Thursday, January 24, 2013

St. Francis de Sales and His Advice to Crazy Pregnant Women





It's the Feast of St. Francis de Sales today and I thought I'd share this snippet of his because I should probably have it tattooed to the back of my hand so I can read it on an hourly basis! 

These quotes are from a short letter de Sales wrote to "A pregnant woman suffering lassitude and discouragement." So not exactly "crazy" per se, but most definitely third trimester. Oh yeah, definitely third trimester. I just looked up the definition of "lassitude" and it means "a state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy." Or they could have put up a picture of me right there. I am the definition of lassitude right now. I am lassitude. 

Moving on...these letters are found in the collection Thy Will Be Done! Letters of St. Francis de Sales, a little known book of St. Francis's letters of spiritual direction written specifically to those dealing with real life problems (even though I'm sure all of St. Francis's advice applied to real life problems, I mean, cmon!). I found a copy at my mom's and was surprised to find that he wrote specifically to pregnant women, and also was surprised that these pregnant women of a good couple hundred years ago seem to have the same feelings I do in this whole pregnancy business. 

Here is his response to the pregnant woman going crazy with lassitude (I'm sharing only the important bits in an effort to not completely re-hash the book, because the book is good!):

"My dearest daughter,

I am not at all surprised that your heart seems a little heavy and torpid, for you are pregnant, and it is an evident truth that our souls generally share in their inferior part the qualities and conditions of our bodies.

--A delicate body that is weighed down by the burden of pregnancy, weakened by the labor of carrying a child, and troubled with many pains, does not allow the heart to be so lively, so active, so ready in its operations; but this in no way injures the acts of that higher part of the soul, which are as agreeable to God as they would be in the midst of all the gladnesses in the world. Yea, to God these acts are even more agreeable in truth, for they are done with more labor and struggle; but they are not so agreeable to the person who does them, since - not being in the sensible part of the soul - they are not so much felt, nor are they so pleasant to us.

--My dear daughter, the child who is taking shape in your womb will be a living image of the divine majesty; but while your soul, your strength, and your natural vigor is occupied with this work of pregnancy, it must grow weary and tired, and you cannot at the same time perform your ordinary exercises so actively and so gaily. But suffer lovingly this lassitude and heaviness, in consideration of the honor that God will receive from your work. It is your image that will be placed in the eternal temple of the heavenly Jerusalem, and that will be eternally regarded with pleasure by God, by angels, and by men. The saints will praise God for it, and you also will praise Him when you see it there."

First of all, I think its amazing and a testament to how brilliant and grace-filled St. Francis was that he just gets this whole pregnancy thing. As a man, a priest, and someone living way back in a time without What to Expect When You're Expecting it blows me away that he understands so well the emotional upheaval and just plain old toughness of pregnancy. Describing the heaviness of pregnancy is so spot-on, at least for me. Heaviness applies to not only my emotional outlook right now, but most definitely spiritually. I've struggled each pregnancy to varying degrees with this, and I'm sure most women do. To be understood by a man with such wisdom feels so validating and supportive somehow. I don't think even our husbands fully grasp this concept and I know my husband listens to me whine day in, day out, so for a priest to be so finely attuned to a woman's emotions and spiritual struggles is beautiful. 

Secondly, I love how he acknowledges that such an important work, i.e. growing a baby!, is a good enough excuse to not feel happy go lucky, or spiritually "glowing" so to speak. Pregnancy is a burden, it is wearying, it is physically draining. The advice to "suffer lovingly this lassitude and heaviness" pierces to the core of the sacrifice of pregnancy, I believe. This week I've struggled especially, and felt generally miserable due to the constant lack of energy, the stresses of responsibilities, the anxiety of impending birth, coupled with how seemingly endless this all feels. It is hard to suffer lovingly. It is hard to suffer lovingly when all you want to do is be the opposite of how you currently feel. I'm not sure exactly what suffer lovingly means for me. I think it means to keep going as best I can without so many extra expectations placed upon myself to keep up to my usual standards.

Third and last point I promise, that whole section of "your image that will be placed in the eternal temple of the heavenly Jerusalem" is pretty crazy stuff. Crazy as is you can't really believe it because it seems to amazing. Eternally regarded with pleasure by God?! Saints will praise God for it?!? I mean, this concept is just staggering to think about. Work I'm doing...eternal honor and regard in heaven...yep...those are pretty crazy truths to reconcile to a human mind. But I believe in St. Francis's insight into the spiritual life and its reality. I think he knows what he's talking about here, and if so, then that is the most incentive you will ever have in doing something that's difficult.

I guess there is something to all this talk about St. Francis being one of the greatest spiritual directors the Church has ever had...




1 comment:

  1. Wow. Where was all this when I was whining through my last pregnancy? I'll have to look this book up and give it as a shower gift. I just want to know if I'm allowed to be lassitude (lassituded? lassitudy?) even when I'm not pregnant.
    Thanks for getting off the couch to post this.

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