But sometimes he can be a little...direct. Like when we're all sitting around the lunch table and he looks at me and Mr. M and says very loudly. “Hey! You married now – but where's da proof?” and then gesticulates with one of those Italian gestures that means everything and nothing. “I no see proof,” he concludes, chuckling to himself at his little joke.
Cue a blush and a change of subject. Or a hasty retreat to the restroom if it's just one of those days.
I know Grandpa doesn't mean anything by his comments. He's old, and he says a lot of things that we take with a grain of salt. (Before we got engaged, he would ask us, loudly, “When you marry? You nice guy, she nice girl. What you wait for?” etc.) But his words did get me thinking in an examination-of-conscience sort of way. The idea of having to “prove” you're married by having a baby...hmmm. Well, I have never gone that far, but early on in our marriage, I really wanted to show everyone what good, open-to-life Catholics we were by having a baby right away. I don't fault myself completely for this line of thought. Obviously there's nothing inherently wrong about having a baby right away – and I sincerely wanted to witness to particular people in my life that a baby doesn't ruin your life and that you don't have to be completely “arrived” before adding to your family.
But I think there was a fair amount of pride in my desire, too. I had long got the sense that having a large family was the thing good Catholics do, and I really wanted everyone to think of me as a good Catholic. I wanted to “prove” my faithfulness and obedience by having a baby right away. Then no one could doubt that Mr. M and I were completely on board with the Church's teachings, and eager to welcome new Catholics into the world.
Wow, have I learned a lot! The first six months or so of trying to get pregnant were hard in large part because I felt like I wasn't living up to some unstated expectation about “good Catholics” not waiting to have kids. (Not that this was explicit to me at the time – it's a lot clearer in retrospect.) I especially dreaded people thinking that we were relying on a worldly mentality of postponing children for less-than-grave reasons, or, worse, that we were using contraception. Because, of course, we looked the same outwardly as a contracepting couple, or a couple who puts off having kids until they buy their dream house, vacation in Hawaii, become CEO, or whatever.
And I think that's the heart of the distortion right there: I cared a lot about what other people thought about us, particularly what they thought about how fast (or slow) we had children. But the reality is (and it's still something I'm learning), that really doesn't matter. It just doesn't. God knows that we've been open to life our entire marriage. He knows we've held nothing back. And that's all that matters. But it's so hidden! The world doesn't necessarily know that we've been open to life. The world doesn't see our interior longing and suffering. But God does. He is closer to me than I am to myself, as the spiritual maxim goes. And so I have nothing to“prove” to the world, or even to Grandpa =)
Realizing this has brought me a lot of interior peace. Of course I would still love to be a witness to the world through welcoming many children as gifts and not rejecting them as burdens. But for now, that's not how I'm called to witness. I'm called to witness to the gift of life in a much more hidden way. Through interior acceptance of God's primacy in procreation, and acceptance that children are given, not earned or obtained or bargained for. Through loving my husband for his own sake and not as my ticket to motherhood. Through offering up each and every tear and heartache for other suffering people, and particularly for pregnant women and those thinking of abortion. (A friend of mine says that the devil is particularly outraged when we offer up our suffering for the person or situation that we're suffering from – a neat idea, I think!) The point is that all of this soul-activity is hidden from the world - but it's bright and blazing to the eyes of God! He sees, and He cares. And my peace comes from truly believing that.