Catholic Spirituality,  Easter,  feast days,  liturgical living,  motherhood,  Suffering

A Cross of Splinters

I was going to double down on Lent this week.

I had big plans, flush with grace from surviving Palm Sunday’s armed liturgy, sweating with the exertion of having spent 90 minutes sit-stand-and kneeling + slapping palm ‘swords’ out of my toddlers’ (and not-so-toddler-sized kids’, ahem) fists.  

My prayer after communion went something like:

I could have done a better job at Lent, Lord. I’m sorry. I’m going to really mean it this week. For one week – Holy Week – surely I can be the best version of my Lenten self.


I imagine God, at this point, winking at St. Peter (or maybe St. John Paul II, in my case) leaning over and mouthing “hold my beer” whilst rolling up His spotless sleeves and queuing up a mighty fine lineup of golden opportunities for me to make good on my offer to finish Lent with a bang.

You know when you pray for patience and your internet goes out for 4 days? Or something along those lines. Well, 2 days into Holy Week and I’m feeling preeeetty divinely spoiled by the myriad opportunities to unite my own pathetic sufferings to Christ.

God knows what I can handle. He knows that for all my spiritual bravado, I’m notorious for crumbling under the slightest pressure. I think (I hope?) He finds it endearing. Kind of the way I enjoy Luke’s efforts to help me “clean” using a stolen bottle of Windex.

So instead of cancer and car accidents, He sends croup and power outages that cut off humidifiers and sound machines at 2 and 4 and 5 am. A barfing cat and a dwindling bank account and a broken espresso machine and a computer battery that will no longer hold a charge on its own the very same week the charging cable crapped out.

And if I manage to check myself before I launch into an internal temper tantrum over the very foremost of first world problems (my espresso machine is broken. Privilege level: platinum), I can recognize that God is throwing me a big ‘ol softball here.

But piled up all together? Man, even these teeny splinters of problems – when there are enough of them – can feel like they add up to the weight of a cross.

And I’m notorious for trying to carry it by myself.

He has been reminding me this week with every waking child, every mediocre cup of french press, and every sibling fight broken up whilst the Hunger Games of spring break unfolds in my living room – that I don’t have to. That I can’t.

That nothing that I plan on offering up is anywhere near as effective as the things that I have to accept from Him, willingly – if not always joyfully – as His will over my own.

I wanted to give up snacking between meals. But I’m a quasi-nursing mom, and it turns out instead He wanted me to give up grumbling about night wakings.

I planned to read my Bible every morning over a cup of coffee. He taps me on the arm in the form of a needy 2-year-old and asks over and over again that I read Brown Bear, Brown Bear without snapping as my tepid infusion of caffeine cools on the counter between trips through the microwave.

I wanted to get back in shape by doing a specific postpartum exercise program every night before bed. Instead I’ve been working on not erupting into apocalyptic rage when bedtime stretches into the 9 o’clock hour because there are now more than twice as many needs as parents and why does everyone want to be touched at the precise time of day that I most want to run away screaming if one more person puts so much as a finger on my still inflated and decidedly-not-toned body?

The irony is not lost on me that my feeble attempts to prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ agony in the garden are interrupted by screams for cough drops, cuddles, an extra blanket, and a back rub when I JUST WANT TO BE ALONE FOR A MINUTE, GUYS.

I want to run away from my state in life in order to offer a sacrifice of my own design to the Lord.

But He just wants my actual heart. The best laid plans of mice and moms often go awry…

My Lent has been a disaster. At least it has from my point of view.

And it is tempting to project that failure over the remainder of Holy Week and assume that somebody is going to barf during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and that Easter will be “ruined” because the only kid who hasn’t yet caught the respiratory virus going through the house will wake up hacking at midnight on Good Friday.And that may well happen.

What I imagine God is wondering, though, is whether I will respond with my predictable temper tantrum over my perfect plans going awry by, um, life with actual human children, or whether I will cheerfully shoulder my little pile of splinters with a fiat more pathetic than anything the world has thus far known.

“I cannot do great things, but I can do small things without complaining about them” – #thingsStThereseneversaid

I hope that I can remember even 3 hours after hitting “publish” on this piece that what He really wants from me this Holy Week is my exhausted, frustrated, and fickle heart. That when I’m tempted to scream in frustration during dinner prep I can instead put my head down on the counter and pray a silent (or heck, VERY AUDIBLE) Hail Mary as I beg for the strength to love my children well, stir the mac and cheese, and to accept the actual crosses – small though they may be – that He has put in my path for this season.

See you on the other side.




  • Martha

    Oh girl, I’m with you. Praise be to God. He really does know what’s best and I’m similarly incapable of learning it even though I ask daily for the grace to learn it…hmm. I was actually proud of myself for even having the presence of mind to remember to offer some of today’s frustrations up to Him and for souls in purgatory. Lately I’ve been too tired and, in moments of frustration, too overwhelmed to, as you suggest, just stop and ask for His help and that of our Heavenly Mother. I don’t have a great solution; perhaps it’s all just a thousand reminders of the single lesson which is that we are nothing without Him and He will take us where he wants us to be so best to just allow ourselves to be lead. I think that last part is hard for modern people generally, modern women specifically. I know it can be for me! Lots of love to you & yours.

  • Ally

    I decided to check your blog to see if you had returned while attending to the fussy, teething, not sleeping baby… again. Also, despite my promise to be less distracted by the phone, whoops. But thinking God wanted me to read this cause it’s exactly what I was needing to hear. Thank you.

  • Maureen McElroy

    Theresa of Avila famously wrote that God is in the posts and pans! And when she landed in a river en route to founding another monastery she is said to have comments that if this was How God reared his friends it was no wonder he had so few of them:-).

    So you, my friend, sound divinely favoured😄

    These days will pass and you will remember little if the pain. You will remember the warm feeling of small bodies snuggled in to your back, or asleep on your knees.
    And then these little people will be big people. And you will have a little time to call your own. Only a little though! For by then you will know how to make the best of the moments of solitude between grand parenting duties 🤗. For it never stops. God
    , having trained us up to do his will keeps asking us to do it. And we can.

    My solution over nearly 40 years of parenting 5 and now grand parenting 10 and counting? Secular Carmel. Kindred spirits trying to contemplate in a mad world. Perhaps there is a group near you? It is amazing how one day a mo th of spiritual meeting reenergises me for the month ahead. A real espresso for the soul👍👍👍

    Maureen Xxx

  • Elizabeth

    So glad you’re blogging again! I can totally relate to, well every bit of it, but the sentence “I want to run away from my life to offer a sacrifice of my own design to the Lord” nails it. A stubborn threenager, a constantly cranky almost 2 year old, and halfway through pregnancy with baby number 3 over here, and I can’t get through the day without snapping and/or crying (usually both), while wondering if I’ve made any real sacrifice this Lent because I failed at all that I wanted to do. Thank you so much for the reminder that I’m not alone. Today I’m going to try and just offer Him my heart as it is, and ask for the strength to love my family well.

    Your blog has been such a blessing to me and I’m sure many others. God bless you and your family!

  • Marianne

    I just love you, Gurl.

    You talk like I think – and make it sound cool.

    I have been surviving my children for 28 years. Lots of coffee. Lots of wine. And, I admit, a prescription.

    One of my oldest, who is a twin, just gave us twin grand-babies. Meanwhile, my youngest is 15 and still very much a work in progress. God’s “circle of life” keeps unfolding. May we all keep keeping the faith!!!

  • Colleen

    I’m not saying this just to give you a “pass” but I honestly believe that being pregnant or nursing is sacrifice enough. I hope that doesn’t sound scandalous, but I know I’ve been so hard on myself during these times and really I think God just wanted me to “be” not “do”. You’re amazing Jenny 🙂

  • Camille

    God bless you and yours for the rest of Lent and on to the Other Side. Your Easter will be beautiful however it comes. Thank you for writing. And persevering.

  • Lisa

    This was so good and encouraging. Going through the same thing with sick kids and a nursing 4 months old. Solidarity! Thank you for the reminder to lean into these splinters and not run from them. Prayers that your whole family recovers in time for Easter.

  • Annie

    Hey, I needed this! I don’t have kids yet, but it turns out that even families made up of all adults can have a Holy Week and Easter weekend that doesn’t go as planned. Thanks for the inspiration to offer up a weekend with my family that probably won’t be how I’d have chosen for it to be.

  • Megan B.

    Thank you for writing this. Love and prayers, a mom who after cleaning up 6 kids’ sporadic puking for a week, was given the bug gift herself last night, missed Chrism Mass (yup, the whole family was supposed to bring up the gifts and be blessed by the bishop), and may still have 2 possible suspects go down with the bug for the remainder of Holy Week.
    PS – Hang in there! I’m praying for you.

  • Cynthia S Coy

    #thingsStThereseneversaid <- luv it!!!

    I would love for my hashtag to be #onedayatatime, but I can never make it stick and I always have to remind myself that Jesus always gives us the grace we need for today.

  • Heidi

    Oh my gosh not the espresso machine, anything but that. My Lent has been a rollercoaster and I too had a profound going to pull out all stops for Holy Week. A social media fast for 6 days is just what the doctor ordered. Instead I am at the hospital with my youngest son (18) who is having chest pains and is dizzy and my will blew out the door. I need distraction. I pray and then read blogs.

  • Jann K. Armantrout

    Allthough my dear sons are now 26 and 28 your essay made me remeber 2 and 4 alike it was yesterday. It does get easier or perhaps we get better at mothering with practice. More importan, I have been having my own splintered Lent dealing with the challenges of being widowed , 63, a monthly helath insurance bill of $700 and in the grand scheme of things minor health problems. So maybe Jesus does get our hearts when we just relax and accept what comes our way as His will, enjoying our platinum status. Thank you for publishing.

  • jeanette

    I like this observation of yours: “first world problems (my espresso machine is broken. Privilege level: platinum)”

    We are very privileged here and our problems are sometimes so very small, comparatively speaking…but the human reaction to the problems we face is more the heart of it: what is really just the SMALL STUFF compared to other things in the world that we are privileged not to experience, we still FEEL them keenly, and we have many different reactions to those sufferings we encounter in life. We can be weighed down by them and weigh others down with our reactions, or we can grow from them (even the small stuff like the espresso machine breaking down).

    Later in your post, you express this understanding of things:

    “But He just wants my actual heart.”

    Yes, He does want your heart. But in a very particular way: He wants your heart because He is giving you His heart to invite you to dwell with Him. He wants you to know in all things that He is right there with you. And you explain that you clearly realize this when you say, “I’m notorious for trying to carry it [your cross] by myself.”

    He just wants us to know His heart is in it with us, and He wants us to surrender our will in order to draw near to Him. Because the cross itself is not really the burden or difficulty we encounter, the real cross that we carry is our will. Our will can be a heavy cross. When we surrender our own will, it is for the purpose of living life in an intentional direction: Discipleship is a path of self denial in order to follow Jesus closely.

    I think when we focus on the particulars of our burdens in life, we lose that bigger focus of where we are headed beyond those burdens. We have to acknowledge our burdens, we have to contend with our burdens, we sometimes have to share our burdens. But we always want to keep moving in that bigger direction. We take up our cross and follow Jesus by moving past those burdens, and we never lose sight of whom we are following.

    In faith, we see past the moment. We don’t give up on Jesus because of life’s difficulties, we just increase our trust in Him and remain a faithful disciple. In that way, your love for Him increases and you become more and more able to surrender your will to Him.

    Glad to have you back here again. Have a Blessed Easter!

  • Susan Peek

    Oh my goodness, this is probably the best blog post I’ve read all Lent. 🙂 Every word of it is sooooo true! You’ve inspired me — not to mention cracked me up with laughter!

  • Dawn

    So good to hear from you again!!!! This post is my post! I could have written it! God bless you and the fact that you answer the call from the Lord Almighty to share your world with us. It is truly a blessing! Happy Easter to you and yours.

  • Sarah

    Yes! You’ve perfectly articulated what I’ve been wrestling with all of Lent. And I’ve failed miserably at not complaining about night feedings/sleep deprivation. 😬 Gonna keep getting up and trying though!

  • Leah

    Wow! A loved one sent this to me and this is so relatable! I have a feeling I will be binge reading your articles! Have you ever considered podcasting? (Like you have tons more time to kill!) congrats on number 7 by the way! What a blessing!

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