(Written on March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown)
There are exercises for value-clarification that ask, “What three things would you take if you were to be stranded on an island?” A similar question is, “What would you save if you had only two minutes to get out of your burning house?” These exercises are meant for us to identify what we consider essential in our lives when choices are severely restricted.
The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped our collective life has thrown us and our families into a situation where our choices have been limited and our usual freedom of movement impeded. We all have had to make decisions regarding what are and what are not important in the face of quarantine, social distancing, and staying at home.
The initial trend showed that toilet paper was of utmost importance. Soon after, people bought a supply of food with long shelf-life as directives to stay home were enforced. Most activities which are the staple of family life such as church, work, school, sports, and extracurricular activities have been cancelled, and individuals find themselves at home with family members.
We have seen online and in social media an explosion of creative ideas and ways to make the time at home with each other livable and even enjoyable. Husbands, wives, parents and children, all have had to adjust to what seems like an indefinite weekend together at home.
Being in closed quarters with our family for an extended time reveals patterns of our relationships with each other that usually operate by default. The stresses we experience at this time may exacerbate unhealthy patterns, while the challenges may reinforce loving ways.
In the face of instability and changing conditions, keeping our hearts on what is essential will help us let go of micro-management and rid ourselves of the burden of over-responsibility.
Without over-simplifying or minimizing the challenges of caring for loved ones at home, women, i.e., wives and mothers have a critical role to play. For a time such as this, the feminine genius* rises to the challenge. The feminine genius is a term by Pope St. John Paul II to describe the special capabilities of women such as kindness, sensitivity, gentleness, and receptivity.
The feminine genius, the Saint says, gives “women an influence, an effect and a power in the world.”** He adds that “women who are imbued with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.” What is the practical implication of this in our homes?
The immediate needs of our families right now at home are pragmatic, like meals, snacks, wholesome activities, and entertainment. These can easily occupy all our energies. Let us take a moment to shift our focus on the relationships with our loved ones and take the relational-approach. This approach entails mindfulness in voice, tone, body language that communicate hospitality and welcome. It sends a message of value and affirmation to our loved ones to communicate their significance to us.
How can I be an understanding wife to my husband in this situation? How can I be a loving mother to my son or daughter in this interaction? The influence, effect, and power women have are evident in many areas of our society. Realistically, the most influence, effect, and power we have are felt in our homes.
Lest we forget, as Christian women, our most significant relationship is with God. Our identity as a beloved daughter of the Father underpins the feminine genius. Jesus shows us how to approach God as “Abba” and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us with spiritual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1831).
We need these spiritual gifts if we are to operate with feminine genius. There is no other way but grace, because our relationship with the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control within us (Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit, when nurtured in a feminine soul, produces the feminine genius.
Women, who are the heart of the home, strive for a culture of life and love in our families not only during these challenging times but always. Let us call on our Father for help and strength every day. May our influence be that of order, our effect be that of peace, and our power be that of love. Our families can flourish as we receive grace to become the essential instruments of God’s love for our spouses and children.
*Feminine genius taken from “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” by St. Pope John Paul II
**Quotes from closing message of the Second Vatican Council
This post also appears in The Well.