by Michaelyn Hein –
I had my hands in everything. At least, it felt like everything.
My days were filled like pots strewn about the stovetop. One held the women’s ministry I led for our church. Another contained the Little Flowers girls club that I ran with a friend. Still another teemed with the religious education class I taught for 2nd graders in our parish. The fourth overflowed with the needs of my husband and children.
To say I was spread too thin would be an understatement. Still, I loved it. My life spilled outside my front door and into the world, where I believed I could really do some good.
What I didn’t realize then was how stealthy the enemy can be.
Our Lady of Fatima famously told Sister Lucia that the final battle between Satan and God would center on attacks against marriage and the family. I had always seen myself as resistant – even opposed – to that attack. After all, I took care not to involve myself in anything that blatantly defied the sacrament of marital life.
But the devil’s attacks are not always obvious. As they say, “If Satan can’t get to us in our vices, he will tempt us through our virtues.” Anything done in the name of God at church must be good, I told myself. Even if we must sacrifice others to do it.
I didn’t realize, of course, that I was sacrificing my family for my time in ministry. But God graciously gave me sight to see this one morning as I rushed home from an outing at my parish. I’d felt peace during the event, but on my way home, I was awash with guilt as I realized I had stayed longer than intended and my family was waiting for me at home. As I raced the clock to get there, God’s voice dropped upon me like a sudden ton of bricks.
“You cannot become a saint at the expense of other people,” I heard.
The arrow of those words struck the target of my heart. For weeks, I mulled them over in my mind, pondering my disordered belief that my vocation as wife and mother was secondary to the needs of my parish community.
From there God slowly began to take the pots of my confused commitments away.
The women’s ministry dwindled to just two who could make the meetings this year, and so I easily let it go. Because of my son’s sports schedule, I could no longer teach religious ed. And my family joined another Catholic group for our children, one that involved all of us as a family, so I passed my Little Flowers leadership to another mom. Suddenly, I was no longer someone “important” in my parish; for the first time in over a decade, I was “just a parishioner”.
St. Frances of Rome once said, “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” For a long time, I am ashamed to admit, I hated that quote. I cringed every time my mother, who saw my disordered priorities, reminded me of it. I didn’t want to be at home, diving into dirty dishes and laundry; I wanted to be in a little room in our church building, diving with my parish community into God’s word.
But my family beckoned. My husband had begrudgingly supported my extra time at church, but made it clear he preferred me at home. God was patiently showing me that home was where He, too, wanted me to be.
A strange thing happened as God changed the circumstances of my life: He changed my heart, as well. I began to love being at home, so much so that within weeks, I preferred being hidden within its walls, any good works I might do unseen by eyes outside its doors. I began to pray less with those in the church and more with those in my house. I started to joyfully pour myself out for my husband and children, the very ones who always should have had my undivided attention.
Months into this change, my family is visibly better for it.
The season of Advent and Christmas is one of coming home. It is a season where we witness Joseph and Mary called by the common circumstances of a census to Joseph’s native homeland of Bethlehem. One where they welcome into their humble home the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in the unremarkable form of a newborn baby. One where our God comes to earth hidden in the flesh of a poor man in order to lead us to the rich home that awaits us with Him in heaven.
It is fitting, then, that God would make our primary path to Him a seemingly mundane one, where the souls who fill our homes – not the people outside of it – are our priority. Where the heart of our way to God does not lie in the public works that we do, but in the private ones within our families. St. Therese of Lisieux, doctor of the Church who extolled the virtues of the little way, knew this well. So did St. Teresa of Calcutta, who explained, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
During this holy season, may we find ourselves nestled happily in the heart of our earthly homes, so that one day, together with these souls God has gifted us, we may spend eternity in our heavenly one.
Michaelyn Hein is a Catholic writer, wife and mother, who resides in Hopewell, New Jersey.