God doesn’t always speak to me directly. When he does, though, he says just what I need to hear. One of these moments helped me develop my mother’s rule of Lent and led me to embrace the chaos of my own domestic church.
I tend to approach Lent with my metaphorical guns blazing. Grand plans. High expectations.
And then reality bites.
When my middle child was about six months old, I decided that attending daily mass would be part of our Lenten efforts. Dear reader, I am sure you can tell where this is going.
On the first day of our Lenten journey, I got the kids up, fed and ready to head out the door with plenty of time. As babies are wont to do, however, the little chose that moment to express her desire for a bath and outfit change. I looked at the clock. We had ten minutes before we needed to get in the car and still make it to mass on time.
Call out to the four year old – please get your shoes on! Nimbly remove soiled clothing from babe. Commence sponge bath with wipes. Listen for sounds of shoe deployment from the big girl. Hear nothing; call out once more – please get your shoes!
Discover baby mess is bigger than you anticipated. Baby discovers mess is bigger than anticipated. Baby also realizes the wipes are really darn cold. Baby begins screaming. Wailing. Commences gnashing of teeth (well, gums).
Sense a presence at the nursery door. Turn to find big girl in beginning stages of undress. Look at the clock. Stifle a scream. Mutter halfhearted words of comfort to babe; ask “What are you doing?!?” of big girl.
Realize you are becoming unhinged. Plead with big girl to get dressed. Continue to wrangle insulted babe. Manage to slide new diaper and clean outfit on, albeit crookedly. Pick up babe. See that four year old now has her arms tangled in her shirt but is flailing them around maniacally whilst wailing the song of her people.
Put babe down. Babe moves from insulted to unhinged. Free four year old from t-shirt’s mighty grasp.
Look at the clock. Scream.
“I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! WE NEED TO GET TO MASS!”
Four year old looks you right in the eyes. “Can I have ice cream?”
Cry. Pick up babe and collapse into rocking chair. Nurse babe, as it is the quickest way to calm her. Tell four year old to pick out a book, as it is the quickest way to avoid more disrobing. Listen to the sound of blood rushing through your ears. Realize the music of your stress is like standing next to a jet engine.
And then, silence. The babe is nursing; the four year old is on her favorite errand.
“This is your domestic church,” He says. “Your children need you. I am with you here.”
He was right, of course. In that season of my life, it didn’t matter if I made it to mass that morning. We would be enacting our own version of the Paschal sacrifice, right there in our little home. I was to surrender my body, myself to the little people who needed me. Through my motherhood, I would say to them, “This is my body, given up for you,” just as He had done for me.
To be clear, I don’t mean to make myself a martyr for my children. But the truth is that, as a mother, I find myself lost in the minutiae of everyday life. I would wager it is the same for many other moms, whether we work at home or at the office, whether we homeschool or carpool, whether we cook dinner or order in. We are the center point of our family’s lives. Our minds are cluttered with to-do lists, battered by worries, and focused on “enjoying every moment because it just goes by so fast” (though on my toughest days, it never seems to move quickly enough). And as such, my grand plans for Lent never go the way I would like. I begin to feel like a failure. I admonish myself for being lukewarm in my efforts. And at the halfway point, I’m ready to give up.
What good does any of that do, then, when the purpose of Lent is to bring one closer to the heart of God? As mothers, opportunities for prayer and penance are all around us, in the toys we pick up, the scraped knees we bandage, the numbing grind of the day to day. I have learned that, when I let go of my grandiose plans (which are more often than not born out of selfish desires than a desire for an increase in holiness), when I allow God to choose my Lenten journey for me, He brings me closer to Him in ways I would never have imagined. Like a monk’s rule of life, this is my rule of Lent. Be present, be still, be holy.
Be loved, and love in return.