Since leaving the convent I’ve had the privilege of living with my brother, his wife and their three children. It has been amazing for many reasons.
As you would imagine, the convent life is well-ordered and you have a sense of what to expect everyday. Things did certainly come up on occasion to change your schedule, but mostly we followed the horarium and knew what was going on each day. However, living with a young family with three children 4 and under is completely different. Chaos reigns. For instance, now that it is after Christmas, it looks like a toy bomb went off in the house. Post-Christmas in the convent is nothing like this!
Yet, there is a real beauty in the disorder and chaos here. I think we all spend most of our lives trying to convince ourselves that we have more control over our lives than we actually do. But the reality is that life happens and there isn’t much we can do about it. Family life exemplifies this truth. You can try to keep the toys picked up, crumbs off the table and yucky things out of mouths, but the effort is rather futile. Experiencing this firsthand has helped me grow immensely. The order and structure of convent life fit with my natural personality. But the insanity of living here is much more beneficial to helping me grow as a person. What a blessing!
I cannot help but reflect on what my image of holiness can be: neat, orderly, clean, ironed and fresh-smelling. But is that the only path to holiness? It certainly wasn’t the stable in Bethlehem (barn animals anyone?). I am confident it wasn’t St. Therese as she coughed up blood or her dad as he suffered mental illness. If you really stop and think what life was like for most saints, I think the answer would be at least a little messy.
So what does this mean for us? Should we throw our hands up and let the house get overgrown with mold? Certainly not! We still need to keep choking hazards out of mouths and encourage the kids to pick their toys up at the end of the day. But we shouldn’t be attempting to attain a 100% sterile environment and kill ourselves in the process. I don’t know where the balance is located, but it’s certainly worth praying about it. This idea bleeds over into our personal lives as well. Compared to the convent, the world is a noisy, messy place. And yet, for now the Lord has called us back into the world to “make disciples of all the nations…” (Mt 28:19). Though this sounds like a daunting task, he leaves us with this encouraging line: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) Thanks be to God!