A mom who prays is a mom who stays (sane)
Sometimes I write posts for myself which is vv old school blogger of me, if you stop and think about it. Online journaling. But this is one such post, a reminder that hey, self, you need to up your game here, and if someone else out there gets something from it, brownies.
Summer is upon us. That glorious, unstructured, unfettered and creative expanse of bliss and memories and popsicle stains on rash guards and sunburns and piles of mysterious wet clothing everywhere. Everywhere.
The first week passed thusly. Me, relieved of carpool duty and much obliged, gracefully relinquishing the remote control for “just one more episode of Nature Cat” (why not?) and the kids, angels all, rejoicing in their togetherness and staying in various states of undress for much of the day. Around the middle of the second week, no schedule or system yet on the horizon, we all began to feel a little…on edge. The constant inflow of Red dye number 5 and the damp cling of neoprene fabric starting to chafe not just at skin but at psyches. I kept looking around waiting for someone to come and give us a shove in the right direction before realizing, as always with a bit of a startle, that it would have to be me.
I don’t know why it’s harder to play the role of competent adult in the summertime, but I imagine it has a lot to do with ingrained pavlovian associations of summer + freedom. But freedom for is a different animal than freedom from. Yes, we are free from the drudgery of carpool and the frantic tap-dance of 6 am lunch-and-breakfast assembly. But we are not free from a nominally appropriate human dress code. Not day in and day out, at any rate.
Pulling myself mentally together, I marshaled my limited interior resources and admitted that the worst part of the current state of affairs was surely mom’s lack of peace and recollection. Sure, I was getting more sleep in the mornings (and the essential nature of sleep CAN NOT BE OVERSTATED), but I had traded away my quiet coffee+scripture ritual in so doing, and failed to replace it with anything much of substance until long after bedtime. We have been attempting with moderate “success” the family rosary/decade for a few weeks now, and that has proven to be a winning group devotion. But it is not sufficient for filling mama’s deeper adult tank, not on it’s own.
Daily Mass was a staple during the school year, to the degree it could be achieved on the days with just the younger two kids home. Daily Mass with all four, in Luke’s current state of nascent two-ness, is … intimidating. The nearest parish is a welcoming and kind place, staffed by earnest and indefatigable “greeters and seaters” who very much want my entire brood to sit in the front row, but is one of those architectural disasters that beckons screaming toddlers to escape at full tilt down the gentle 25% slope leading towards the altar. Don’t ask me how I know this.
So that leaves…a void. A gaping expanse of spiritual nothingness between a quick morning offering, a glimpse at the daily Blessed is She devotion + Mass readings, and a seemingly endless expanse of long, hot daylight hours between me and God connecting.
But when I don’t pray, I am the worst mom ever. (When I do pray I’d still only give myself about a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I digress.) So I have to figure out a way to get more prayer time in. For that, I turned to some more experienced moms and to a priest friend who does a lot of spiritual direction for women. Here are a few of their suggestions, plus a few things that have worked particularly well for me in my current state of mild chaos:
“Pray while you work out.” I have never been a fast runner, and that works to my advantage in this instance, as staying under 5 mph on the treadmill is generally not mutually exclusive to praying a rosary. I bring my kindle to the gym, but I tell myself I can’t turn it on until I’ve said a rosary first. It’s not deeply contemplative prayer time, by any means, but it’s better than nothing.
“Adoration. As often as you can make it, and ideally alone.” I love stopping by with my kids for a 3 minute strafing run on the perpetual adoration chapel at our parish. Most of the other adorers think it’s adorable (I tell myself) when Luke screams “JESUS!!!!!” while clawing his way desperately out of my arms to get to the monstrance, and I know it’s important to familiarize them with the Blessed Sacrament from an early age. But again, it ain’t quality time. When I can go for a half hour or an hour alone, it’s heaven. Even if I mostly just doze in the pew and kind of “sunbathe” in His presence. It used to bother my formerly busy intellect that I couldn’t conjure any decent mental prayer when I finally made it to Adoration as a mother, but now I just accept that He wants to saturate me with graces and allow me a space to rest with Him. It’s wonderful.
“Get up before the kids and spend 20 minutes with the Lord.” Easier said than done, depending upon the season of life. If I’m pregnant or nursing, fugaddaboutit, Otherwise? It’s always worth the effort, even at the cost of sleep. During this past Lent I started doing it as a penance and it quickly became the best and most important part of my day, wouldn’t you know it?
This one from Fr. J: “Make an offering of your daily tasks continuously to the Lord.” Write out a sign and put it up in the kitchen, or wherever you spend most of the day, that says “I offer you this…” and refer to it over and over again throughout the day. “Lord, I offer you these dishes. This meal prep. This diaper change. This admin task. This hard phone call. This parental referee session.” We also talked about the reality of sort of “banking up graces” for particular children during their little years to access during their possibly more challenging later years. As in, “Lord, I offer you this load of laundry for so and so, who wet their bed again last night. I pray for their vocation, for their teen years, for their future spouse.” I loooooove the idea of banking up graces garnered by weathering toddler tantrums and potty training woes for that particular child’s future, and for our ongoing relationship. I’ve actually come to cherish? Maybe too strong a word. But…appreciate those opportunities for grace when a particular child is giving me hell (or not sleeping which is the same thing) and I’m like, “thank you Jesus for the opportunity to suffer a little bit for this child now, please apply these graces when they will most desperately need them.
Puts the stomach flu in a whole new perspective, anyway.
Finally, “go on a silent retreat.” I’ve heard this from so many experienced moms, many of whom have larger than average families and who make an annual silent retreat sans kids. They tell me it is essential to their ability to parent their children, and has become a critical component of maintaining their relationship with Jesus in the midst of the hard investment years of parenting. I’ve yet to take this advice, but I’m eager to put it into practice.
I love that the Church has saints from every walk and station of life, and the longer I’m at this mom gig, the more amazing mother saints I seem to run across. I read quotes like these and I’m like, great, somebody gets it. And it’s not mindless or meaningless, all this domestic duty.
“God walks among the pots and pans” – St. Teresa of Avila
“Sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” – St. Frances of Rome
“I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect” – St. Zelie Martin
“Why do you not succeed in doing good? It’s because you do not pray enough” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla
That was just beautiful! Now to go about actually doing it!
Thanks Jenny! I appreciated reading Fr. J’s suggestion about ‘banking’ grace for our kids. I have been offering each hour for someone, usually my kids, but to offer specific situations of struggle for the future is great. I spend a little (ok, a lot) too much time worrying about my oldest’ future. Offering sacrifices is a much better use of my time!
We just spent 17 days traveling from CO to FL with our family of 7 in our too small van. My personal prayer time became nonexistent because I had zero time alone. I am glad to be home and to get back to prayer! Happy summer!
I struggle with this seemingly all the time, especially since we homeschool and do so year round. I try to remember St Paul’s “whatever is true, whatever is noble….think on these things” and so I try to surround myself with any reminders I can of our Lord and Lady. So it might be listening to an Audrey Assad song while sweeping , quick reading, a Rosary while I walk, or a visit to our Mary statue in the backyard; I try to “shove in” as much as I am able. I would love to go to daily Mass but when I go with my pregnant self and seven kids, I end up feeling too stressed and frustrated. And we don’t have an adoration chapel. So “domestic worship” it is for now.
Same here. The strategies Jenny outlined above we have to use all year because homeschool. I have started to pray the LOH (morning prayer, and night when I don’t collapse into bed) very early in the morning. I like it b/c I know I’m praying with the whole church–it’s truly a liturgy at home (plus it’s totally scripted, a bonus for this scattered mom).
“God walks among the pots and pans” – St. Teresa of Avila. Did she really say that? Or is that like Abe Lincoln quotes on FB? ; P
This makes me think it’s legit: http://www.kilmacudcarmel.ie/teresa.html
What a great post – thank you Jenny! And, I also have a “full-tilt” escape artist child. I’ve given permission to friends at our mass to scoop her up if her charge-to-the alter passes their way before I can do a baby/daddy hand-off and grab her myself 🙂
The only problem I have with “banking” sacrifices is that we should not be telling God how we want our prayers answered or how He should go about making use of our offerings. Even with special intentions we should always pray His will be done.
Enjoy your summer! How long it has been since the days I made homemade popsicles (never enough) and waded through damp clothes encrusted with traces of sandbox excavations. When you’re in the thick of it your days seem endless blurring one into another but there comes a time when – whoosh – you’ll find yourselves living a new reality. As scripture tells us, to everything there is a season…
I don’t think Jenny meant that we should dictate to God how to answer our prayers when we pray for our children’s futures. Surely a prayer for blessing on their future vocation, spouse, help in future time of need, etc., is asking for His will to be done in their lives. (She didn’t say, “Please let Johnny become a doctor,” or “please let him marry Suzie.”) Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but if we shouldn’t ask for any specifics when we pray, why would we ask Him to “give us this day our daily bread” or to “forgive us our trespasses?” Why would we have petitions during Mass instead of a blanket “Thy will be done” prayer?
I was cautioning against the tendency to offer up our sacrifices and then taking it one step further and informing God how He is to make use of them. If you look at your Missal you’ll see in the Prayer of the Faithful our petitions are carefully worded so as not to fall into that habit. When additional or special situation petitions are added in at that point in the Mass there are guidelines that must be followed for that reason. I agree there’s a difference between praying “Please let Johnny become a doctor” and “Please let Johnny find a meaningful and productive career”.
Can I just say I love your blog and I love this post! Thank you!!
Jenny: if you are looking for a way to become recollected throughout the day, use something from either your Bible/daily mass reading or something like “The Imitation of Christ” (if you don’t have a copy of that, I recommend it, it is small and very portable). Read a small bit, keep one portion in your heart, pull it up to your mind throughout your day during those times whenever you just have a few free moments. Write it on a slip of paper if you can and put it somewhere prominent, like the refrigerator or somewhere handy, like in your pocket, or use it as a bookmark in the book you are reading, so you can easily go refresh your memory if you need to. Reflecting on one small thing over and over through your day has more value than reading huge amounts of something. Sometimes you might find you want to keep mulling it over for several days. Do it. Don’t feel compelled to get something new to reflect upon. If you have the time, sit down in a quiet place and just rest in that one thought for a few minutes. Pull it up to your mind when you are waiting for a pot of water to boil, or folding laundry, etc.
Another thing you can do is just get one of those little journal books and write the particular passage that you were reflecting upon. Then one day when you have some real quality time for prayer that is lengthy, pull out the journal and read one entry, reflect upon it as long as you can and then move to the next one, repeating this until your time is over or until you find you are just resting in God and do not need to have anything to reflect upon. This journal will deepen all of your previous reflections on that passage. It is a really helpful way to easily rest in your prayer in a recollected way without needing other prayer aids to get you started.
Oh my. I love this. Thank you.
I wonder how many women felt the Holy Spirit through your words today. Thank you thank you!!
Great ideas, thank you! My husband and I are planning to use our upcoming every other year child-free weekend… on a silent retreat. It feels kind of lame after talks of Yellowstone or Maine in the fall, but I am confident that it will bear great fruit. Maybe somewhere exotic in two years 🙂
PS I write a column for our local paper and 90% + of what I write fall into the category of “Things I Need to Re-Read Often.” Ha!
Just read your announcement post, too, Jenny! Congratulations, Mama. My prayers are with you and your newest babe. Have you listened to Bishop Barron’s recent podcast on the Spirituality of Marriage? Hearing him state that we are truly leading lives of heroic virtue caused me to tear up. I hope I am blessed with a Baby Cinque someday, too, God-willing.
I was just musing today about how refreshed I was going on a camping trip with 11 middleshcool girls this weekend. We need breaks, we need time with God. I, too, love the idea of ‘banking graces’ for the kids. Now if I could only remember it in the heat of the moment! (hello, signage!) Now, I’m off to walk the ‘hood by myself and have a chat with Jesus.