The Joy of Vocation
A look at the grown-up version of fun
By Carrie Gress
Shortly after I got married, a good priest gave me some sage advice: look at all your daily frustrations as a source of holiness. Later that day, my husband did something that irritated me, so I said to him through clenched teeth: “You are making me so holy right now.” Of course, this made us both laugh.
When my husband and I were married, there was the excitement of new love and the joy of finally fulfilling our vocation. We had been warned, however, that this bloom on the rose couldn’t last and things would get tough. But what we didn’t hear was that there was a secret gem buried in those difficulties, if only we could find it.
Our first child arrived two weeks before our first anniversary. Three more followed, one every other year. Somewhere in the course of having four children, spending an entire year unemployed, moving six times, and completing a doctoral degree, we discovered great joy. Yes, we were tired. Yes, our not-so-young bodies ached from rocking children to sleep in awkward positions or schlepping them from place to place. Yes, the travel, great food and fun adventures that had enriched our single lives came to a screeching halt. And yet, what we found in the midst of all of this sacrifice was joy. In fact, we became aware that the joy we were experiencing was the result of our sacrifices. Giving fully of ourselves was the source of this joyfulness.
I’ll never forget when I first experienced the depth of this joy. Shortly after our third child was born, when I was still beyond exhausted, there was a stirring in my soul that I couldn’t put my finger on – something bubbling up that seemed wildly out of place given the daily struggles I was going through. It took me a while to make the connection between the joy and the struggles, but then I kept noticing it particularly as I got in the habit of offering up those challenges to the Lord. The joy was Christ’s gentle way of saying, “You got it; you are doing it right. Keep giving.”
Our culture would have us believe that a vocation, marriage in particular, ties us down and limits our options. But rather than confining us or keeping us from the pursuit of happiness, our vocation leads us in the way of God’s love. Following our vocation enables us come to know how God loves us, in joyful sacrifice. This is not to say that every moment is overflowing with joy, but the glimpses of it give meaning and consolation to the daily struggles.
The roadmap of love in the First Letter to the Corinthians is a familiar reading at weddings. “Love is patient, love is kind … ” (1 Cor 13:4-8). What follows this passage, however, is a glimpse at what maturing love looks like. “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things” (1 Cor 13:11). Love and the gift of self, not simple biological age, bring us to full maturity. In fact, we sadly have abundant evidence that many people who have aged have not matured spiritually. The sacrifices required in any God-given vocation will naturally correct this, which is why marriage vows and the final vows made by religious are so essential – when we honor them, we are transformed for the good. Of course, the opposite is also true.
The old rite of Christian marriage included these poignant lines: “Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.” The connections are clear: the deeper the sacrifices, the greater the love, the stronger the joy.
Joy is what the spiritually mature soul seeks. Entertainment, pleasure, and passivity are the hallmarks of childishness. Maturity brings with it the awareness that there is something deeper, more beautiful, and peace-giving, the fruit of which is joy. And that joy is to adulthood what fun was to childhood. Joy is the grown-up version of fun.
Carrie Gress holds a doctorate from The Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of Nudging Conversions: A Practical Guide to Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, and Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her husband, Joseph, live in Virginia. Her website is Carriegress.com.