Forgive me for quoting myself, but I posted this as my facebook status at about 1:15 am the other night:
My kids occasionally drive me crazy but mostly keep me sane.
I assume this is a common feeling among parents. The first half of the statement is taught as gospel by secular society, which views children (at best) as an annoyance and (at worst) expendable via abortion. Either way, kids are seen as buzzkills.
Yet after sitting through a particularly dull meeting at work, wherein several revelations came to light that were news to me and which would later require a significant amount of busywork on my part, I found that I only regained a sense of normalcy by coming home and playing with our boys. My takeaways:
- We are made for family, for relationship — Our ultimate goal in life is not to labor but to love. Certainly labor has a dignity and there are evils associated with sloth and idleness, but our end is not to be found in our jobs. Even if you’re extremely lucky like me who loves the vast majority of his job (teaching college students a subject about which I am passionate and about which a huge segment of the population has erroneous ideas), it still is only a means to an end. It’s amazing how getting married and then having kids alters your perception of how important your job is. It may increase it, since you realize that you have to provide for more than just yourself, but the opportunity cost of spending time at the office increases dramatically. You want to go home, even if it means less money.
- Your kids will get you to heaven — Canonized saints have to exercise heroic virtue, but all the rest who are in heaven (the All Saint’s Day crowd) didn’t necessarily do National Catholic Register headline-making things. They were baptized and conformed their lives to Christ as best they could, which to a large part includes exercising humility, casting off pride and self-love. When every last fiber of your self-loving being wants to get some sleep since you’ve averaged five hours per night the past two years, and yet you still get up to comfort a crying child at 3:45 am, you become aware of your capacity to grow in humility. It’s a virtue borne of (very mild) suffering, to be sure, but the joy that comes with not having to cater to every one of your own whims is exhilarating.
- Learn the Catholic meaning of “vocation” — I’ll admit that it took me a while to understand the peculiar definition Catholics have of that word. Previously, I presumed that becoming an economics professor was living my vocation. I was decent at it, enjoyed it, and could make a living at it. In a sense I could (and can) say that it was what I was meant to do. Now, I can still say that living my vocation is what I was meant to do, but that I’ve recognized the Catholic definition and realize that my vocation is as a husband and father. I am decent at it, enjoy it immensely, and am truly alive while doing it.
- Boys love balloons — We spent about two hours where I blew up a balloon, both of them sat next to me on the floor, and I released the balloon to fly randomly around the room. They would crack up, the older one would always reach the deflated balloon first but would share it with the younger one who would return it to me for another go. Keep that in your bag of tricks.
The first three (and maybe the fourth) all implicitly point us back to God. I feel most natural with family or friends, which suggests that our purpose is relationship with other beings and with Being Itself. Humility means recognizing who I am and that that is not God. Our vocations are the cars that get us to heaven, the paths on which we get there. We can avoid our vocation (turn the car around) or not pursue it (don’t shift out of Park), but we will feel most alive and fulfilled when we follow it.