv). But the only one served was myself. I’m slowly learning (partly through my husband’s incredible patience with my failings!) to nudge instead. God’s been pretty consistent about teaching me a little humility and that doesn’t hurt too. 😉

Like my kids, I want to go hand in hand with my friends over the challenging terrain of family life and save a spot for them to rest, especially when they are tired, frustrated, or discouraged and they think more of their fears than their successes. Then, we’ll look at the beautiful world before us and the giggling children at our feet, and we’ll be thankful that we can play a role in this exuberant scene–mud, scrapes, and all.