A New Year’s Resolution for Singles

When I was 17, I was desperate to be married. I figured I’d have to wait until I graduated from college, but I was, as I would have told you emphatically, ready to be married.

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! Ha.

When I was 23, already the single friend in my very Catholic crowd, I was even more desperate to be married. I’d read The Good News about Sex and Marriage and seen It’s a Wonderful Life and I knew exactly what marriage was. I used to pray, telling God that I was ready but that I understood that my husband might not be yet.


I’m sure some people who get married at 17 are ready.1 And plenty of people who get married at 23 do just fine. I was probably as ready as most. But I wonder sometimes what my life would be if I had.

I’d have a passel of kids—4 or 5, if my friends are any indication. My life would be frantically busy, leaving little time for the Lord. I wouldn’t be consumed with zeal for souls—that was trained into me in my years as a spiritual mother. I wouldn’t have much sympathy for sin or stupid drama—I learned that from loving my spiritual children. And I wouldn’t pray. Not with any regularity, anyway. Not beyond the rote.2

Then again, maybe I would. Maybe I would have progressed much faster with a partner. But ten years ago, I had absolutely no concept of the need for silent prayer and evangelization. It was the convent and the classroom that taught me those. Getting married young is a beautiful thing and I hope to God that all of you who are married are growing every day in piety and virtue. But if you’re not yet married, consider this: maybe what you need to become the spouse you ought to be is these (interminable) years alone.

I’ve taken to thinking of single life as a sort of novitiate. When you’re in religious life, you start with several years of training. Newbies—novices—are pulled even further away from the world, given fewer responsibilities and more time for prayer. They do very little work and have extra chapel time. They’re thrown into prayer so that when they withdraw a little from the cloister to re-enter the world as active religious or vowed contemplatives with more responsibilities, they’re grounded.

What if that’s how we treated the single years? You have tons of free time. The world says to use it to have all the fun possible, or at least to work extra and build up your savings account. But what if you used that time as an opportunity for increased prayer? Most childless single people, if they’re being honest with themselves, could make a holy hour every day. If you live in a major city, you can almost certainly get to daily Mass. Your commute is perfect for spiritual podcasts. Your bedroom can be a little cell, a place of silence. You could even plug your phone in somewhere other than your bedside table and spend your first waking moments with a book of the lives of the Saints or some quiet time with the day’s Gospel reading.

If you sucked the marrow out of your single life by using it to become a man or woman of deep prayer, marriage wouldn’t end that. I know that marriage is hard and kids take up every free moment and all the busy ones, too. But a person doesn’t go from an hour a day of prayer to nothing. Maybe you cut the Office or drop daily Mass to once a week. Maybe you pray the Rosary in fits and starts throughout the day instead of first thing in the morning. But if you’ve spent years scheduling your life around prayer, you’re going to go into marriage planning to pray.

Cecilia prayingI used to say there was no way I could pray as much as I need if I got married. And while I’m under no illusions that it’s easy to find time when you’re married with kids, I know that–by God’s grace–we could make it work. I could drop the Office and the Chaplet. I could cut back on spiritual reading. If I really look at what I need, it’s possible. If I go into marriage saying, “I need daily Mass and a half hour of silence with Jesus every day,” we’ll plan around it. We’ll get a house near a church with decent Mass times. We’ll make sure my husband can be home to relieve me before they lock the church or we’ll get a key or we’ll find an adoration chapel or I’ll learn to get up early or something. People make these sacrifices for things that matter and if prayer is what matters in our marriage, we’ll make it happen.

It’s the same with apostolic zeal. You can’t spend 5 years trying with everything you have to love kids closer to Jesus or feed the poor or welcome the immigrant and then just cut that off. It’ll take a different form, sure, but it’ll still be an essential part of your life. I know because I’ve seen it in countless couples whose marriages are for the Church and the world. It can be done.

And relationships. If you spend years cultivating soul-friends, you’re not going to drop them because you’ve said “I do.” You’re going to have people who challenge you and encourage you, people you can invite into your family and people who will invite you into theirs. You’ll have community, not just friends, and marriages thrive on community.

What this means is a marriage that’s focused on prayer—both individually and as a couple—on service to the world, and on Christian fellowship. Which is, I think, exactly what marriage should be.

Bride groom excitedI see plenty of these things in couples that got married the day after college graduation. Evidently, they did their novitiate while I was having every possible conversation with every possible person on campus. Or maybe they needed to do their novitiate together. Or maybe they didn’t figure it out until later in their marriage and really struggled for a while. But I think many would agree that if they had lived their single life more intentionally for the Lord, it would have blessed their marriage dramatically.

So to you who are single, whether lamentably or intentionally, let me issue a challenge for the New Year: restructure your life around Jesus. Resolve to be all for him. Try making one resolution for each of three categories:

  1. Prayer. Be honest, you’ve got the time. Unless you’re a first year teacher, you could probably even swing a daily holy hour. You could certainly do more than what you’re doing now. Ask yourself what you would do if you were a saint and then do that.
  2. Service. Teach a catechism class. Sort donations for refugees. Invite people to Mass with you. Be a missionary. Be pro-life. Serve your Church. Do something.
  3. Community. I get that most of your old friends are married with kids–believe me, I get that–and often that means that your schedules and interests don’t line up the way they did. So find a Catholic young adult group. Or join a group that isn’t focused on your demographic. Figure out a way to have fellowship with friends whose lives are pinned down by board books and lullabies at 7pm. Find one good friend to meet up with for a serious talk every month. Being single can destroy you if your longing for love isn’t met by your community but community doesn’t generally just happen to people. Go out and find it.

Figure out what matters most and live for that. Schedule in prayer time. Find a way to serve the world. Seek friends who are living for Christ and be intentional in the way you spend time together. Set a base-line for your life that would make Pier Giorgio Frassati proud. Then if the Lord ends up calling you to marriage, you and your beloved can approach your life together with the knowledge that without prayer, service, and the love of a community, you will starve.

Maybe the reason you’re still single is that the Lord is holding out hope that you’ll be so much more than you are right now. Marriage was designed to make saints, but it’s not magic. Live a novitiate now, and you’ll have some raw materials to bring to the table.

  1. Somewhere. In some foreign country? []
  2. This is me. It’s probably not you. Self-reflection, not an accusation. []

Hope for the Church

One question I often hear as I travel about the country is generally posed by a member of the older crowd, often prefaced by disparaging remarks about my generation.

“Do you see any hope for the Church?” they ask disconsolately.

Hope for the Church? Hope for the Church?? By definition there is hope for the Church. Jesus told us when he founded it that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. There is always hope for the Church because the hope of the Church is Christ, victor over death.

Still, I know what they mean, these faithful grandparents who feel as though they haven’t seen a twenty-something at Mass in twenty years. They see babies having babies and pews standing empty. They watch divorce rates rise even as sacramental marriage rates plummet. There sometimes seems little hope in a Church that’s accused of being irrelevant.

4 million followers. NBD.
4 million followers isn’t that much, apparently, but if you add together all the languages he tweets in he’s in the top 50 in the world.

But ah, there is hope. There is hope in youth programs filled with kids who love Christ. There is hope in the flourishing campus ministry centers, hope in the young families with four and five and six kids and enough John Pauls and Thereses to stock a Catholic gift shop. There is hope in long confession lines and in the wild popularity of @Pontifex.

There is hope in every tabernacle and every Sunday School classroom, but nowhere have I seen more hope than in the home where I ate dinner last night.

Gathered around kitchen table and dining table and card tables were a dozen deacons, all of whom will be ordained in the next few weeks, a handful of seminarians, a bishop, half a dozen priests, and assorted non-clerical types. I’d accidentally shared a holy hour with five of the deacons earlier in the day, startled from my silent distraction by the sight of these strong young men dropping to their knees before a God made weak. Over a marvelous dinner, I saw the fruit of many such holy hours in the kind eyes and passionate conversation of these godly men, each one eager not for the honor due to a priest but for the sacrifice required of a victim.

This morning, a dear friend, Father Joe Kirkconnell, was ordained down here on Grand Cayman and his seminary classmates are here to celebrate with him. Father Joe is a quietly holy man, a man more humbled and overjoyed and astonished at the grace of ordination than any I’ve seen. He is intelligent and pious and kind and somehow he is shocked that God would give him this gift. After the election of the candidate (when the bishop declared that he would be ordained), he let out a joyful sigh of relief, as if even during his ordination Mass he had been afraid they might change their minds. It’s enough to make a person weep,1 seeing how grateful he is for what so many would consider a cross.

victimhoodBut this is priesthood. These men don’t feel they’re doing the Church a favor. They’re awestruck by the magnitude of what is being given them. “These hands,” one said to me. “These hands with their long fingers and their odd wrinkles–these hand will consecrate, will bring God to earth.” They are longing to serve, longing to sacrifice, longing to lay down their lives for their sheep.

Now, I’m notorious for going all catholic fangirl on seminarians, but this time you would have done the same. Watching these men, these brothers in Christ and soon to be brother priests, tease each other over their reactions to stingrays, spend an evening filling glasses and taking plates in service to the others in attendance, and roar with laughter at stories that ended with the punchline, “I never should have asked a liturgist,”2 I was overwhelmed by their joy, their goodness, their servants’ hearts and love for truth.

congratulations Fr. JoeThe first time I asked Fr. Joe if he thought he might become a priest, years ago after we prayed our usual rosary in his dorm chapel, he looked wistfully at me and said, “I hope so.” There was no pride, no indecision, just a longing to belong to Christ and serve his Church. Today, he lay on his face on the floor of the church and offered his life irrevocably to you, whoever you are. Others did the same all over the world. And next week there will be more, and the week after. On and on throughout the summer and beyond.

This year and next year and every year until the end of time, there will be men who throw away perfectly good lives to live for the people of God. And these young men who taunt each other and encourage each other and challenge each other and pray for each other give me hope. Oh, there are bad priests out there. But there are so very many men who are laying down their lives, holding nothing back, pouring themselves out for people who see nothing beyond the collar. Pray for them. Invite them to dinner. Thank them for their service. Go to Mass. Go to confession. (There’s no greater gift you can give a good priest than your sins.) These men who absolve and instruct and consecrate and suffer for you are, along with so many other God-lovers, hope for the Church. May God grant us holy priests.

My dear Fathers, thank you. Thank you for the gift of your life.

  1. Which I did. I probably cried 25 times today. Oh, how I love the priesthood and holy priests! []
  2. Best dinner party of my life. []

Why I Don’t Volunteer at Soup Kitchens

When I was a teenager and even more obnoxious than I am now, if you can believe that, I was obsessed with the poor. Actually, that might be too generous. I was obsessed with what everyone else was doing to help the poor.

Righting wrongs that are none of my business since 1984.

I was born with a violently strong sense of justice1 and raised without much money. Even though we didn’t have much when I was very little, I have distinct memories from childhood of giving to the poor and even volunteering as a family to feed the poor. So I suppose it’s no wonder that with the advent of a more significant allowance came a sense of obligation to help those in need. Which would have been a good thing had I not felt the need to beat people over the head with it.

I distinctly remember sitting in my car after youth group one night sobbing because the people–even the adults–didn’t understand that they had to help the poor. I had even broken it down for them, making it as simple as I could: “If you have two blenders, you should give one away. Nobody needs two blenders.” No, they said, yours might break, and then you’ll need the other one. “Then you can buy another one! Why would you hoard extra things on the off chance that you’ll need them in the future??” But they didn’t care. All I was trying to say was that that they ought to give some of their excess away. But they couldn’t hear it.

In college, I got more extreme. I wouldn’t pay more than $20 for anything but a plane ticket and I judged those who did.2 I didn’t chill out until my wise roommate pointed out to me, “Meg, someone has to minister to the country club.” Oh, I thought, well if it’s wealth for the sake of ministry, I guess that’s okay. But I still brought up the plight of the poor with regularity. After all, as St. Ambrose says, “The rich man who gives to the poor does not bestow alms but pays a debt.” Giving to the poor, he says, is not optional.

But despite my absolute conviction that all Christians have an obligation to serve the poor, I can’t remember the last time I was in a soup kitchen. Or a food pantry. Or a homeless shelter. Or really any place devoted to serving the poor.

I realized my first year of teaching that for all I was telling people to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, I wasn’t doing a lick of it myself. So I resolved to get more involved, do more, be more available to serve the poor.

First year teaching kind of looks like this–overwhelming chaos that you can’t do anything about. Definitely adding another activity was the way to fix that.

You read that right: I decided during my first year of teaching that I wasn’t doing enough for Christ and his people. Somehow, I thought that 14 hours of ministry a day wasn’t enough. I decided that my weekends shouldn’t be spent recharging3 but doing more.

Praise the Lord, he stepped in and stopped me before I drove myself to a nervous breakdown. And I had to realize, in all humility, that I can’t do it all. I can’t sing in the choir and lector and be an EM–I have to choose.4 I couldn’t be a first-year teacher and spend my weekends at the soup kitchen. At a certain point, I had to recognize where my gifts lay and where God was calling me and let the rest go.

There will always be more good work to be done for the Kingdom, but you don’t have to do it all. What you have to do is the work that the Lord has put before you today. And the beauty of the Body of Christ is that when you put us all together, we do all the work that must be done. Some of us feed the poor directly, others by tithing. Some of us catechize directly, others through the witness of our lives. Some of us are missionaries, others pray for missionaries, take missionaries into their homes, comment on missionaries’ blogs.5

The gift of this messy, beautiful, holy, fallen Church we’re in is that we don’t all have to be elbows or noses or pinky toes.6 At this point in my life, the Lord has called me to evangelize day in and day out. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for slinging hash. But I can’t be holier than the Lord has called me to be–if he wants me on the front lines for faith and working the supply chain for works, I can do that. Insisting on being in the trenches for every cause that matters is just pride–and stupidity.

Which book do I read? I’ll never read them all! My life is so hard!!!

One of the great temptations when you start getting serious about following the Lord is comparison. You start looking at how people around you are serving Christ and you take your eyes off him. But God doesn’t want cookie-cutter Christians! He wants you to be you and to do the particular work he’s given you. And when we look at all the work we’re not doing or the prayers we’re not praying or the books we’re not reading, it’s easy either to get discouraged or burnt-out. If you’re anything like me, the result of comparing yourself to holy people–not prayerfully emulating Saints but analyzing their resumes–is sin.

There is great humility in saying, “I love the poor but God hasn’t called me to that ministry.” You’re acknowledging your limitations and avoiding the Messiah complex that I’m so prone to. If it’s honest, if it’s truly a result of prayer and prudence, if you’re giving of yourself through some other work or ministry or relationship, it’s a blessing to be able to say no.

My friends, the freedom of being saved by grace is that we don’t have to do everything. We have to do something, certainly (faith and works), but we don’t have to do anything but the work that the Lord has set before us. So stop letting the image of other people’s holiness stress you out. Just because she has 10 kids doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom because you’re struggling with 3. Just because he reads the Bible every day doesn’t mean that has to be your devotion. If you’ve got your hands full with prison ministry, you don’t have to volunteer with the youth group, too.

If this picture doesn’t make you want to do something, you might need an attitude check. But the something you do might not be as obvious as ladling soup.

Now, if our Church weren’t serving the poor, we wouldn’t be the Church of Christ. And if the way you live isn’t informed by the plight of the poor, if you’re not conscious of fair wages and living simply and giving to the poor, then you’re ignoring the Gospel. But each of us is called to serve the poor–and the doubtful and the lonely and the imprisoned and the ill and the sinner–in our own particular way. Sometimes being at peace with that limitation is harder than any mission trip or morning at the shelter.

I’m still kind of obsessed with the poor–Jesus told us we had to be. But I’m not so judgmental any more, and I don’t feel so guilty that my work isn’t directly focused on the poor. Because holiness isn’t about doing everything. It’s about doing what you’re called to do.

So what about you? What are you called to do? And what other ministry do you have to sacrifice to do it?


While you’re wandering the internet wasting time, why don’t you head over to see Bonnie and vote on your favorite Catholic blogs for the Sheenazing Blogger Awards?7 See, I got nominated–twice! Coolest blogger8 and most inspiring, can you believe it? I’m kind of floored. But anyway, you can go vote for me (or somebody else) if you want to and then whoever wins gets to put a cool meme of Fulton Sheen on his or her blog. At least go scroll through the ballot and find some awesome new blogs to read. Because you didn’t have enough going on.

And make sure to check out Bonnie’s miracle baby while you’re there. Stillborn, with no pulse or respirations for 61 minutes, he came back to life and is a normal, healthy little boy today. Incredible!

  1. Particularly as it relates to how other people treat me, but that’s a matter for another post. []
  2. Ironically, I was shelling out a gazillion dollars a year on my education…. []
  3. Or, more likely, grading. []
  4. Or have the choir chosen for me, as often happens. Once, I was passing through a town on Good Friday and stopped in at a church for the liturgy. I literally stashed my suitcase under a pew, I was so transient there. Within 5 minutes, I was standing at the front of the church in a choir robe. Another time, I went to a church I’d only been to once or twice before. I started Mass in the pew. By the offertory, I was cantoring. How do these things happen to a person??? []
  5. Thanks for all the blog love, by the way. I pray for y’all daily! []
  6. You caught the reference, right? 1 Corinthians 12? []
  7. It’s Sheen–Fulton, not Charlie–plus amazing. Get it? It took me four or five times, too. Don’t be ashamed. []
  8. These people have clearly never met me. []

Birthday Blessings

September birthdays are awkward. They’re at the beginning of the school year, so you don’t know quite who your friends are this year. Or you’re at a new school and nobody knows it’s your birthday. Or maybe you’re (I’m) just an awkward person. For whatever reason, my birthdays are often anticlimactic: the day in high school when not one person remembered; the party I threw for myself while I was teaching that almost nobody could come to; the cafeteria chow mein I celebrated with my last year in Kansas. Much like New Year’s Eve, my birthday just doesn’t live up to the hype.

For some people, birthdays are about cotton candy. I want to be friends with those people.

So a few years back, I started to look at my birthday a different way. Instead of spending the day getting other people to celebrate me (which I’m not averse to), I try to take a good chunk of time with the Lord to look at what he’s done in my life over the past year.

For some people, birthdays are about presents or parties or long phone calls with faraway friends. For me, they’re examens, days of gratitude and contrition and petition. The day I turned 20, I learned to be grateful for the suffering I’d endured that year. The day I turned 23, I was so overwhelmed by the blessings of the previous year, I asked God for fewer consolations. The day I turned 25, the Lord asked me to be his bride. These are days that stand out in stark relief against the confused background of my busy life.

Today I am 29—which seems much older than I could possibly be—and I am just so grateful. I wanted to take a moment to share the things I am most grateful for:

1. My vocation. More than anything else, I am so grateful that the Lord has called me to belong completely to him, to give him my undivided heart. The greatest joy of my life is the promise that I will be his bride. He has given me such a deep love for him—despite the nonsense that I try to fill my heart with—that I’m really beginning to hunger for him, to delight in him and to rest in him.

The day he called me—4 years ago today—I sobbed. I told him I would be his, but I “knew” I’d never be happy about it. But God is so much bigger than my shriveled little heart, and gradually it’s been swelling with love for him and his Church and his people until there’s so little room left for envy or anxiety. I almost don’t long for marriage any more. I almost don’t ache for children. I almost don’t worry about being alone. I almost don’t feel bitter. And each time I forget how enraptured I am by the gift of my vocation, he lifts my chin and gazes on me and I know—I know—that I am radiant with his beauty and captivating. I am so beautiful and so worthy–by his grace–and oh just so blessed to be his.

The more I love him, the more beautiful I am because he begins to shine through me. Most of the time I’m just little fallen me, but more and more I’m reminded of who I am in Him. More and more he draws my attention back to him and I fall in love again.

Marriage is so beautiful and so holy and such a blessing, but this? This is so me! This fits the joys and the struggles of my heart so perfectly—there’s nothing I would trade for this. Nothing.

2. My faith. I so very nearly wasn’t the person I’ve become. Everything good in my life is so clearly a product of grace. I am so grateful for having been chosen and claimed. It’s not just loving Christ that brings joy to my heart but knowing him, especially in the Eucharist. I’m so blessed to have been drawn into the Church and led to seek truth in his Word.

I was too cynical and too arrogant and too enamored of my own intelligence to  accept the truth of the Gospel. I’m still a self-important mess but–wonder of wonders–he’s given me the gift of faith. Every once in a while, I get a glimpse of the life I could have been living if not for his grace. I am so blessed.

3. My ministry. I haven’t written anything that wasn’t assigned since I was in grade school and I never would have started had it not been for the Lord—but I love this! I love expressing myself in this way and I love that my work is touching hearts.

But more than blogging, I’m so grateful to be able to travel and speak to such different groups of people. This week, I got to talk to a group of holy young women about discernment and my particular vocation and answer their questions. The next day, I was off to a youth group to talk about God’s desperate love for us. Yesterday, I presented on defending Christianity and the divinity of Christ. Then this morning, I met a young woman for coffee and an incredible conversation about discernment and prayer and mortifications and consecrated virginity.

I feel outrageously blessed that the Lord continues to use me with large groups and in one-on-one settings to speak his truth to souls. I’ve wanted to be a missionary since I was in high school and I’m so grateful that he knows how to use me best and that he’s entrusted some part of the mission of his Kingdom to my weak hands.

I am especially grateful that these kids put up with me.

4. My loved ones. I’ve mentioned before that I hate to be needy or burdensome. All this living out of my car and off the generosity of others? It’s really hard for me. But I’m surrounded by beautiful people who are so gracious, people who don’t think they’re doing me a favor by letting me stay with them—people who even ask me to stay longer and longer still. They offer prayers and spare rooms and graphic design and introductions—and they’re happy to do it! It’s so humbling to be so well loved by so many amazing people.

5. You! I can’t believe I have so many subscribers (almost 500)! I’m so grateful to you for reading my posts and sharing or liking or commenting. Thank you for praying for me, for offering a place to stay, and for helping out financially. Thank you especially to those who’ve invited me to come speak! God is continuing to surround me with generous people who are so willing to help me even if we’ve never met and I’m so blessed by all of you.


This year, I got the rug pulled out from underneath me—again. After 15 years of wanting to be in the classroom until the day I died, the Lord asked me to teach in a new way. After a lifetime of wanting roots and stability, he called me to drop everything and follow with nothing but a walking stick. He is providing, as he always does. He is blessing me, as he always does. And he is holding me close and drawing my heart gradually, gently, with such tender love. I just—I can’t—friends, there aren’t even words. I am so blessed. Praise God with me.

Did You Know I Have Kids?

I’ve been stumbling on this blog over a habit I have of referring to “my kids.” I’m sure that’s confusing to those of you who don’t know me. “Wait, didn’t I see something about consecrated virginity? But she has kids? Hang on, now….”1 So rather than footnote it every time, I thought I’d write you a good long explanation.2

My newest godson, Hugo. He’s inspecting my crucifix. My work here is done.

I have hundreds of children. A few godchildren, but mostly spiritual children, students I’ve taught and teens I’ve spoken with at retreats or camps or talks and sometimes ladies twice my age who needed God to love on them through me. The relationship I have with these kids of mine is sometimes just a few hours long and sometimes lasts for years and changes us both. I call them my kids because I am their mother–one of many mothers they have, God willing. I call them my kids even when they’re 25, because when I say that I don’t mean that they’re children. I mean that they’re mine.

When I was first discerning a vocation to consecrated life, I went to see my spiritual director. I was feeling led to enter a convent that summer but my relationship with my students was holding me back.

“I just love these kids so much, Father. Maybe that’s God’s way of telling me not to leave them.”

“Oh, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to stay. That just means you already have a consecrated heart–you already love them with a mother’s love.”

I burst into tears at that: “You mean, I do get to be a mom?”

I had been wrestling with my vocation, convinced that Christ was calling me to be his bride but still longing for marriage and motherhood. I had offered my barrenness as a sacrifice to God but I remember sitting in a movie theater watching a movie featuring a pregnant woman. I sobbed into my sweatshirt (have I mentioned that I’m super-emotional?) and prayed, “Lord, I will give that up. But I will never stop wanting it.”

Like many women, I ached to be a mother. I wanted so badly to give myself in love to people–and, to be quite honest, to be loved and needed in return. I think it’s a universal longing–the desire to love and be loved–and for many women, this manifests itself as a maternal instinct, even for those who aren’t physical mothers. I’d read about women feeling like mothers to their students or their friends and it just struck me as counterfeit–some sham replacement for real motherhood that was supplied us to keep us from being bitter when we were old maids (and yes, at 24 I did kind of consider myself an old maid.  Catholic college will sometimes do that to a person).

But then I began to experience this phenomenon of spiritual motherhood. When I first started teaching, I loved my kids so fiercely that I honestly felt creepy. I remember almost crying from pride while watching a pep rally, of all things, and thinking that there must be something wrong with me if I loved these random kids so much. It wasn’t until I began to discern my vocation that I realized that my love for these kids was maternal.

These three lived with me for three summers in a row. Diapers and nightmares and tantrums and all.

There is something very real about spiritual motherhood. I have never borne physical children, so comparisons I make will have to be viewed in that light; I have, however, been a foster mother to young children, so I can relate to the all-consuming task (and love) that is physical motherhood, both biological and adoptive.

No, it’s not the same, but neither is the way you are a mother and the way my sister is a mother. Because two types of motherhood are different doesn’t make one any less real. They aren’t the same—and yet, somehow, they are.

As a teacher and minister, I love His children as my own. Certainly, I don’t have the same motherly love for every one of the hundreds of children who have belonged to me—my heart couldn’t take it—but I offer myself completely to each one and some few dozen have become as dear to me as I can imagine any physical child of mine being. I pray for them desperately, I ache with love for them, I miss them terribly when they go off to college.

There’s a reason people don’t have 20 kids at a time–it takes a lot out of you.

Just as a physical mother does, I suffer for my children. No, I’m not theirs 24 hours a day, but I feel the weight of their souls as strongly as many physical mothers. My knees are bruised for praying for them, my face lined with the joy of watching them repent and the agony of knowing I can’t make them saints. Daily I pour myself out for them and daily they roll their eyes and ignore me, sometimes embracing sin just to spite me. Yes, I am a mother—and a mother almost exclusively of teenagers, God help me.

My children are so often broken before they even get to me. I love them with everything I have, but I am not the most important force in their lives. I spend my life working damage control, trying to love their broken hearts back together, knowing that I will often fail. I plant the seeds and I hope, but most of the fruit is borne years later, after they’ve moved away and fallen out of touch. I watch my children leave the fold and I never know if they’ve come back.

Unlike physical mothers, I usually have these children for only a few years after high school before they move on and mostly forget me; unlike physical mothers, I often have absolutely no impact on them after they leave my care. I can’t call them every Sunday if they don’t want to hear from me; I can’t always step back into their lives to invite them lovingly to conversion. At a certain point, I have to let them go.

The love of a mother is the love of the Cross. We pour out our lives for our children and they spit in our faces. Some few stand by and love us in return. The rest may, by God’s grace, be converted by the empty tomb, by the hole in His side, by the tongues of flame. We love and we pray and we hope—and we leave them in God’s hands. This is motherhood—spiritual and physical.

I feel for those of you without physical children who view spiritual motherhood as a consolation prize, a phrase coined to silence those women who suffer for not being physical mothers. I felt this way for years, and perhaps I accept it more joyfully now because, in a sense, it’s something I’ve chosen. But real holiness is rejoicing in the suffering we’ve chosen and in the suffering that’s been forced upon us.

I’m not exactly sure of my point in writing this post–maybe just to give you a glimpse into my heart?

Maybe encouragement for those who long to be mothers that you are mothers. All women are called to spiritual motherhood (with friends or siblings or children in the church nursery) and you are able to love the souls around you with a mother’s love and to transform them through that. It’s not the same, but it’s not less, either. Motherhood is a gift offered to all women–see 1 Tim 2:15; if it’s not open to everyone, those of us who can’t bear children are in serious trouble.

Maybe I just want to ask you all to take a moment to thank your spiritual mothers. Godmothers, teachers, friends–there are women in your life who’ve held you before the throne of God or wrapped you in arms of love or taught you to be honorable and virtuous. Many of them don’t get phone calls on Mother’s Day or presents at Christmas. They love you because they choose to, not because you were handed to them. Spiritual motherhood is often a thankless job; let’s change that today.

Then again, maybe I just want something to link to when I say something about “one of my kids.”

  1. I had a kid once, a secular atheist who had been in Catholic school for four years. One day I mentioned something about the Virgin Mary. “Mary wasn’t a virgin,” he laughed. When everyone looked confused, he continued, “Mary is Jesus’ mom, right? She can’t have been a virgin. That’s not how that works!” He wasn’t objecting to the theology–he’d honestly never noticed it before. Way to go, Catholic schools. []
  2. Many of these thoughts show up in a comment I posted a while back on Simcha Fisher’s post on spiritual motherhood. []