“All yours?” the lady asked, as our carts paused in the aisle of the grocery store.

I do a quick head count, to make sure I’ve got my five and haven’t picked up any extras along the way.

“Yup,” I reply with a grin.  “All mine.”

She shakes her head sympathetically.  “Well, bless your heart!”

“Oh, yes, I am blessed,” I say, and I mean it.

I have variations of this conversation almost every time I leave the house.  Although I think it’s funny, I don’t mind it at all.  We’re not a novelty among most of our friends, many of them have even larger families than I do.  But when we go out into the public arena, we are somewhat of a spectacle.  I get that.  We have twice the 2.5 kids you expect in the average American home.  We are super-sized.

When people find out that we also homeschool, that brings on all kinds of questions and comments.  “HOW do you DO it? That would drive me crazy.”

And if you add anything else in on top of all that, like a hobby or past time, they just can’t compute.  Wha?  You also have time to take a shower?  You somehow manage to brush your hair, let alone blog?  Or write?  Or work out? What is the secret?

Well,  I’m gonna tell you.

I learned this from an ancient, secret society of Domestic Gurus… it’s a magical incantation that makes all things possible (even having a life when you have five kids)…  Silence, now, as I prepare the words.  Here goes.

“Ora et labora”

That’s it.

Before you google it, let me just tell you, it’s Latin for “Work, and pray.”  There’s no magic to it, really.  It was the monastic rule of Benadictine monks.  A wise woman (who has five grown children of her own) shared this secret with me, when I posed the same questions to her.  How do I do this, do it well, do it without losing my sanity, do it without ruining my children?  Ora et labora, she replied.

I know you think I may be oversimplyfing it.  But honestly, the way to get it all done is to work.  Hard.  Now, lest you think I am naturally industrious, allow me to enlighten you. I am naturally lazy, unfortunately.  My instinct is to procrastinate. Ignore.  This is where the prayer comes in.  I pray, to help me work.  I pray for strength, for fresh starts, for forgiveness, for patience, for satisfaction and contentment, for energy, for renewal.  Basically, for God to do in me what I can’t do myself.

And then I work.  I don’t wait on Him to supply me with all those things and then get started.  I just DO it, trusting that He will provide those things as I need them.  And He does. 

I don’t wait to FEEL like doing it all.  I don’t wait to be better rested.  I don’t wait till I have extra help, or a babysitter, or a weekend all to myself to get caught up.  I get out of bed, and I start, and I keep going.  I work past the point that I think I can.  I put on one more load of clothes.  I make myself put the dishes away.  I read one more book to the kids, I load them all into the car one more time for the park, I go one more mile on the treadmill– I just keep pushing the boundaries of what I think I can do.  Because I was tired of telling myself I couldn’t do it.  I was tired of telling myself I’d reached my limit, that this was my best.  I was tired of being defeated by life.

This required changing the way  I view work.  I had to stop seeing it as working to get a job done so I could QUIT working.  No more “Working to Rest.”  That had to go out the window.  I had to start seeing it instead as “Working is Living.”  I had to stop just trying to finish it all so I could I could be still and done.  I had to stop fighting it.  I began to see that working is my calling.  It’s my life.  And it’s good.  It means I’m alive, that I’m answering my mission.  Struggling against it just makes me unhappy, discontent.  I can tell you that right now, in this busiest time of my life, I’m happier than I’ve ever been before.  That says something, don’t you think?

Ora et labora.  It works.  It’s the magic combination.  Surrendering your will (because isn’t that what resistance to work is, wanting to have your time, your energy, your attention all for yourself?), and letting Him fill you and change you– it’s the secret.  The secret to two kids, eight kids, no kids- to homeschooling, not homeschooling, to whatever work it is that is in front of you.  There is no challenge, no obstacle, no feat that can’t be met with Ora et labora.  The outcome may be different than you expected, but it is what will REALLY make you happy, not what you THINK will make you happy.

It’s what will make life sweet, it will make it satisfying, rewarding, balanced.  We think, if we can just quit working for a while, we will have more energy, we will be happier.  We can finally accomplish those personal goals we’ve wanted, we can write that book, or find true love, or lose weight, or see the Taj Mahal- if we can just quit being distracted by all these obligations and responsibilites and WORK.  But God loves, loves, loves irony.  Because contentment isn’t found in escaping the work.  It’s found in EMBRACING it.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.  Eccl. 2:24

Work is not the enemy.  And it’s not ceaseless, even if this post makes it seem so.  What it does is provide a context for joy, for pleasure, for rest.  It makes sleep deeper.  A good meal taste amazing.  A glass of wine sweet on your lips.  It makes snuggling and hugging and laughing all go straight into your bones.  You have worked hard, and life is richer for it.

You will be satisfied.

You will have a soul that is all filled up.

The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat. Provers 13:4

A plump and happy soul.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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