Catholic Spirituality,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  Marriage,  motherhood

Doing small things with great love {when you’d rather be doing large things with maximum efficiency}

Motherhood has been for me, if nothing else, a school in frequently painful self denial. We’re not talking martyrdom here, just the run of the mill sacrifices a decent human being makes for those they love and, eventually, with practice, for those they don’t even particularly like.

But I’m a crappy self-giver.

At least when it’s not my idea to begin with, I am. I can be super unselfish when I feel like it, but those feelings are so clutch. If I’m feeling generous and well-rested and prepared to give, I can leave it all on the field.  But factor in midnight wake ups and repeatedly-delayed departures to Costco and getting cut off in traffic and urinary-based accidents all over the carpet? Not so much.

Enter motherhood. Enter the vocation of continual self-giving that is so utterly ridiculous in the eyes of the world and in my own eyes that only a non-human intelligence could have dreamed it up. Because oh my gosh kids, they just.need.so.much.

And often they follow you to the bathroom.

What I’m getting at here is that their needs are constantly one-upping mine and Dave’s. And your kids are doing the same thing to you, aren’t they? And if you’re a priest, your parishioners are doing it, calling you at midnight and asking for all kinds of ridiculous things. And if you’re a nurse, it’s your patients. And if you’re the guy at the coffee shop, it’s your pushy entitled customers.

We’ve all got ample opportunity in a day to be profoundly loving in small, mundane, painfully inefficient ways. Case in point? I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes and I’ve written 4 paragraphs, having been interrupted 37 times by varying levels of ridiculous intrusions on my plans, my schedule.

I would be so much more selfish without these children. Outside of this vocation. And I say this with the full knowledge that I’m still hella selfish.

I was thinking about that this morning while I was picking up legos and cleaning up breakfast dishes and wishing I could execute on some of the lofty, productive plans I have for my day, for the month, and realizing all the same that there was no way, in this tumultuous season of life with a (very, very accommodating) newborn and 3 preschoolers, that I was going to be able to do most of it. And I was mad.

These kids so often present themselves as little intrusions, interruptions and alterations to my plans, to my rhythym of life. I’ve only just begun to realize in a heart way what I know to be true in a head way, that oft-Pinned maxim that my children are not an interruption to the most important work, they are the most important work.

But God help me, I’m still very much a product of this culture that has trained me to believe otherwise. Trained me well.

Combine our collective tendency toward calculating individualism and self-fulfillment with good old fashioned concupiscence and you have a perfect recipe for reluctant parenthood, particularly the maternal variety.

And so even for those women who have chosen, so it would appear, child-rearing over loftier professional aspirations, it can still be so tempting – it is so tempting – to go about the business of being mom with a grumbling, frustrated heart whose desires are constantly being thwarted.

I want to write a book. I want to plan that event. I want to get those bathrooms clean. I want to start and grow a life-changing ministry that will bring people to Christ and change the world. I want to prep and execute a perfectly paleo meal plan for the week, stripping away the obscene amounts of baby weight still hanging around like an unwelcome houseguest.

But I have to change another diaper.

I have to break up another toddler death match over broken Lego airplanes and a certain episode of Paw Patrol that was cut short by sibling aggression. I have to cook dinner that nobody is going to eat without complaining (and by cook I mean defrost something and put it on top of rice, because my freezer is still stocked with generosity that looks like casseroles). I have to nurse this fat baby and read this story instead of taking a shower or getting to the gym, at least for today.

(And sometimes it’s not just them. Lots of the time, in fact, it’s my novice failure to make good use of natural pockets of time when I could be putting on mascara or praying a rosary or doing push ups and instead I’m watching Netflix or clicking mindlessly through links about cats who lip-synch Taylor Swift songs. So don’t canonize me yet.)

I guess my takeaway is this: I’m not going to become holy on my own. And He knows it. If I didn’t have all these little needs who share my last name pulling at my selfish heart all day long, I’m sure there would be other opportunities for growth in virtue. Like a mouth-breathing nun who can’t say the responses in unison with the rest of the community. Or a superior who misunderstands my natural personality for pride and thinks poorly of me. Or, you know, tuberculosis.

I love St. Therese for a million reasons, but not least of all for her largeness of heart and grandiosity of vision which God took and reshaped and refashioned and handed it back to her in such a ridiculous package that you almost want to laugh, because otherwise you might cry.

I want to be a missionary and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and join the ranks of the likes of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Oh, okay, here’s a vocation to a cloistered order of nuns who will mostly misunderstand and underestimate you. You’ll never travel outside its walls again, and you’ll die young after spending most of your time sweeping floors and washing altar cloths.

Oh, cool Lord. Sounds really great.

Except it was. Because she participated in His plans and set her own aside, she’s now she’s the patroness of missionaries. One of only four female Doctors of the Church. And one of the most beloved and well-known saints of all time.

Because Therese said yes a million times to a million little things, God gave her the world. But on His terms.

And it worked out pretty well for her.

St. Therese, you said you’d spend your heaven doing good on earth. Do some good on my behalf. Help my small heart to accommodate itself to the immensity of love present in the little things He is asking of me today.

“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

st therese

27 Comments

  • Tracy Bua Smith

    The timing of this post could not have come at a better time. I don’t know you, so how do you know my thoughts 😉 Thank you for sharing! I believe God (and St. Therese) had something to do with me reading this post on his very day at this very hour, minute, and second! Thank you! God bless!

  • Terri

    Wow. Thank you for that BIG wake up. This is my feast day as well. My SIL sent me your blog. I’m a first time reader! You’ve now been added to my ever growing list of awesome mother blogs to read. Sigh. At some point.

  • Amanda

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I’d die for them but can I not glare when they come inside for the 499th time instead of playing? Not so much

  • Laura

    I have a small printout on my kitchen cupboard that reads “Never stop doing the little things. For the little things often hold the biggest piece of their heart.” It’s my reminder that there is joy to be found in the daily tasks of being at home and raising a family. When I struggle with the “but I could, I SHOULD be doing something else / contributing to society in some larger and better way.” I pause and read it often.

  • Laura

    Beautiful, just beautiful. As someone who is looking forward to/slightly scared of motherhood if it’s God’s will, but who also currently has plenty of opportunities to do the little things for my patients, sisters, parents, friends, coworkers, etc, I so appreciate the selflessness that it is teaching me. And as a devotee of the Little Flower, I also appreciate that she had grand dreams that were fulfilled in God’s way, not hers, and she put up with all the little crap that would drive me crazy. Thanks for bringing it all together in a challenging and inspiring way. (P.S. The number of times in the last two weeks that I’ve told someone, “So I was reading this Catholic mommy blog, and…” proves that you ARE doing something big, a ministry that is changing lives–keep it up!)

  • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    Yes, Jenny! Thank you! Tying in St. Therese’s story is the perfect way for me to remember that my children are not the intrusion to my life. I wasn’t feeling particular fond of her on this year’s feast day like I had felt in the past (sometimes she’s just too…..good, ya know?), but this reminds me how much she has to teach me.

  • Jessica

    I have a question for you. I think you’re identifying with the group of mothers who have chosen “child-rearing over loftier professional goals.” But…aren’t you a regular columnist for NCR? Don’t you have hundreds (thousands?) of regular visitors to your blog? I don’t mean to turn this into a “mommy wars” question, but here’s why I’m asking: I’m a wife, pregnant with our first child, and in a PhD program which is training me to be a university professor. I truely feel that teaching is a vocation for me — I can promote the dignity of all my students, and also provide them with viewpoints on religion, morality, etc that they might not encounter otherwise. I’m also clearly called to be a wife and mother. And I’m having a really hard time finding roles models of Catholic women who are called to be working mothers. If they are working, it’s usually begrudingly and for clear financial reasons. My friends/family talk about daycare as if it would be actually immoral to send kids there.
    I guess what I’m saying is that if you identify as a “working mom” in any way, I would encourage you to share that experience so that more women can find support and role models and ideas for how to make it work. SAHMs have a huge impact on the culture as well, but I think some Catholic circles portray that as the only option, and it ends up limiting the voice of “feminine genius” in the public sphere. I mean, what if women had led the questioning of Cecile Richards instead of men? Supporters of PP would’ve had to come up with a whole different narrative instead of relying on the old “men oppose PP because they want to oppress women” trope.
    Sorry for the novel — but I’d really appreciate your thoughts!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      Great question. First of all congratulations on your new little one, and I’m going to tell you something my boss (at the time) wisely told me when I was pregnant with my first: don’t make any major decision about your career/motherhood until that baby arrives. Obviously you’re pursing a degree and working towards something you feel called to, so you wouldn’t drop out of school or something crazy, but the advice was that until you meet that particular baby and experience motherhood firsthand, you cannot make a truly informed decision about what is the most important job you will ever have (and I hate that most workplaces demand the answer to this question up front, without knowing how birth will go and how your recovery will be and whether baby will need extra care, etc. It’s so crazy. Not Amercia’s finest quality, for sure).

      That piece of wisdom aside, yes, I do work full time technically, but 95% of my work is done from home because with 4 kids, it would be crazy to pay for daycare. I’d have to be making a lot more than I am, and even then it would pretty much be a wash because of the cost of childcare. I do feel very convicted personally that I’m meant to be home with my kids and the primary caretaker, so for our family, my staying home is kind of a non negotiable, notwithstanding any major tragedy or job loss.

      There are some fantastic working mother/working women role models the Church offers us, but there are only a handful. I think there’s a reason. I think in particular cases God absolutely calls women into a larger workforce outside the home – St. Gianna Molla comes to mind. And Helen Alvare. And Abby Johnson. But each of these women have a particular call they’re responding to, and I think it’s an extraordinary vocation, extra meaning outside the ordinary or normal vocation of motherhood, which is still primary. So yes, it’s highly possible that God is calling you to work outside the home and serve Him in the classroom. But I think it isn’t nearly as typical as our culture would have us believe, does that make sense?

      • Jessica

        Thanks for the reply — I appreciate it! I’ve been mulling over this question for awhile now, even before I got pregnant. In my specific case, I’ll have a couple of flex years where I’m still in grad school and writing my dissertation, so I won’t have major commitments that will require me to be outside the house. (In theory I think I’d have six more years until my credits start to expire and they kick me out of the program, so maybe that’s one answer to the early childhood years!)
        I still wonder if by considering the case of Catholic moms in the public sphere as extraordinary calling, we’re abandoning that realm to women who aren’t going to defend the value of religion, families, etc. Or maybe I need to trust that just a few years of “public ministry” are enough, considering that Jesus spent 30 years at home and 3 out in the mission field! 🙂 Anyway, it’s certainly a topic that I’ll probably be trying to figure out (for me personally) for the rest of my life…

        Either way, I’m super impressed that you are working full time while also being at home with your kids. Kudos!

  • Pamela

    Jenny,
    This is soo spot on. I have 4 children 5 and under, so it was like you are inside my head. I found your blog through Kendra and love you writing style.

  • LynnieLew

    …but now I just want to go to the interwebs and find videos of cats lip syncing to Taylor Swift.
    Work in progress. I’m still a work in progress.

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