Life can be crazy! As I try to sit down and write this blog for what feels like the tenth time, I have a 9 month old crying at my feet to be held, a 3 year old asking for help with toys, a 5 year old calling down from upstairs that she doesn’t want to go potty and brush her teeth alone, and to top it off a random beeping somewhere in the house that is driving me insane. The vocation of a parent can be a challenge to say the least, yet in it all, we are called to be JOYFUL.
It’s funny to think of the words that I would use to honestly describe most days in our house with children. Sadly, joyful is not usually top of the list. I’d likely use words like exhausting, frustrating, hectic…the list goes on. There are moments of joy and happiness. How can there not be with kids? But, it usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
So how do we flip the script? How do we change our answer from hectic to joyful? Here are 3 suggestions I have to make that change.
So let’s dive in:
1) Prayer, Prayer, Prayer
Before anything else, to frame our life in the light of joy, we first must build our life on a firm foundation. That foundation is on a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ and His Church. That relationship is non-existent without a personal prayer life. We often overthink our prayer lives. We think we need the right words or the perfect space, but in its simplest form, prayer is our dialogue with God. We open our hearts to Him in and let Him speak back in the silence of our hearts. I don’t always do the best at this, but when I have done well, it is because I make it a priority and have scheduled my day around prayer rather than fitting it into my other things. It is good to continue our dialogue with God amidst the remaining events of our day, but the way we schedule our time says volumes about our priorities. So, put God first. When we pray, God begins to open our eyes to see as He does. He changes our hearts to love deeper and soften in places we have hardened them. That is why prayer is so essential to letting joy in. Joy comes only when we begin to change our hearts and see as God does, and this change only comes through the grace of God. So give God the time and space to work on you and ask for the graces you need. Without this, the next two points will be fruitless.
If you don’t know where to start, look at your day and choose a time for prayer, begin with simply 5-10 minutes and make it a priority (you can increase from there). That means meetings are not scheduled during that time, children are told it is your prayer time and know the expectations… You give it even greater priority than you might for any other commitment you have made.
2) Recall Your Vocation
In addition to forming our relationship with God and letting His grace fill us through prayer, it is essential that we recall our vocation. Our children are part of the fulfillment of the vocation to marriage. They are a visible and real sign of the love between spouses. It is easy to get lost in getting through the week, but when we are reminded of our vocation, we regain the purpose that we so often forget. Instead of “getting through”, we “strive to fulfill.” We can use the unique temperament and gifts God has given us to grow in holiness and get our spouses and children to Heaven with us. We are hardwired to find joy in purpose. You have a specific task in this world that no one else can do. God has given that to you. I know personally that I get down or lost in the day to day when I lose focus and feel like my only role is to keep kids from fighting and to feed them. This is so much less than what I am called to do. Through my vocation, I have a mission. When I recognize I am falling into that trap, I have had to remind myself of my mission, and I am honestly amazed the difference that a simple change in mindset can make.
A person’s vocation is the surest way to grow in holiness. Growth sometimes involves growing pains, the pain of sacrificing and letting go of our selfishness, but in that pain, there is also joy. Similarly, those who exercise, feel momentary pain for greater lasting growth. So find a way to remind yourself of your vocation daily. Write a note and tape it to your mirror. Hang a picture of the Holy Family in your kitchen; whatever helps you recall your vocation daily. I like to wake each morning asking God for help to be the husband and father I am called to be. I also have an image hanging near our bed of the Holy Family that I gave my wife when we got married as a symbol of what I was promising to strive for as a husband and father.
3) Be Intentional
The third and final suggestion is to be intentional. We do not become saints by accident. Nor do our children or spouses. The joy that comes from living in line with God’s will takes our intentional choice. The easiest way I have found to start is by simply choosing one thing each day to serve and love your children and spouse. We grow from there until our whole life is an intentional act. If you are like me, being intentional can be tiring. It takes planning and lots of energy, but it is much less tiring than the emotional drain from lack of motion. If you are looking to form a more long-term plan, journal your dreams of what you want for you family (try including God and making it part of your prayer time). Mine includes my children having a love for prayer in adoration, frequenting Mass, being in love with their faith, and following the example of the saints. After you have defined the dream, gradually do one thing at a time to get closer to that dream. For me, it started with a weekly trip with my kids to the Adoration chapel (I often use one of our books to teach them while we are there, get yours here). That has since grown into a short daily prayer time together right after breakfast to teach them personal prayer, and a story about a saint at bedtime. Trying to force our dreams and do everything at once never works, trust me I have tried and become discouraged more times than I can count. Forming saints is a process, just as God has worked on each of us and continues to throughout our lives; we too can gradually form our families and ourselves. Just remember to be intentional. It won’t always go like we plan and that is okay. We only lose the battle when we stop trying, so be intentional and remember, we do not become saints by accident.
Now go out and begin, through the grace of God. Pray, Recall your Vocation, and Be Intentional. Reclaim the joy that God is calling you to.
Zack Hinger is a husband and father of 3 girls. He worked in parish ministry for over 8 years in all ages of formation from preschool through adulthood. He has a B.A. from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Theology and Catechetics. His passions are God, his family, and helping others journey towards a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.