“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Any parent who has planned to get up “before the kids” in order to have some time to yourself, only to find bleary-eyed offspring stumbling out of their bedrooms into the kitchen before the first sip of coffee has hit your lips, before you can even think of cracking open that Bible, can relate to the Gospel passage above. Jesus is like us in all things, including his inability to pray alone at the crack of dawn. The struggle is real.
I recently read A Mother’s Rule of Life after hearing from more than one friend that they just loved it and it changed their home life. I got it from the library, but was sort of skeptical. I read the first chapter and rolled my eyes at her description of kids going to school as “sending the children away from me”. I didn’t know how I felt about this. I kept reading, and I’m so glad I did.
I am not a homeschooling mom. I have no plans to be a homeschooling mom. I did not love every single aspect of the book, and I certainly did not implement all of her suggestions. But what I found sort of revolutionary is her five P’s of what’s important for living our vocation with joy and peace.
Prayer. Person. Partner. Parent. Provider.
In that order of importance.
This could be a game changer.
Beautiful friends, we are NOT primarily parents or partners or providers in whatever career path we’ve chosen. We are primarily daughters (and sons) of God and ensouled bodies with inestimable value. Let that sink in.
Prayer is first. Work is last. Marriage comes before kids. Even before marriage or children, comes you. Comes me. Time after time after time I see families where everything else, including feeding the dog, comes before the woman’s basic needs for showering and time in prayer are met. My heart breaks and my blood pressure boils when I hear stories of women who haven’t had an evening out with friends in years, who dream longingly about maybe someday being able to have a day away with their husbands, who treat a daily shower as a dream deferred. It irks me to no end to know that many a Catholic woman is running herself ragged to meet the needs and wants of every member of her family, and yet her turn for a day off never seems to come. Enough is enough.
God does not will us to suffer in silence, experiencing resentment towards our husbands and children as our needs go unmet day after week, after month after year. Dear hearts, this is not God’s will for family life and motherhood. God wills joy, peace, and contentment. These will not come by continuing to “suck it up” and make martyrs of ourselves. These will come by giving those we love the opportunity to serve us by meeting our needs. Joy, peace, and contentment in our vocations comes when we appear on the radar screen, when our physical, emotional and spiritual health matters to not only our husbands, but ourselves.
This self-neglect hits home for me. In the months after having Maggie, I struggled to change my clothes, let alone shower, daily. I rarely left the house and rarely prayed. Every ounce of my energy and will was sapped by this tiny human. And I let it be. It was only after emerging from just a bit of the fog that engulfed me that I could see how I had put myself dead last on every priority list, and how my whole family had suffered for it.
Slowly I crawled my way out, forcing myself to get up 10 minutes earlier to get that shower. Dragging myself to the gym, I got over my aversion to the free childcare (free!), and began exercising this one body that will carry me through life. I started taking some care with my appearance and desperately reached out to friends for the companionship of other women, which I had been sorely lacking.
Gradually, I started to feel like a woman again. Like me. Not Atticus’ wife. Not Maggie’s mom. But Sarah. A woman of God, who is worthy of love and care. Amazingly, as I started taking care of myself, everyone in my home was happier.
There’s an old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s so true, friends. We set the tone in our homes. If we send the message that everything and anything except Mom’s needs matter, then Mom’s needs won’t matter. How can we teach our children the importance of a relationship with God when we spend little to no time in prayer? How can we teach our daughters about the equal dignity of men and women when Dad spends 45 minutes “decompressing” from work while Mom is drowning in toddlers like she has for the last 10 hours?
The wants of your family members are not more important than your basic needs for cleanliness, rest, and physical, emotional and spiritual health.
I went to confession less than a year ago, confessing anger, resentment, and a desire to escape from my vocation and family. You guys, having twins is so damn hard. I was so done. It seemed impossible to find time for the kind of self-care I needed. To be honest, sometimes it still does. But now, a year later, it is finally getting easier.
During that confession, the priest (dear man!) asked me the last time I had done something just for myself, the last time I had had a day off. I actually laughed. “A whole day off? To do as I pleased? A year? Maybe longer.”
My penance was a day off. At that time, a whole day off wasn’t really feasible, but I had a good solid six hours. He said, the only rule during my time off was that I had to incorporate prayer in some way. I decided on Adoration. The most amazing thing happened. I went to Adoration. Afterward, I had a small lunch out and read. I did some window shopping. And I actually missed my family. I came back home ready to be with them, rather than desperately eying the exits.
It changed my whole view of what penance is supposed to be, and of what it looks like. Often in my life, penance has looked like something that hurts, because it’s burning away selfishness and sin, making way for virtue to grow. Most of the time, that’s how it is. But in this season of life, when my family demands so much of me, my penance looks a little different.
It looks like self-care.
It looks like a daily shower and putting on real clothes, just for me.
It looks like a few hours a week to exercise my precious, though imperfect body.
It looks like a night or afternoon out with friends once a month, if not more.
It looks like regular time to pray and receive the sacraments that sustain our beautiful souls.
It looks like getting to choose the restaurant or movie, just this once.
It looks like whatever you need to be a balanced daughter of God striving to be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. Because how can holiness happen where there is no balance? Even Our Lord, in his perfection, needed time away to pray. They sought him out, but he gently reminded them of his enormous need to be with his Father. We have this need too.
As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, perhaps making time for self-care can be part of our Lenten discipline. Perhaps it can even be a form of penance, repenting of ways and times we have failed to respect the miracle that is our one precious life.