Measuring success in family life

It was a cold, windy day in March — the perfect kind of day to be curled up with a hot drink. There was a smattering of rain here and there, but I remember more the tone in the chapel and especially the small white casket.

I was a newly minted Catholic, witnessing the answer to a prayer, though at the time I was pretty sure God was kidding me.

We were there for a funeral service for my then-boyfriend’s sister’s baby. It was her fourth baby, her second perinatal loss, and — I thought at the time — a devastating blow to the family.

I watched as the strong man beside me cried, as the strong man in the front held his daughters and wife while he buried his second son.

I wondered where God was and why he allowed it.

Family burdens

That was 15 years ago, and I’ve watched that woman — now my sister-in-law and dear friend — go through a series of other losses, including the sudden death of her husband (he was 38). I’ve watched her tackle widowhood with young children, relocate across the country and transition into a working parent filling two roles.

It’s never not hard. Ever.

And it’s tempting to think, if I’m not careful, that I have it so easy.

After all, I have not buried a son, much less two. I haven’t buried my husband. I haven’t had to relocate across the country. I haven’t had to struggle in a lot of the ways that people I’m close to have: no problems with infertility, no marital strife, no financial burdens.

That said, after more than a decade into my own journey as a mom, it’s been anything but a walk in the park. My kids are healthy, we live in a nice house, and we don’t go to bed hungry. What kind of complaining do I have a right to do?

None. So don’t read this as complaining.

But every family experiences, even in just the simple day-to-day flurry of activity, the disconnect of waste and brokenness. Sometimes life feels like an unending cascade of something being done to us, not by us. Um, hello? Where is my free will in this, God?

Our particular burdens are different, but we all encounter the pain of knowing what could be — the missed opportunities, the potential left unfulfilled, the not being at our best even some of the time. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to think that we are not succeeding at this, that this can’t possibly be pleasing to God — the God we struggle to make time for alongside everything else.

Buffeted by culture

But maybe I am “coming out,” though in a way that’s slightly different than what the supporting character on “Andi Mack” — the teenage Disney show — is coming out of the closet this season.

I’m “coming out” in favor of the hard decisions, the difficult victories, loving the brokenness — the fact that the whole reason there was a memorial service is that my sister-in-law and brother-in-law refused to terminate the pregnancy.

Being a mom is hard in ways that we take for granted, ways that we don’t enjoy or savor after the first five minutes.

But it’s not so very different from jumping from the manger to the cross. Something about this painfulness, the challenge, the being-grateful-for-things-like-poopiness of it that makes me pause.

It’s not like it all plays out in exactly favorable conditions. There’s a definite climate out there for those of us raising kids. I’m sure you’ve noticed it. It’s not just kids’ programming that’s infiltrated: How many of us have a dear friend or an associate or a family member who is “choosing” a different set of beliefs than whatever the Church holds to be true?

Never mind, as Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, more people are opposed to what they think the Catholic Church teaches than what it actually does, in fact, teach.

There’s the question of whether you have kids. And of how many. And of what sex. And oh, do you know what causes those kids? (Because you brought up sex.)

There’s the question of how you provide for them and whether you’re providing enough of what’s right. You don’t pray the daily Rosary, and you barely make it to Mass on the weekend. And yet, you’re trying.

Each challenge faced in family life is an opportunity to grow in faith and trust. Shutterstock

How God looks at success

So how do you measure success? Is it against the standard set by the people who appear to be perfect, the ones with the perfectly organized family of 17 who can recite the Council of Trent by heart? Or is it against the standard set by those who come to Mass on Christmas and maybe Easter, because of some sense of obligation? Or something else altogether?

I’ll be honest: My measure of success changed radically before I ever had kids, and the light shining on it comes from a small white casket. And yet, that casket may well just be the Resurrection, proven to me as not only possible, not only hopeful, but actual and true.

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Nothing is beyond the reach of resurrection and redemption. And nothing is wasted. When we find ourselves confronted with what seems to be an impossibly bad situation, we should take a step back and imagine just how wrong it all seemed to have gone at Calvary. How could that have possibly been God’s plan for his son?

And what a woefully incomplete view that was, even in their grief. How unfathomably bigger was God’s plan for that moment, and every moment.

How far above our ways are God’s ways (see Is 55:9), and that includes how God measures success.

And so it’s by the light of the Faith that continues to flow from that experience — by the silent and sometimes messy witness of my sister-in-law — that I find the hope to move on. It’s from the knowledge that at any point, that, too, could be my cross.

And yet I’m grateful: for the tears that keep me grounded, for the pain that keeps me connected, for the knowledge that good can come from this, too.

Sarah Reinhard is an OSV content network manager.