Lenten Reflections of a Weary Mother

hi-res-book-coverOne of the books at the top of my to-read list is Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, published by NavPress and officially launching this week. As part of Catherine’s launch team, I had a sneak peak at her first chapter, and can hardly wait for her book to arrive so I can read the rest! For all of you young moms and for all of us who love you, I know that Catherine’s book will be an honest, inspiring, and practical read as she explores motherhood as a spiritual journey.

Congratulations, Catherine, on your new book! May all who read it be blessed and encouraged by your words. And to the readers of my blog, please enjoy Catherine’s guest post below, “Lenten Reflections of a Weary Mother.”

Almost ten years ago, I walked into church during Lent as a brand new mom. Setting down my diaper bag I pulled out the toys and teething rings I hoped would buy me a few minutes of worship and reflection. Separation anxiety had not been cooperating with my church attendance—this sweet boy was interested in being in the nursery, but not without mommy there to play with him. His resulting screams overwhelmed our small church building.

I’d caught only snatches of any worship service for months.

And so, with my baby exploring a baggie of Cheerios and raisins on my lap, I tried to catch a few minutes of the service.

The relative calm lasted about three minutes, until my small son grabbed the bulletin handout excitedly, pointing to the picture of a cross on the front cover. With his characteristic squawk of excitement (and fists full of snacks) he pointed to the cross in the front of the church. Back to the cross on the handout; back to the cross at the altar. “That’s the cross, Honey” I whispered into his ears.

He didn’t know what the cross was, of course. He was still far from even a beginning understanding of death, to say nothing of redemption, of love-that-sacrifices, of finding yourself through losing yourself, through pouring yourself out. But on this Sunday in Lent, I watched him make a connection of shapes and color and emotion.

Lent is my favorite season in the Church calendar.

Taking time for wilderness reflection, for fasting, for intentionality, for pondering—somehow these practices allow the residue of a year’s worth of worship and spiritual development to seep past the surface and find its way deep into my soul. I cherish the ebbs and flows of the Church calendar. We need them, just as the natural world needs the ebbs and flows of the year’s seasons. Without a time for dormancy, there is no spectacular rush of new life. The same is true in our spirits.

But it’s hard for me to stay on top of these spiritual ebbs and flows these days, as a mother whose days and nights bend around a different ebbing, a different flowing.

That’s okay too, I think.

Just as we have annual seasons, so we have life seasons.

Lenten observations may not fit well with the lifestyles of busy, Cheerio-munching toddlers and their exhausted parents. That’s natural. That’s this season.

The Sunday when my baby recognized the cross was years ago now. I have made room in my heart, my body, and my life for three children now, all growing like weeds. But I still remember back to that year when, for three minutes, I gazed upon the cross of Christ with my son.

There has been no other season of life where I’ve known Love like these past ten years; no other time when I have been called upon to sacrifice and bleed to give life to the ones I love as I have in Motherhood.

At no other time of my life have the words love and sacrifice and redemption leapt so readily to my understanding and to my heart.

It matters to me so much now that before my unborn children had any need of redemption, of grace, of love – all this was provided for them. At their births we joined with our community to accept this gift for our children, and every day since we have been living into this, leaning into Him. There has been no other time in my life when I have known the value and beauty of Grace as I have in these past years.

It is my children that have me home giving baths instead of attending evening services. It is my children who provide so little opportunity for me to eat, sleep, or rest that giving up something for Lent seemed almost laughable. But spiritual observances that are true to their intent allow room for real-life life-giving sacrifice. I’ve experienced nothing as sanctifying and spiritually illuminating as sacrificing myself for my children.

In so many ways, Motherhood is itself a spiritual discipline.

Like Lent, like fasting, it takes us to the end of ourselves, forcing us to peering long into our own mortality, our own limitations, our own weakness. So much is asked of us, as we give ourselves up, pour ourselves out. We do all this to seek life. New life.

As I finished writing these words it began to rain outside my window. To pour. Before my eyes, on this first above-freezing day of Lenten spring the layers of snow and silt and salt are being washed away; the nutrients that have collected on the ground are being driven deep into the heart of the soil. The cycles of nature reflecting the seasons of our souls.

If you’re like me, those three minutes with Cheerios on Sunday morning may be the bulk of your Lenten reflections for now.

But take heart—the redemptive sacrifices of motherhood have been powerful enough to linger with us for a lifetime.

 
hi-res-author-photoCatherine McNiel survived her children’s preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open the eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden.

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Writing/Reflection Prompt: Catherine writes, “Just as we have annual seasons, so we have life seasons.” How would you describe your life season at this time, and how does it intersect with the season of Lent?

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7 replies

  1. I got tired just reading this, and I remember vividly how exhausted motherhood made me at times when the children were small. Taking motherhood and all its aspects seriously, we learn to live the way of the cross. What a privilege that is. We do it because of the love we have for our offspring. and in so doing, we can grasp in a very real and concrete way how much God loves us.

    • Thanks for your comment, Elfrieda. I see this as one more example of the way that God fills our daily lives. We don’t have to add on anything extra, for God is already in the midst of life. That’s true for parents as they care for their children, for Brother Lawrence washing dishes in the kitchen, for all of us wherever God has planted us.

  2. I just finished Catherine’s book as well, April. One of the verses that came to mind as I read it was 2 Corinthians 4:18, which speaks to the idea that we don’t focus on the temporal and transient part of our lives. In other words, we don’t get consumed by the tasks, but we see the eternal, unseen things through them. Two ways in which I have done this is (1) to ask the Lord for His presence in my daily tasks and (2) to ask to see ways I can partner with Him in my sanctification. Open our eyes, Lord!

    • Thank you for reminding me of that verse, Lisa. Here it is in context, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” I love the way you make it so practical as you pray and go about your daily tasks. I’m praying with you today, open our eyes, Lord!

  3. Love “Lenten Reflections of a Weary Mother.” So much truth and beauty in these words from Catherine McNiel. I’m glad to know about her writings. It struck me particularly as I had just returned from 5 or so days helping with care of grandsons as their parents both worked evenings in a particularly busy week–after forgetting how truly energy-sapping it can be. As grandparents though, we at least got to sleep through the night once we put the little ones to bed and their parents came home between 9:30-11.

    • How wonderful that you were able to spend that time with your grandsons, Melodie, helping out their parents, and enjoying the grandparents’ reward of getting to sleep through the night 🙂 What a blessing!

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