3 Christ-like Parenting Strategies

When my children look at me, they should see a resemblance to the face of Christ. The way I treat them should remind them of the Heavenly Father’s love and care for them. The more I become like Jesus, the more my children benefit from effective, transformative parenting.

But it’s not always easy to be so Christ-like as a parent. I remember one particularly trying day with my three-year-old. My patience was dwindling, and as the minutes passed, I’m certain that my struggle to maintain a peaceful demeanor was becoming more noticeable to him. In the midst of my frustration, I thought about how the Heavenly Father is so patient with me. I am often so slow-to-learn, so unlike the person He made me to be (and not to mention much more culpably so), and yet He never fails to be patient with me in the process of learning how to be my best self. I was reminded that this is how I’m called to love and parent my son, too.

When sinfulness gets in the way of my parenting, I become painfully aware of my littleness in carrying out this magnificent task of mirroring Christ’s life and love to my children. That’s when I turn to these basic, yet powerful Christ-like parenting strategies to be reminded of the simple steps I need to take to be a better parent to the beautiful children God has lent to me.

  1. Lead by example. Jesus offers a “new commandment” in the gospels: “[L]ove one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). As parents, we need to be the model of virtue and Christian living that we want our children to embrace. From a very young age, children love to mimic their parents’ behavior. Make sure the kind of behavior you are exhibiting in the moments scattered throughout your day—in the car behind a slow-moving driver, in the kitchen when you’re gazing over a giant milk spill, at the table when you’re desperate to get the math work done, when you’re tired but the toddler won’t go to sleep—is behavior you want your children to imitate.
  1. Correct lovingly. Our children need constant correction. It’s a natural part of their growth process. After all, I still need constant correction, and if I want to grow in the spiritual life in particular, I rely on Christ’s perpetual, loving correction as I stumble and fall. When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), he lovingly called her out on having many husbands, effectively directing her to an alternative course of behavior – to live a life of virtue, re-centered around a relationship with Him. In the same way, I am called to discipline my children with this kind of lovingness, not overlooking their faults, but pointing them out and then redirecting them toward the good and the virtuous. It’s the kind of love and correction that says, “I love you too much to let you go on living like this or acting like this.”
  1. Show mercy. I once heard that our job as parents, especially in the tough moments, is to give our children what they need, rather than what they deserve. Every day we are given countless opportunities to embrace mercy, sometimes in even the most challenging of parenting situations. Mercy is different than laxity or passivity. Pope Francis calls “mercy” the Lord’s most powerful message. It involves a readiness to help someone in need, especially someone in need of forgiveness. When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, asking him what he had to “say about her,” he called on the angry mob to consider their own sinfulness, and then, when they had dispersed, he responded to the woman. What he offered her was mercy. “And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again’” (John 8:11).

Christ-like parenting is not as complicated as we might like to make it. Parenting better means being just a little more like Christ in the next moment we are given.

 

7 Strategies for Experiencing More Peace In Your Life

Spiritual giants throughout the centuries and in our present day agree that God acts in the soul that is at peace. But modern life seems to be hell-bent on keeping us plugged in, stressed out, and too exhausted to even think about how to be more at peace.

book-1210027_960_720When busyness threatens to take over, I have to work hard to search for and maintain peace in my personal and family life. But when I intentionally cultivate peace, God starts to move mountains in my life and in my family. Peace is just that big of a deal.

Here are 7 strategies to help you experience more peace in your personal or family life:

  1. Prayer and worship. When you create intentional space for God every single day, you simultaneously make room for peace.
  1. Leisure. Make time for play, celebration, and relaxation. Work should not be a seven-day, around-the-clock habit. Creation was ordered toward the day of rest! If God prioritized rest and leisure, you should too.
  1. Abandonment to God’s will. Letting things be out of your control and in God’s is a game-changer for maintaining peace in your life. Hand your anxieties to Him, remembering His yoke is easy and His burden light.
  1. Patience with others and with ourselves. Inching closer to sanctity takes a great deal of time and effort. St. Francis de Sales said that “nothing retards progress in a virtue so much as wanting to acquire it with too much haste.” Peace comes when we have patience with the growth process.
  1. The sacraments. Take advantage of the opportunity to receive Jesus—the source of all peace—in the Holy Eucharist, and the chance to recommit yourself to peace when you are far from it through the Sacrament of Confession.
  1. Spiritual reading. If you are serious about cultivating peace, you have to make an effort to learn about how to continuously build on it, and spiritual reading helps you do that. (Here is one of my favorite reads on the topic.)
  1. Living in the present moment. Catholic convert from Judaism Francois-Marie-high-grass-1504289_960_720Jacob Libermann advised, “Be docile and pliable in the hands of God.” To do this, we have to be comfortable allowing God to form us and lead us in the present moment, and be unmoved by mistakes of the past or concerns of the future.

St. Augustine said, “For peace is a good so great, 
that even in this earthly and mortal life
 there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such zest, or find to be so thoroughly gratifying.”

Peace is worth turning your schedule upside-down for, getting on your knees for, reforming good habits and breaking bad ones for. Do the hard work it takes to bring a little more peace into your personal or family life.

 

5 Habits of a Humble Spouse & Parent

In Fr. Joseph Esper’s great book, Saintly Solutions, he recounts this memorable story:

“What deathbed advice would you give to your loved ones as you were about to leave this world? What one simple lesson would you want them to hold on to above everything else?
This question was faced by the holy bishop St. Francis de Sales as he lay dying in 1622. He had taken ill returning from a trip and stopped at a convent of the Sisters of the Visitation, asking for a small, simple room in the gardener’s cottage. As the end approached, he was in pain and lost the ability to speak. When one of the religious sisters gave him paper and pen and asked him what virtue he especially wished the sisters to cultivate, the saint carefully wrote one word in large letters: humility.

I really want my children to learn how to be humble souls, especially in a culture that seems obsessed with pride, but I know that the greatest way I can teach them to grow in this magnificent virtue is to exhibit humility in a profound way myself. I know that humility holds the key to bringing my marriage and parenting to the next level. But knowing that and practicing it are two different things.

Are you a humble soul? Here are five signs you are on your way to making humility a habit:

  1. You recognize your littleness. Thérèse of Lisieux was an expert at this. She knew how small she was in relation to the greatness of God, and, embracing her own weakness and littleness, thus believed she had the power to become a great saint, because God loves to work with little, humble souls.
  2. You rely on God’s mercy. After recognizing your littleness comes acknowledging God’s great love for you anyway! Just like the little Thérèse, he wants to lift your littleness to the heights of heaven. No weakness of yours is too great for His mercy. Allow the knowledge of that to fuel your desire and quest for greater humility.
  3. You work to squash your pride. Now let’s get practical. Cultivating humility means uprooting pride, which can be painful, because pride hates to be squashed. But here is a simple way to do it: when you are tempted to pride, deliberately practice humility instead. So…
    • When you are tempted to think highly of yourself for something you’ve accomplished or some talent you possess, thank God instead. Give credit where credit is due.
    • When you are arguing with your spouse and you don’t want to give in, practice “self-forgetfulness” and focus on loving your spouse instead of being right.
    • When your kids do something wrong or you make a mistake involving your children, forgive and ask for forgiveness.
    • When you want to criticize others, encourage or compliment instead.
  4. You don’t take yourself too seriously. Deacon Douglas McManaman writes, “The humbler we become, the more true to our nature we are. And you know, when that begins to happen, the more laughter will there be in our lives; for the word humour is also derived from “humus”. The humbler we are, the more we are able to laugh at ourselves, for the less seriously do we take ourselves, and the more able we are to take in the humor that’s always around us. That is why among the arrogant one does not encounter a great deal of laughter except the sardonic kind that delights in the humiliation of others. The proud take themselves very seriously, but among saintly people there really is a great deal of laughter” (“The Glory of Humility”).
  5. You pray for humility. It’s hard to accomplish great things without prayer. To be a truly humble spouse and parent, you need to get on your knees and petition God to help you become one. Pray with Scripture, too, allowing God’s supreme example of humility—becoming man and dying on a cross for our sins—to sink deep into your bones and set in you a fire to posses a more Christ-like humility, and also a Marian humility, that says to God, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

St. Augustine saw humility as the foundation of all other virtues. If a soul lacks humility, then only the appearance of other virtues could be present, though not the virtues themselves. If you want to be a virtuous spouse and parent, first form the habits of humility.

 

What Michelangelo Can Teach You About Virtue in Home Life

Michelangelo finished sculpting his masterpiece, the Pietá, at the young age of 24. As the story goes, when the work was unveiled to the public, the sculptor planted himself in the crowd of admirers, waiting to hear what people thought about his first great work in Rome.
Of course, the crowds loved it (as they still do), and were in awe of the skill of its anonymous artist. Nobody believed the young and relatively unknown Michelangelo when he told them that he was its maker.

Their disbelief ate at Michelangelo, who, one night, crept into the basilica and engraved his name on the sash across the chest of the Blessed Mother. You can imagine why Michelangelo was later regretful for his prideful action, which was now visible to everyone, stamped right across the woman who is the paragon of humility!

One thing is certain about your work of spiritual leadership in the family and living a Christ-centered life within the four walls of your own home: it’s often the least acknowledged—even though it’s the most important—work that you do.

It takes a good deal of virtue to put significant effort into a job that you often don’t receive any recognition or credit for. While you may receive accolades at work, praise for something you are doing in ministry or at the parish, applause for some feat you’ve accomplished as a hobby or personal goal—it’s likely you don’t have a lot of people
patting you on the back for the nitty-gritty, baby-step work you do, day in and day out, to help love your family a little better and lead them a little closer to holiness.

But this is virtue! Dedicating oneself to spiritual leadership at home as a top priority in your life means a habitual and firm disposition to do the good—promptly, consistently, with ease and with joy—even and perhaps especially when no one can see you but God alone.

Make a commitment to growing in this kind of virtue. Here are a few simple ways to do so:

  1. Educate yourself in the virtues, and which ones you need to grow in. There are a number of particularly important virtues for family life described in this book, but right now pick at least one virtue you need to learn about and grow in, or one vice to learn about and grow out of.
  2. Practice, practice, practice! Several months ago, I felt like I was complaining too much about little things, mostly to my husband. So I set a phone reminder to ding at me when my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. every day that reads: NO COMPLAINING. That small reminder has helped tremendously. Make a simple plan right now to help you accomplish growth in virtue at home in some way.
  3. Stock up on grace. Frequent the sacraments to receive the grace you need to make strides in pursuing virtue in home life. Regular Confession and receiving the Holy Eucharist often have a remarkable way of turning ordinary folks like you and me into saints someday.

A Parent Who Prays – Now Available!

Perhaps there is no greater gift we can give our children than the gift of our prayers. Prayer can literally change their lives. It’s that powerful.

a-parent-who-prays-3dWe marvel at how the prayers of Saint Monica, mother of her wayward son, Augustine, worked in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to bring him back to the ways of the Lord and put him on the road to sainthood. We treasure the witness of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who lived their lives as a prayer to God and passionately prayed for their daughters, who all entered the religious life and lived extraordinarily faithful lives.

I don’t want any less for my own children. Honestly, though, life happens, and I’m not always as intentional about praying for my children consistently in the way I really want to be praying for them. But in the times we are living in, our kids need the fervent prayers of their parents!

Enter this new resource that I am so passionate about, because I need this just as much as the next Catholic parent, and I haven’t really found anything like it. 

A Parent Who Prays: A Journal to Guide You in Praying for Your Children (affiliate link) is a simple but transformative little journal to guide you in praying for your children. It will give you the motivation and tools you need – including 52 unique special intentions (one for each week of the year) – to make praying for your children a priority over the next year—and always.

I could tell you more about it, but I’ll let you take a look for yourself. Check out A Parent Who Prays and grab more than one copy; chances are you know someone who is just as interested in learning how to pray more intentionally for their children as you are.

Better still, if you desire to gift this beautiful little journal to your child after completing it, you may want to grab a copy for each child you plan to be praying for. If you’d rather keep it private, one journal can suffice for all of your kids.

And I have some great news for you grandparents, too. A Grandparent Who Prays is also now available! (affiliate link) Make sure you grab a copy and pass this onto fellow grandparents you know. The prayers of grandparents can’t be underestimated. Pope Francis has said, “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society!”

7 Signs You Have A Faith Your Kids Can “Catch”

Is your faith contagious?
When I was writing my book, Head & Heart, I kept hearing over and over again from men and women I spoke with that when it comes to raising children in the Catholic faith, “Faith is more caught than taught.” But what does it look like to have a “catchable” faith? How can we know we are on the right track in witnessing a kind of faith that our kids (and others!) will want to embrace fully themselves?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I seeking an ongoing, deeper relationship with Jesus? You can’t give what you don’t have. If you want your children to have an intimate relationship with Christ, you need to have one. This means actually working to grow in relationship with Him, and not just saying that you have one or expecting your relationship with Christ to deepen without any work on your end. Our children sense our authenticity (or inauthenticity) especially in matters of faith, and study after study demonstrates that children are very likely to follow in the footsteps of their parents’ in their own spiritual lives.
  1. Am I praying regularly (and do my kids see me doing it)? If you are seeking an ongoing, deeper relationship with Christ, you must spend time in prayer. That’s how you nurture your relationship with Him. And though you don’t need to make a
    dramatic, public display of prayer every time you do it, you should make sure that your kids frequently see you praying. Pope Saint John Paul II said, “The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray.” Seeing a parent pray with sincerity, regularity, humility, vulnerability, and trust has a powerful impact on a child.
  1. Am I exhibiting virtue? Do you actually act like Christ around your family? Do your children see you living the faith you claim to preach? Do you exhibit joy, charity, hope, patience, forgiveness, and other virtues that characterize someone in love with their faith and their mission to become a saint? If you answered anything but an emphatic “yes” to these questions, pick one virtue right now that you want to exhibit more intentionally to your kids. Set a phone reminder or post a note in a prominent place reminding you to radiate that virtue, so that your kids can catch it, too.
  1. Am I working on my marriage? This might not seem to directly relate to having a “catchable” faith, but you and your spouse help form your children’s image of God! They will often relate to and understand God through the “analogy”—for lack of a better word—of their parents. The more you image the life-giving love of the Trinity in your marriage, the more your children will catch onto that love and crave it from the source of Love Himself.
  1. Am I embracing Catholic culture? Do you celebrate baptism anniversaries and Catholic feast days with the same fun, food, and traditions as you do on days like
    Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July? Make Catholic holy days become celebrations that your children anticipate with excitement.
  1. Do I set faith-based goals and dreams, and then actively seek to accomplish them? If you want to accomplish any goal, you need a plan to achieve it. So if you want to possess a catchable faith, you need a plan to acquire one. Set goals for learning more about your faith, getting involved in ministry, or serving your family more intentionally. Set reachable goals—like praying for ten minutes a day, listening to a faith-based podcast during lunch or while folding laundry, or reading the Bible before you go to bed—but then, dream big. Dream about sanctity.
  1. Do I care more about being or doing? Your children might be more likely to “catch” faith from you as a Mary parent than they are from you as a Martha one. Prioritize your desire to become the person God created you to be (ultimately, a saint!) over all the other stuff you have to do. Let your children see and catch the peace that comes from being in love with the Lord and being This will matter more than all the other stuff you might be tempted to “do” to increase their chances of embracing the faith. I often have to adjust my thinking from “I haven’t had them memorize a new Scripture verse this week!” to “Am I a more loving, patient, Christ-like person today than I was yesterday?” The Lord cares more about being than doing.

Which of these 7 ways to develop a more catchable faith could you improve on right now?

 

Do You Have These 5 Traits of a Spiritual “Heart”?

A Quick Checklist for Wives and Moms
It often amazes me how many lay men and women, priests and religious point to their mother’s faith as an anchor in their own spiritual journey. That’s certainly the case with me and my mom’s unwavering faith, and I so badly want to be that strong spiritual “heart” for my children, too. I’ve noticed in her and in many other strong spiritual hearts some beautiful, feminine aspects of spiritual leadership:

  • A habit of sacrifice. Strong spiritual hearts seize frequent opportunities to give of themselves, to die to their own desires, inclinations, or preferences for the good of others, especially for the good of their husbands and children. They master the art of self-gift, giving everything from their bodies to their time, talent, and energy for those they love, and they find joy in doing so.
  • Quiet trust. Over time and through prayer, strong spiritual hearts inch their way toward an almost unshakable trust in God and in His will for their lives, especially
    within their families. They offer their children to God, recognizing that they are first and foremost His children (read Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel for an awesome example of this), and then they throw themselves into His Divine Mercy, trusting He will care for them and for their families.
  • Reliance on grace. Strong spiritual hearts rely on God’s grace to tackle the colossal responsibility of motherhood. His grace animates their daily lives—carrying them through their household chores and their efforts to provide emotionally, physically, and spiritually for their families—and comforts them when they feel exhausted and worn. They see His grace at work in their family life, and they can’t imagine living without it.
  • Unseen strength. Utilizing the particular gifts, talents, experience, and energy God has given them, spiritual hearts are pillars of physical, emotional, and spiritual
    strength, serving and loving the Lord and their families with all their might (Dt 6:5). The strength of a wife and mother often goes unseen, but its presence is most certainly felt and needed by their families.
  • Friendship with Mary. Strong spiritual hearts take their leadership cues first and foremost from Our Blessed Mother, the immaculate model of spiritual “heartship.” Seeing her as the most exemplary wife and mother that ever walked the earth, they implore her intercession and cultivate an intimate relationship with her to help them become more beautifully virtuous like her. They ask her to wrap the mantle of her love and protection around each precious member of their family.

Do you possess these five traits? Which one could you spend some time and effort working on as the spiritual heart of your own family?

 

Do You Have These 5 Traits of a Spiritual “Head”?

A Checklist for Husbands and Dads
Statistical and anecdotal evidence demonstrates that parents are the number one influence on the faith lives of young people. More specifically, study after study finds that the role of the father in particular is critical in handing on an active spiritual life to his children. Without a strong spiritual head to guide them, children can so easily be lost to our culture that deprives them of the meaning, purpose, and hope that only Jesus Christ can provide, in and through His Church.

Growing up, I was so grateful to have a dad who was (and is) very dedicated to spiritually leading his family, and I’m blessed to have married a man with a similar passionate commitment. I know our children will look to him—as I do—to see a model of Christ’s sacrificial love and humble leadership in our family, since men are called to demonstrate Christ’s love for the Church within their families in a special way.

So what are some traits of a strong spiritual head of a family?

  • An attitude of surrender. Strong spiritual heads are willing to hand over control to God, recognizing that He is the one who is King over their lives, their families—
    everything. They recognize that it is a sign of true masculinity to call on God for guidance and to surrender to His will.
  • Humility. While our culture may tout pride as a masculine virtue, strong spiritual heads model the virtue of humility for their families, making daily steps to conquer their desire to be right, or to seek acclaim and accomplishment, instead opting to devote time to showing their families how to give credit and glory to God, seeking to please Him first and foremost.
  • Boldness. Strong spiritual heads are bold about their Catholic faith—at home, at work, and in public. They aren’t afraid to make decisions in light of their faith and to let others know that they are Catholic, not just in name, but in active practice. 
  • Openness to fellowship. While the prevailing norm is to think it a feminine activity to have meaningful conversations about life, faith, and family, strong spiritual heads recognize that they shouldn’t try to go it on their own when it comes to spiritual
    leadership. They acknowledge the importance of seeking accountability, encouragement, and fraternity with other men and make it a regular habit to do so.
  • Friendship with St. Joseph. Strong spiritual heads often cultivate beautiful devotions to Our Blessed Mother, but they also lean on the intercession of St. Joseph to help them in their immense task of caring for their family’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, as St. Joseph gallantly did for Mary and Jesus.

Okay, men, how are you doing on living out these traits? We women and children need your bold headship in the family, as the Church needs the leadership of Christ.

For more checklists, resources, tips, and recommendations to help take your spiritual life to the next level, make sure you sign up here…and get a *free* Catholic Resource Guide when you do!

How to Make a Home Altar

Home altar - catholickatieThough many aren’t familiar with it in modern America, a home altar has for a very long time been considered a staple feature in a Catholic home. The home altar is meant to serve as a central place for prayer and religious practice in a Catholic household. Most of us have designated places to eat, sleep, work, exercise, and play at home – why not have a designated, special spot to pray, both individually and together as a family?

Here’s an easy how-to for helping you set up your own home altar or prayer space:

1. altar and bookshelfChoose a place and surface. Find a spot in the home for your prayer space or altar, easily accessible to everyone. Ours is in the family room, in between a bookshelf containing a number of adult and children’s spiritual books, holy water and rosaries (right in picture), and a “prayer chair” below our icon collection (left). (You can also consider having smaller altars and spaces in each of the bedrooms, especially for the kids, which they can design uniquely for themselves.) As far as surfaces go, you can use a shelf, desk, end table, mantle, nook…pretty much anything. We used a medium-sized square end table.

2. (Optional step): Get some linens. I like the idea of having linens on the altar to dress up the table and to coordinate with the liturgical year. (I took pictures of our altar during Lent, so we have a plain white table cloth underneath a purple strip of cloth that I had cut for less than a dollar at a fabric store. I also have a green and a red cloth strip.) This is an optional step because if you are using a shelf or mantle, you may find it preferable to decorate without the linens.

3. Adorn the altar. Collect religious items from around your home to put on the altar. You may also want to consider investing in some of these items if you don’t have them; they make great family gifts on special feast days! You can make the altar as simple or as elaborate as you prefer (we opted for simple with young kiddos). Here are some things you can put in your prayer space or on your altar:

  • altar close upCrucifix
  • Bible (with or without a stand)
  • Prayer books, prayer cards, a missal, or a Catholic book of blessings and prayers
  • Catholic icons and/or art (of Jesus, Mary and the saints; on or above the altar)
  • Statues
  • Rosary(ies)
  • Candles
  • Holy Water
  • Blessed salt
  • Incense burner
  • Seasonal items like pictures of the Stations of the Cross during Lent, Advent wreath or Advent candles, a manger scene during Christmas, a Paschal candle or lamb during Easter, Baptismal candles, palm branches from Palm Sunday, pictures of saints on their feast days, etc.

4. Have your home and altar or prayer space blessed. If you haven’t had your house blessed, have a deacon or priest come bless the whole home, including the altar or prayer space. At least take your crucifix from your altar to Mass with you one Sunday and have that blessed.

altar5. Pray around your home altar! Take time during the day (we like to gather as a family after dinner) to pray around the home altar. This is a great time to light candles, read from the Bible, offer prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, pray a decade of the Rosary or a chaplet, learn about a saint or a feast day you are celebrating, or sign a hymn. Try and take little moments throughout the day to look at the altar or prayer space and offer a quick prayer and turn your mind and heart to Jesus. Just don’t let that special spot go unnoticed and unused!

For some home altar inspiration and ideas beside my own pictures here, check out Pinterest and these prayer space pictures from CatholicMom. Having a home altar or prayer space is a great way to make your home more of a domestic church!

One last thing…Recently, during Ordinary Time, I added a small altar/prayer table to my home-altar-catholickatie-comtoddler son’s room so he has a special place in his own room where he (and we together) could pray when he gets up in the morning, before nap/rest time, and before bed time. (Obviously a good habit for your children to form even if you don’t put a prayer table in their room!) Anyway, he loves it! I kept it pretty simple, and his favorite element is the statue of the Good Shepherd. I added a prayer card with a simple Scripture verse next to it, which he memorizes, that I will rotate every month. I’m enjoying the mini altar in his room as much as he is!

Why I Didn’t Get My Doctorate (+ Some Tips for Being at Peace With God’s Will for You)

A lot of my friends with whom I graduated from high school are getting their PhDs right about now. Which made me ask myself–again–the other day, “Why didn’t I get my doctorate?”

The short answer? Because I had kids.

To be more accurate, it was because God had different plans for me than I had for myself. Story of all of our lives, isn’t it?

When I was in graduate school, I was at the beginning of my five-year plan—you know, the new five-year plan I had developed after the previous five-year plan didn’t work out. After graduating with my masters in theology, I would immediately enter a doctoral program, get my PhD (something the overachiever, straight-A, too-concerned-about-what-I-was-doing-and-not-enough-about-who-I-was-becoming student in me had always expected to do), and then teach. Of course, I wanted to get married and have kids, and I suppose that I assumed at the time it would seamlessly happen concurrently…or something.

I met my husband after my first semester in graduate school, was swept off my feet—and unpredictably swept out of state—and now find myself, five years later, looking back at the altogether different five-year plan that God accomplished during that time, which involved getting married, having two beautiful children, writing a book, moving several times, and dabbling in other ministry work in my “free” time (is that what you call spare and fleeting moments as a parent of little ones?). In other words, in the past five years, nowhere was doctoral work to be seen, and it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon…not as I see it right now, at least.

And I am absolutely at peace and happy with that. 

This peace and happiness is actually quite strange to me, considering I had never pictured myself at home with my kids singing the alphabet for the twenty-sixth time today, while simultaneously wiping drool off my shirt and laughing at my kids trying to poke each other’s cheeks. I thought of a future much more scholarly.

But, more times than I can count, God makes a point of demonstrating to me that His plans are always better than mine. His plans usually allow me to tap into my gifts more appropriately, bring me more joy, have a greater impact on others, produce less stress, and draw me closer to Him. His plans usually make me less selfish and more holy. His plans usually draw my attention away from myself and toward others, most especially toward Him.

Thankfully, in spite of my own (stubborn) free will, I often get diverted from the course of my own plans onto His path for me, and it’s often only in looking back that I can see the fruitfulness of it. I see that through prayer and openness, I sometimes intentionally and other times stumble onto the path of true peace of heart.

That’s where my tips for you come in. If you’re wondering how to find and remain in God’s will for you, try these simple but crucial practices:

  1. Pray. St. Rose of Lima says, “When God is consulted sincerely, He gives a clear answer.”
  2. Be open. Really, actually remain open to what God wants and not just what seems most comfortable or appealing to you at the present moment. It’s amazing how your heart molds to be in joyful conformity with His will when you let it.
  3. Consult logic, your feelings, and your imagination. Don’t just latch onto one of these without the others. They all play a role in peaceful discernment of God’s will.
  4. Seek guidance! Of course, God is the ultimate advice-giver in the process of discernment and finding and living within His will, but seeking counsel from spiritual directors and other wise mentors is not only helpful, but often necessary in the work of uncovering and being at peace with God’s will for you.

You know, I can’t imagine what life would be like right now if my nose was still perpetually in a book and my body in a chair in some classroom for the n-teenth year of my schooling (if you are in that phase of life right now, hoorah! God must have some amazing plans for you on that path). When I was in school, though I love and am always craving to learn, I was a rather anxious person. Now, I have so much more of that deep-down sense of peace and a constant appreciation for the absolute love I have for being in the thick of family life, with more scribbles now hanging on the wall than academic degrees.

Today, make peace with where God has put you right now. Or, if you are on a divergent course, find God’s path for you and start trekking on it, even if it feels scary or unplanned. There you will find His grace to meet you, and, as always, He will exceed all of your expectations.