I have a problem. I want to do everything. And I want to do it all 100%.

But I cannot do everything. And, even for the things that I do chose to do, I can rarely do them with 100% attention, or I begin and then lose steam or run out of time.

I believe this is what St. Paul was talking about when he spoke of the merits of chaste single life when serving God (1 Cor 7:32-35). Being a mom is my primary vocation. I love it. A vocation to love and serve my husband and children requires more creativity, understanding, wisdom, and fortitude than I had ever imagined.

Yet, I also see that our community needs service, and it is hard to figure out my place in that. A living faith is fecund–it flows over and desires to give and foster life within one’s own home and beyond it. I very much want my children to see that our relationship with Christ is not insular, judgmental, or closeted. But I also know that my love for them is their first experience of the love of God, and I don’t want them to think that they are somewhat low on my priority list (or God’s) and that their needs and hopes are unimportant or unworthy of attention.

I have been a full time working mom in a Catholic school, a part time working mom in a ministerial role in our church, and a stay at home, home school mom with various levels of volunteer involvement in our community. Each season of our parenting journey has come with a different calling to ministry and a different balance. I often find myself praying the “slam the door” prayer to God. “Dear Jesus, it feels like you are opening this door and that it suits our family’s needs to serve in this way. But if I’m wrong, slam it. Don’t let me walk through a door that is not your will for us, even if it hurts.” He has always been faithful in answering this prayer. And sometimes the door has hurt a little and hit me on the way back out.

If you are trying to discern where and to what extent you are called to serve beyond your immediate vocation, I want to offer a few questions to ask (which I have to remind myself of when I’m in this position, as I often am during the summer time)…

  1. Are you and your family at peace about this?
    When I have seen my kids dread church because it meant Mommy was going to be more present to others for a while than to them, that put breaks on things for me. When my kids have questioned if I loved the kids I was teaching or them more, more breaks. When I could tell my mind and heart was divided by the worries and pressure of ministry and I was not at peace and was sapping the joy of others, I knew it was time to step back. I often pray that God will speak to me through my husband; there is great freedom in choosing obedience. And a marriage is always boosted by the gift of respect. Plus, I’m stubborn, so God has to be pretty direct with me before I change course.
  2. Are you called to do everything, something, or nothing?
    My mom reminds me that just because you cannot do everything for someone in need of aid or friendship or intense prayer, it doesn’t mean that the other option is to do nothing. Life is not everything or nothing. Often, you are just called to do something. You may not be able to invest the time and energy to be that new person’s best friend, but you can invite them to be a friend or to come for a meal or you may just be friendly to them when God has your paths cross naturally.

    A couple summers ago, I was maxed out at home and work, but I felt strongly that there needed to be something to connect the young, Catholic families of our area and foster community across parish boundaries. I knew I didn’t have the time to event plan or do lots of networking. But I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. So, I just made a facebook page for Catholic families in our area. I invited anyone local that I knew. And I explained that this was a communication method so we could spend time together. That’s it. That’s all I could do. One seed, un-watered. I thought it would probably be a bust.

    But a new friend began a Well Read Mom‘s group and also invited people over for a playdate that included praying the Rosary as part of it. The book club was a big hit, but the dads were left out, so they began their own monthly books and beer night. Then, someone else began a monthly family potluck. Then some mom’s nights out appeared. Now, we have over 100 members/families in the group and quite a few get together in some way or another several times a month. It took 5 minutes to start that group. I had no idea that God was calling so many others to take over and build and form and extend hospitality in ways that I was not able to. God can do anything with a few loaves and fishes, and He doesn’t ask you to single-handedly save the world; that’s His job. I’m still trying to learn this …

  3. Are you a seed planter, a cultivator, or a harvester?
    Often, God does not have one person play every role in starting, building, and experiencing the fruits of a person’s conversion, a community’s transformation, or a ministry’s inception and flowering. For several years, I struggled with the feeling that many others were experiencing great fruits in their ministries while I saw little or no progress and lots of seeming dead ends or plateaus in mine. God is so much more patient than I am! Then, someone asked me this question about my gifts and calling. I realized that my gifts lie somewhat in seed planting but mostly in cultivation. I’m a teacher. And I especially love to teach those who have already had the spark of interest or faith planted and need that seedling nurtured through prayer, knowledge, and friendship. Now, I can see the many, many fruits that are beginning to appear in the lives of some people I served a decade ago. How beautiful! And I realize that any fruitfulness that God brings about in my own life is thanks to His grace and the slow, steady investment of others–planting seeds, cultivating them, and even protecting the fruiting from sudden frosts or attack.

    Christ was right to speak of fig trees so often. They are fragile trees. They can seem to grow almost overnight, and they can be destroyed by a late frost just as quickly. They need foresight and attention in their care. But they also can be tenacious and re-grow from their roots over and over once the tree is well established. I think that some very careful gardening when I was young has enabled me to regrow from the roots when I have felt like a failure or faltered in my vocation. If you are raising some saplings right now, don’t underestimate the power of the time and effort you are putting in during these crucial years.  😉

  4. Does this ministry dovetail with your Vocation?
    In my experience, the best ministries for young families are ones that can involve the family or at least both spouses. Your family is your little church. Your example of love and interpersonal communion (even if it’s the example of sticking it out with each other lovingly when people are acting rather un-lovable) is your gift and service to the world. So, serving our local home school community works well, or hosting youth ministry bonfires at our home works well. Witnessing to life and praying at pro-life events works well. Visiting nursing homes, yes. Prison ministry–probably not for us in this season of life. This is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes your training and gifting calls you to serve people apart from your immediate family. St. Gianna, for instance, was a doctor. But that is a delicate balance to maintain and that balance and the level of sacrifice required of all the family members must be discerned.

Service is a beautiful and necessary part of the Life of Christ and our participation in the work of the Spirit. Take this summer to pray and consider if this is a year to embrace your domestic cloister or to share your life outside your home with others. Both callings are ways to encounter Christ. Beware of romanticizing one over the other, and find the balance between the little life of prayer and daily living and the external appeal of the apostle. I love the reflections on Mary as the First Disciple. May she guide each of us to our unique way of serving her Son and entering more deeply into His life of grace.