My husband and I have great news to share: we're pregnant! As wonderful as this is, I've received a few reactions that have caused me to become a little embarrassed to admit that this happened so soon-- we've only been married for a few weeks. But what are we supposed to be waiting for? Life happens-- try to control it too much, and you may be missing huge gifts that the Lord wants to bestow. In light of the potential for regret and the experience of hardships that accompany this reality, allow me to reflect upon the benefit of pregnancy as I've experienced it thus far.
I've tried many times to quit smoking-- and here all I needed was to get pregnant. That was easy. No, really: I can't imagine wanting a cigarette now. (I can't exactly say the same thing about alcohol... but I stopped that too!) There's a little life in me now that is counting on me to protect him or her. I think this is an example of some words of wisdom I heard once from a Carmelite priest regarding getting rid of vices: "Let these things die natural deaths." I guess this desire to smoke just needed the presence and gift of new life in order to die out naturally.
What is the overarching theme from which comes this concern for my little one and the resulting change in my state of mind and behavior? In addition to recognizing life as a gift, I believe it also has to do with recognizing life as a task. Now hear me out lest you peg me for a duty-loving Kantian.
I blame many existential crises in our young people today on a lack of responsibility. Why would your life not feel arbitrary if no one is depending on you in a real and tangible way? Having too many options, too much freedom, and too much time on your hands leads to an idleness and ennui. I'm not saying don't lead a reflective life-- yes, please do this. But not in the form of belly-gazing. You must know your purpose and worth and the tangible application of what that means for everyday life in order to be a functional human person.
No matter what else I connect with my identity, there's no denying that I am now a physical, biological, mother-- and that comes with real responsibilities. I don't have the choice to throw in the towel when life is literally on the line.
In our transient society that seems to promote individualism over family, community, and commitment, an un-married person may feel like they have to manufacture responsibility. Their families' survival is no longer dependent on them waking up and milking the cows. They have to "do them"-- find themselves and choose a life. In Emilio Estevez's film The Way (2010) in which he plays the son, there is a line where he says to Martin Sheen: "You don't choose a life, dad, you live one."
In the absence of real tasks that must be done by you, a sort of incessant search for the perfect life, on one hand, or a sense of disillusionment and ennui, on the other hand, may ensue. The Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl suggests that for those who cannot figure out what to do with their life, "we can only reply that his primary task is just this: to find his way to his own proper task, to advance toward the uniqueness and singularity of his own meaning in life." Frankl goes on to quote Goethe:
"How can we learn to know ourselves? Never by reflection, but by action. Try to do your duty and you will soon find out what you are. But what is your duty? The demands of each day."
The task-quality of life, in this sense, teaches us who we are, and the result is the peace of knowing we're doing the will of God.
Saint Teresa of Avila put it this way to her sisters who wanted to go out and convert the whole world:
"the devil sometimes puts ambitious desires into our hearts, so that, instead of setting our hand to the work which lies nearest to us, and thus serving Our Lord in ways within our power, we may rest content with having desired the impossible. Apart from praying for people, by which you can do a great deal for them, do not try to help everybody, but limit yourselves to your own companions; your work will then be all the more effective because you have the greater obligation to do it."
Ambition can be a gift, but not when it undermines what's being asked of us in the here and now according to our state in life. Discernment is key-- the faith isn't trying to hold anyone back, it's the lens by which we see everything in a new way, and imbue even the simplest of tasks with the greatest of love, thereby drawing out eternal benefit, meaning, and purpose. This is not having our heads in the clouds-- quite the opposite. It's countering a dichotomy between heaven and earth by showing that time is never separate from eternity. There's a real task to be done now, which happens to have very real implications for eternity.
This is how pregnancy has opened up my mind and changed me to the core.
This is the gift and task quality of life.
This is our mission should we choose to accept it:
If we accomplish what we can, His Majesty will see to it that we become able to do more each day. We must not begin by growing weary; but during the whole of this short life, which for any one of you may be shorter than you think, we must offer the Lord whatever interior and exterior sacrifice we are able to give Him, and His Majesty will unite it with that which He offered to the Father for us upon the Cross, so that it may have the value won for it by our will, even though our actions in themselves may be trivial.
Saints Thérèse and Dominic, pray for us!
 Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 3rd ed., (New York: Random House, 1986), 56.
 St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, trans. and edited by E. Allison Peers, Critical Edition of P. Silverio de Stanta Teresa, C.D., online version: https://www.ewtn.com/library/SPIRIT/CASTLE.TXT, accessed 1 September 2016; Ch IV.