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Elizabeth Tomlin offers reassurance that while this may be a season of pruning, that's OK.

Late August in my family is usually filled with last-minute beach trips, back-to-school shopping and sports tryouts. It’s fun for the kids but hectic for me as I balance leisure time with the kids’ needs and my own work. By September, relate well to that internet meme where the kids are all lined up at the bus stop with frowny faces, and the mom is jumping for joy at the realization that she gets the house to herself for a few hours.

But that’s not happening this year, is it? Nope! Most of our back to school plans have been upended as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. My older children are beginning classes digitally, and we have opted to homeschool our rambunctious second-grader for the first time. Instead of a quiet September, we’re bumping up the chaos. My hopes for autumn “me time” in a quiet café with a pumpkin spice latte are cooling off faster than my re-microwaved home brew.

So how am I finding and balance amid the noise of competing demands and an ever-changing pandemic environment? Honestly – it’s tough, and sometimes, I feel overwhelmed. But when I do manage find balance, here’s how:

The name of the game is recalibrating.

A friend recently had to abruptly change a plan that we had made together. In her email, she wrote that we needed to “recalibrate.” Her word stuck with me because that’s how I’m managing in this pandemic. I’m constantly recalibrating.

I’ve seen and read a lot of unhappy stuff on social media lately, and I am concerned that a lot of us are facing the fall with other re words. Re-ticence, Re-sentment. Re-servation. Re-calcitrance. Re-sistance.

As I face this school year, I’m focusing on recalibrating. Why? Because back to school days should be a time of re-newal.

You see, recalibrating is adjusting to a true and accurate value. Like orienting a compass toward north, when we recalibrate to the correct value, we get renewal. This fall, I’m recalibrating life to my vocation.

Recalibrating to your vocation

What do I mean by recalibrating to my vocation? Well, let’s back up. The word vocation gets tossed around frequently in Christian circles, but what does it mean? Very broadly, our vocation is how we express our love of God and share the Gospel. We live our vocation through married life, religious life or holy orders, or singleness. It’s possible to have more than one vocation. St. Teresa of Calcutta spoke of her vocation to the religious life and her vocation to serve the poor as a “vocation within a vocation” or a “call within a call.”

If my life is properly calibrated, each part of my life feels like a “vocation within a vocation.” Life makes sense. Married life dovetails with motherhood, and my job fits within our family dynamic. When I’m working within my vocation, instead of feeling pulled toward competing priorities and anxious, I feel clarity.

This doesn’t mean that working within your vocation won’t ever be hard. Take one look at a crucifix and you’ll be reminded that living our vocation can be extremely challenging.

When I feel pulled in all different directions at once and everything in life becomes a chore, that’s when I know it’s time to recalibrate to my vocation because my vocation matters. The other stuff frankly doesn’t. I remind myself what my vocation is, and as importantly, what it is not. I scrutinize whether the things that demand my time help or hinder my vocation.

This is a prayerful process through which I’m reminded that that God created me as a finite being with finite capabilities and finite hours in my day. I’m am not called to do everything.

When I feel pulled in all different directions at once and everything in life becomes a chore, I know it’s time to recalibrate to my vocation. #catholicmom

So what does recalibrating look like in real life?

During this global pandemic, God is certainly calling me to focus on my family, keep my children safe, educate them, and catechize them. This is requiring me to prune things out of my life and make more space for these priorities. Some of the pruning is obvious: I need to limit the time I spend on Instagram and Netflix, for example. But I’ve also made some harder decisions to prune away fun social functions and volunteer work that I enjoy, so that I can give more attention and energy to my vocation.

Navigating this fall’s evolving school schedules and family dynamics will require continued recalibration and pruning, but I find it consoling to remember Jesus’ words that God prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it can bear even more fruit for the kingdom (see John 15:2).

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Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Tomlin
Image: Pexels (2020)