There have been a few themes clunking around in my head like stuff you keep in your trunk and keep telling yourself, every time you take a sharp corner, you are going finally unload it so you don't have to keep listening to it.
And pretty much it boils down to how parents are supposed to get sanctified by raising their children. It is just a slight variant on saying we are sanctified by fulfilling our duty. Those who are not married or are married without children are in no way exempt from this kind of sanctification, although I admit that it possibly might be harder to see and carry out duty.
But I do have children, so to dig into my own reality I have to write about it that way.
And I keep coming back to those passages like 1 Tim. 3:4 where Paul says a bishop needs to manage his household well. (You can read elsewhere about the history of married priests and bishops in the Church. That's not my concern here.)
Managing a household well is constitutes being a channel of grace for one's family, and this is no small thing. If having been a child is not reminder enough, I am reminded constantly by my children's behavior that their eyes take in all my day-to-day behavior: the good, the bad, the ugly. They are their own persons, to be sure, but I am communicating to them a certain standard of "normal." They know what they can reasonably expect from me. And that will shape them until something more powerful comes along to shape them differently.
Some of the safest-feeling times I can remember as a child (and they did not flow thick) were when I would come into the kitchen in the early evening and find my mom cleaning up. I'm sure that she didn't do it because she loved in any more than I do it because I love it, but her work made me feel secure. I see the same thing in my daughter. When I am working, she will contentedly do whatever she is doing. Especially when she was younger, when I would be reading emails or Facebook posts, she would be far more restless. She could sense that I wasn't really spending that time for her.
But there's more to managing a household than being this kind of grace-channel. There is also my own sacrifice and pruning. Just recently I realized I needed to put more effort into making family meals a more attractive and stress-free service for everyone. So I made a meal plan, and we all benefited and enjoyed dinner more. And then, lo and behold, I had a schedule change that really made having that thing in place not just nice, but a sanity saver. This is how God teaches me the wisdom in following His inspirations. God prunes us and asks things of us for our own good.
I have also found it a "pruning" for me to take the time to teach my kids to do things for themselves and to serve the rest of the family. It sometimes suits my choleric nature to just plow through doing everything myself. But this short-changes my kids, and in the end can frustrate me. I also have to have the humility to patiently instruct my husband about some things, because it is simply better emotional hygiene for me. I realize that my needs are not about me lording it over others or insisting that everyone pull his weight. My needs are the signals for me to provide the training that others really need from me so that everyone can be happy together.
There is also a layer in all of the hidden work I do that is prayer and sacrifice offered for others. There are so many times when taking that next step in front of me in my duty is just so much not what I feel like doing. And yet, it is there. When I choose it because it is an act of service and love, I can (and do) offer that movement of my will as intercession for the salvation of souls and the conversion of sinners. That is why I make that daily offering in the morning, uniting my day and all that it in it to the desires of God. My work isn't about priding myself on being a perfect homemaker, but about humbling myself to offer prayer that is so quickly forgotten, even by myself.
And in the midst of this way of living, God teaches me, guides me, speaks to me in real-life ways. I am a slow learner, but I learn wisdom this slow way.
And that is exactly how St. Paul is saying bishops are supposed to learn to shepherd God's people.
I will never be a bishop, but this is also how God teaches me to have spiritual wisdom to minister to others. No textbook courses or gnostic wisdom. It is about living daily life, doing dishes and laundry, and interacting with children who very gradually develop maturity. Along the way, they forget their times tables, they chronically leave their belongings strewn everywhere, they have a hard time managing all of their emotions, they ask hard questions, they talk endlessly about things in which I barely know how to be interested, and they need to be trained to work and express care about others. And I am called to respond with love, patience, wisdom, attentiveness, and all the other virtues that get shown up in me as so very lacking. So I fall on my knees and beg God for help.
That's exactly how it is supposed to work, for moms and bishops.
This is what power in the Church looks like and where it comes from. It is not a power that makes any sense to the world.