Nancy Holloway: What is the biggest challenge you face in balancing these three areas of your life?
Jeanette Gallaway: First of all, I think it is important to say that I do not have an easy answer to this question. But I do realize that it is a constant, conscious struggle to attempt to balance one's devotion, family, and work. We must first realize that we cannot completely separate our devotion, family, and work life. We can't just pray on Sunday, work on Tuesday, and spend time with our family on Wednesday and Thursday. We must live a Christian life every minute of every day. As Christians we must incorporate our devotional life into everything we do. We must learn to cook dinner and thank God for the food we have. We must get up in the morning and thank God for the many gifts we are given. We must reflect on "God with us" in everything we do. But how do we do this? Throughout my life, I have been taught and have come to know that this life that we are given is truly a gift from God. All of the miracles around us are, and will always be, there for those of us who can open our hearts to see them. The trick is in being able to open our hearts so that we can see them. This is always the biggest challenge, because in order to be able to see the miracles around us, we must have quiet time to listen to God within us. When we are single, we seem to have more of that quiet time to listen to God and experience His works in us. But when we have children that time gets reduced. Today everyone is so busy, constantly running from one project to another - work, school, chores, church - and to all those extracurricular activities that we didn't even know existed before we had children. The greatest challenge is to find the quiet time to refocus our lives and constantly direct them to God. This may be five minutes now and fifteen minutes later, it may be with a cup of coffee in the morning, driving from one activity to another, or after the children go to bed. It is so important to take that five minutes as often as you can and redirect your attention through prayer and talking to God. As we learn to talk to God, we realize that everything we do must glorify Him. Therefore, we must not only grow spiritually ourselves, but must become examples to our children and to our family around us.
N.H.: Did you find this task easier or more difficult when your children were small? What were the challenges then? Now that your children are teenagers, what are the challenges?
J.G.: These are tough questions. When my children were small, I was always so busy, but thought that things would get better as the kids got older. I have three boys - Patrick, 16, Michael, 14, and Timothy, 11. When they were younger our house was always busy because they truly were dependent on us to do everything for them - plan their schedules, feed them, meet all of their needs. We were together, we played together, we prayed together. I always thought it was so easy to pray when you see things through your children's eyes. Praying in church was usually not possible for me, but seeing the miracles around my children when they felt the wind on their faces, when they saw a flower blowing in the wind, when they watched a butterfly land on their stroller and knowing that they were able to see all of God's miracles without the tinted glasses we look through as we get older. . . . One day we were riding in the car and when I looked through the rear view mirror, I saw Michael in his car seat staring into the space with a grin on his face. It was such a wonderful experience, because I knew he was talking to the angels. It brought such great joy to my heart that I still remember it thirteen years later as if it were yesterday. I truly loved the pure innocence of my children and their purity of heart.
It is frequently not possible to pray in church because our role as mother is to make sure our children know what the Church is and why we come to church as a family. It is also our role to make sure they behave so as not to disrupt the service or prevent others from praying. Answering questions, being an example and making sure the kids followed my example, took a lot of my attention from the service. When my children were small, I would always get frustrated with the lack of attention I was able to give to prayer in church until I was told it is more important for me to be with my children in church than to pray during the liturgy. When I did find a brief moment to pray, it was such a joy. But when I saw my children praying, it brought me greater joy. As mothers we do make sacrifices, but we must realize that we are doing God's work even then. And we must do it with joy. It is frustrating to hear some women say, "I don't get anything out of Church." You are not there to get anything out of it. You are there to come together as a Christian community to pray and to receive the Sacraments. Our society teaches us to expect instant gratification. This is not what the Church teaches. We must work and dedicate our lives to Christ by being good mothers, good teachers, good nurses, good wives.
Now my children are growing up, and I find myself saying the things I remember my parents saying like: "Where did the time go?" When my children were small we did everything together, and they went to bed early so that even though our days were long and busy, they quieted down by seven or eight o'clock. This gave me the opportunity for quiet time. But how do we deal with the constant running from one activity to another? When is there time for the family and for developing Christian values? That time is very important! For us it's dinner. We do have a little of that time in the morning before school, but I really feel that dinner is the most important part of the day for our family. It is the time when we find out how everyone's day went, the time when we reflect on what tomorrow might bring, the time when we remember that we are a family. All too often families don't eat meals together and before you know it, parents are no longer connecting with their children. Christ's miracles often centered on food - the wedding at Cana, the feeding of the five thousand. In Holy Communion we receive His body and blood in the form of bread and wine. Having meals together is very important for our lives as a Christian family. It will probably require some sacrifice in our lives, but we should make sure that we break bread together as a family.
N.H.: How has your devotional life changed or grown since you have had a family?
J.G.: This is a difficult question to answer because I don't know if my devotional life has grown or not. There are times when I think it has grown, and times when I realize it has all but disappeared. When we focus on our family, we realize that, as parents, we are called to be examples for our children. We can do this only through prayer and fasting and by constantly remembering to focus on Christ. Our children learn quickly from our example and we in turn, can see our shortcomings by watching our children. I have learned to watch my children and through them, to see my own life. If I had to describe how my family has affected my devotional life, I would say that I look through the eyes of my children. If I see Christ we continue, but if I don't, we stop and redirect our attention to Christ.
N.H.: How is the quality of your own devotional life reflected in the spiritual health of your family?
J.G.: As I stated in the answer to the previous question, our children become our barometers and we can learn so much just by watching them. I am a big advocate for traditions in the home and find that they allow us to teach our children about the importance of living our lives in Christ. Let me explain. When there is a feast day I always try make sure we have a special dinner, sing the festal troparion (or at least say it) as the prayer before the meal, and talk about the meaning of the feast day and what it means to us. I had the privilege of having my Baba (grandmother) as an example of how to live a Church-centered life. She may not have known what the date was, but she could tell you if it was so many days before or after a feast day. Her calendar was the Church calendar. This is the kind of thing that affects the devotional life of your family. Making special foods on certain days, having icons in the room, making the sign of the cross before starting any activity - these are all activities that can both reflect and reinforce the spiritual health of the family.
N.H.: In what ways are you a model for your children and in what ways do you encourage them to have a private life of prayer?
J.G.: I would like to tell a story of when I learned from my children what it means to be a model. Each Sunday we pick up an elderly woman and take her to church. My children noticed that whenever she left her house she crossed herself and asked me why she did this. I explained to them that when we do anything, we should say a prayer and ask God to protect us and guide us. Then I realized I wasn't doing this. From that day, I made a conscious effort to make this a part of my daily life.
During Great Lent we began getting up fifteen minutes earlier than usual and to spend time doing morning prayers together. At first the kids complained about this, but soon they began to look forward to it. The reason I know this, is that when the Lenten season was over and we were no longer saying morning prayers together, they all asked if we could continue praying together until school ended. This brought me great joy.
N.H.: Does your professional work with or allow enough time for your devotional life? (Describe your daily schedule, if possible.)
J.G.: I am a critical care nurse and work in a cardiothoracic unit with open heart surgery patients. I work part-time, two or three days a week, in order to be home more with my children. In working with critically ill patients, I find that it is imperative to pray and to continually refocus on Christ. It helps me to realize first that my health and my family are blessings. This helps me to be thankful for what I have when I see the trials and tribulations others are going through. Caring for others is one of the talents given to me by God and I enjoy this work very much. I pray for my patients as I care for them and try to give them the respect that I would want given to me. My profession does not interfere with my devotional life, because my life includes my work and is part of who I am. I truly believe that we must do whatever we do to the best of our ability, as if we were doing it for Christ. In that way we are able to learn and to grow every minute of every day.
N.H.: What are the major obstacles to your devotional life?
J.G.: Being too busy. Too often, when we are caught up in the activities of our children, we forget to plan quiet time. Our calendars are filled with different events. We mark down the days we work, sports activities, PTA meeting, Church services, band meetings, Ladies' Auxiliary meetings, but forget to mark down quiet time for ourselves. Frequently, it's not until we reach burn-out that we realize we are missing the quiet time that is so essential to our lives. I find that my life is filled with so much running and so much noise that I often turn on the radio or the TV for distraction, instead of using that time to relax and focus my attention on God.
N.H.: What advice could you give young women with small children, mothers of teenagers, mothers of adult children in terms of maintaining a balance between these areas of their lives?
J.G.: I think the best advice for mothers of children of all ages is to take five minute breaks and learn to be quiet. When we are quiet, prayer comes naturally because we can listen to God. When your children are little, look at God's creation through their eyes. Show them you love them with hugs and guidance. As they grow you will find that you are so busy running that you begin to think you don't know your own children. Make sure you set aside time for the family. Breaking bread together is so important. Eat dinner together, even if you have to adjust your schedule to do so. Use this time to talk, teach, pray, and show your love for each other. Make feast days special with food, decorations, troparians, etc. Maintain family traditions - this is what your children will pass on to their children. Don't be afraid of hugging at all ages - everyone needs to know that they are loved. Be calm and loving and make sure your children know that we all need quiet time to pray and to listen to what God is telling us. And always remember, you are never alone. Seek out friends in the Church who have similar concerns. Ask your priest and/or his wife for advice. Always remember that our children learn more by what we do than by what we say. Be happy, be loving, and most of all love God.
Jeanette Gallaway is the wife of Fr. Tom Gallaway, priest of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Lexington, Kentucky. After receiving a nursing degree, Jeanette went on to study at St. Vladimir's Seminary and graduated with a Master of Divinity in 1980. She received further training in critical care nursing after completing her studies at St. Vladimir's and now works at St. Joseph's Hospital in Lexington. She is the mother of three children and is very active in the community and parish life of St. Andrew's.