Ave Explores Series | Catholic Family Life | Week 3

Holy Pruning

Elizabeth Tomlin

Late August in my family is usually filled with last-minute beach trips, back-to-school shopping and sports try-outs. It’s fun for the kids but hectic for me as I balance leisure time with the kids’s needs and my own work. And like many moms, I have a lot of work! First off, we’re an Army family, so I spend significant time volunteering to support families in my husband’s unit. I’m active in my parish and I also have a career as an attorney and author. 

By September I’m always ready for school to start, in part, so that I have a little more “me time.” But school is not starting this year—at least not in a usual way. My older children are beginning classes digitally and we have opted to homeschool our rambunctious second grader for the first time. As an added wrinkle, my husband will be away for most of the fall, so much of the adjusting to this new routine will fall to me. 

Instead of a quiet September we’re bumping up the chaos, and I’m already feeling overwhelmed.


The Name of the Game is Recalibrating

So how do I manage amid the noise of competing demands of life? Honestly, it’s tough! A friend recently wrote that “the name of the game is recalibrate.” And I have to agree that managing my household requires frequent recalibration. 

The key question, however, is to what do we recalibrate? 

You see, recalibrating is adjusting to a true and accurate value.  Like orienting a compass toward north, we have to recalibrate to the right value, which for me is my Christian vocation. 

When I feel overwhelmed and pulled in a billion directions, I know it’s time to recalibrate by doing two things: first, I re-focus on my vocation; second, if necessary, I practice some holy pruning. 


Recalibrating Your Vocation

When I feel like life is too chaotic, I recalibrate to my vocation. 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. God uniquely calls us to our vocation and we live out 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, for example, 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 aspect of my life feels like a vocation within my vocation. Married life is my primary vocation, but motherhood, too, is part of my vocation. I also express a love of God in serving my community and through my profession, so I approach these things as part of my vocation. When I’m working within my vocation, instead of feeling pulled toward competing priorities, I feel nudged toward a closer relationship with God. 


Holy Pruning

When I feel overwhelmed, 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 prayer through which I’m reminded that God created me as a finite being with finite capabilities and finite hours in my day. I am not called to do everything.   

During this global pandemic, and especially as I face some extended time of solo-parenting this fall, 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 space to live my vocation more fully. 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 volunteer work that I enjoy so that I can give my full attention and energy to our new homeschool endeavor. 

Navigating this fall’s evolving school approaches 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 Jn 15:2).


Download this article as a PDF here.


Elizabeth Tomlin is a Catholic author and general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.



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