Let the saint’s letter to an expectant mother be a balm to your soul.
Pregnancy isn’t easy, but it’s always comforted me when I remember that I’m not alone. The world over, women of every culture are sharing a similar experience. Even in the 16th century pregnancy felt the same, I suppose, because this letter from St. Francis de Sales to a spiritual directee feels like it could have been written for you or me:
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 – and I say in the inferior part, my dearest daughter, because it is this that immediately touches the body, and which is liable to share in the troubles of it.
(You can find the full letter in “Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction.”)
He’s not saying a pregnancy makes us inferior — he’s reminding us that when our bodies are burdened, it’s no surprise that our souls feel that weight, too. This physical undertaking is a spiritual one as well:
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 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.
Are you discouraged, exhausted, and distracted? He is saying that this state of mind doesn’t mean your relationship with God is in trouble. Now, and even back then, people have been tempted to think of themselves as especially strong and virtuous when they’re able to face their pains with a lively, energetic veneer. But some days, you have no energy for being energetic and lively. It’s all you can do to just cope — and that’s okay.
It’s more than okay. God sees the “labor and struggle,” and even if we forget to take that seriously, he never overlooks it.
My dearest daughter, we must not be unjust and require from ourselves what is not in ourselves. When troubled in body and health, we must not exact from our souls anything more than acts of submission and the acceptance of our suffering, and holy unions of our will to the good pleasure of God, which are formed in the highest region of the spirit. And as for exterior actions, we must manage and do them as well as we can, and be satisfied with doing them, even if without heart, languidly and heavily.
Good spiritual advice always seems to be profoundly realistic and practical. You can’t do what you can’t do — some days, just accepting your suffering as God’s will is the most powerful, beautiful thing you can do, even if your attitude isn’t all sweetness and light.
… Have patience then with yourself … often offer to the eternal glory of our Creator the little creature in whose formation He has willed to make you His fellow worker.
Focusing on the baby, and the marvelous creative work that God has called you to, has a way of reminding you of all the beauty, in the middle of the struggle. And speaking of beauty,
My dearest daughter, we have here at Annecy a Capuchin painter who, as you may think, paints only for God and His temple. And although while working he has to pay so close an attention that he cannot pray at the same time, and although this occupies and even fatigues his spirit, still he does this work with good heart for the glory of our Lord.
The work is the prayer. Are you too tired to pray some days? Do your best, but you’re already praying. You are throwing your body and soul into helping God in his work of Creation. What more beautiful prayer could there be?
Hang in there. God sees your struggle, and he knows better than anybody how much of yourself you are giving to this new little life. Be patient with yourself; you’re doing great.