Catholic women work hard. Understatement of the millennium, right? We nourish and nurture relationships, create and raise precious lives, look well to the ways of our households, and bring our feminine genius to endeavors within and outside of the home. We are wives, consecrated religious and singles, mothers and teachers and healers and warriors and executives and intellectuals. We rock the cradle and rule the world.
This work that we do is important and holy. If you’ve ever doubted that, just take a look at Pope St. John Paul II’s words in the encyclical Laborem Exorcens:
“Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.”
But many of us do this important work while carrying heavy personal crosses: mental or physical illness, care for an ailing family member, financial strain, or broken relationships lay heavy on our shoulders as we go about our daily business. Our own personal weaknesses, quirks and sins also add weight—just ask your favorite perfectionist, worrywart, procrastinator or control freak!
So through the brokenness of the world, others and ourselves, work often morphs from a holy endeavor to a painful drudgery or all-consuming monster. We work and work and go and go until we can go no more. Many times, we ignore our own physical, mental and spiritual well-being until we crash under the weight of illness and sin. This is not healthy or holy behavior. Work is not a god, and martyring ourselves in its name won’t bring us happiness in this world or the next. But what’s the alternative? In our increasingly extreme society, we imagine the opposite of working is quitting. We envision our lack of participation equates to sinful laziness and apathy, our families and finances falling apart. But there is another way.
“If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.”
This quote, popularly attributed to the famous graffiti artist Banksy, perfectly describes the Catholic counterpart to work. It’s the antidote to the overwork and crash cycle that secular society perpetuates. Rest seems like a stupidly simple idea, almost insulting to suggest. Of course we’ve all tried to rest! We snag minutes on the Internet or the couch, squeeze a date or a girls’ night into our already-crowded calendars, or nervously tap our fingers on the kneelers at Adoration, peeking at the clock to see when our hour is up.
But true, holy rest, like all things Catholic, goes much deeper than meets the eye. Rest from our labors requires practice and focus. Far from being a fall-back or a lame excuse for not working, rest should be an intentional part of our daily lives and yearly calendars, waxing and waning in tune with our personal circumstances. Rest increases our virtue, refreshes our souls, and heals our bodies and minds for another round of holy labor for the Lord. Below are just a few practical ways we can rest and the fruits we can gather while doing so:
- Ask for help: If you’re overwhelmed with the tasks on your to-do list, ask a friend, family member or co-worker to help you carry your cross. More often than you might imagine, people are happy to help with an hour of babysitting, a hot meal, or a housekeeping project. Admitting that you can’t do it all grows you in humility and reaching out in your time of need requires courage.
- Start from the beginning: The very, very beginning, like Genesis. God showed us the perfect way by resting from all his good work on the Sabbath, so imitate his holy relaxation by taking time out from your labor on the Lord’s Day. Your email and laundry can wait, and heeding the Scriptural mandates of our faith is a great way to practice holy obedience.
- Be intentional: There’s a good reason so many monks eat and work in silence: they’re giving their full attention to whatever God has called them to do at that exact moment in time. Imitate their focus and intentionality by hallowing your times for relaxation. Whether you’ve got fifteen minutes or a whole week, don’t waste it by dwelling on the job you’re going to do next or worrying about the future. Cultivate diligence in your leisure and time with the Lord, and you’ll be all the more rested when it’s time to get back to the grindstone.
- Go with the flow: On the flip side, most of us aren’t in a cloister. No matter how much we’d like to focus on our times of rest, urgent phone calls, children with boo-boos, and unexpected obligations are a part of life in the world. Putting aside rest temporarily, and picking it back up gracefully (over and over and over again!) helps us grow in patience, perseverance and inner peace.
- Counter the culture: Rest doesn’t necessarily mean a fun social activity, a pricey vacation or a self-indulgent Netflix binge (although there’s a place for all these in a well-balanced life)! Much of the time, rest is simply about ceasing our labors in order to honor the Lord, our loved ones, and ourselves. What that looks like varies according to your own personal devotions and family, but choosing our ways of rest, and lessening our dependence on the world’s definition of leisure takes both bravery and wisdom.
Catholic women work hard, of that there’s no doubt. But let it be said not only that we rock the cradle and rule the world, but that we refresh and repair a tired and jaded society by our holy rest in the Lord.
Liz Schleicher is a Midwestern Catholic wife and working mama of one. Mental illness has visited her family to the third and fourth generation, and she battles to see the truth and beauty of each day. She blogs at St. Dymphna’s Daughter and leads the conversation on Facebook at Catholics with Depression.