This post is a part of the inaugural Catholic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by the lovely Maman A Droit. I was invited to submit a post tied loosely to the following Scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded with such a great cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.” -Hebrews 12:1-2 (NAB Version)
Running used to be my favorite form of exercise. A chronic injury has sidelined me for several years, but I do hope to hit the pavement again one of these days. Although I never was a good sprinter despite my noble efforts on the high school track team, long distance running was something my body understood. While training to run a marathon, I was forced to master the power of pacing. I learned to not compare myself to others cruising ahead of me or those lagging behind. The only pace I was concerned with was my own and as my runs grew longer, I stopped paying much attention to the watch strapped upon my sweaty wrist. In fact, on the day of my first marathon, I decided to not wear a watch at all.
As I was running mile upon mile, I didn’t look too far ahead. I didn’t concern myself if my legs would still be moving by mile 20 or if I’d ever make it to that mirage of a finish line. My legs did start to feel like putty, but somehow I pushed forward. My mind and my spirit took over when my body was faltering.
And eventually I finished the race.
Imagine my utter dismay when I saw that I crossed the finish line in under four hours. After I gulped down some water, I celebrated my victory. But my triumph transcended a physical feat. I’d not only finished my first marathon, but I had rid myself of the sin of comparison or pride and persevered in running the race.
Crossing that finish line was a reminder that sprinting too far ahead only leads to burnout, injury, and disappointment.
People have a cliche way of saying something like how life is a marathon, not a sprint. Marathon running – where your mind takes over even when your body starts to sputter – made sense to me. Yet when I attempt to apply this principle to life, I frequently come out lacking. I may have once been a long distance runner on the trails, but I’m a sprinter in life. Not only am I fast-paced, but I like to be in control, too.
And I sometimes pay far too much attention to what everybody else around me is doing.
Thankfully, parenthood has forced me to slow down, to let go of the illusion of control, and to focus more on what I can do than what I can’t do or what others can or can’t do.
It all started with labor.
When my husband and I were timing my contractions with our first child, it wasn’t making any sense. Despite having been a diligent student in my Bradley class who learned there was no such thing as a textbook labor, I began to doubt my body and my sporadic contractions, especially when my midwife reported I was having dysfunctional labor. Whatever that means. I briefly considered an epidural or Pitocin – anything to allow me to sprint ahead and to just hold my baby. Thankfully, my husband squeezed my hand – hard! harder! – and asked me if this is what I really wanted. It wasn’t, of course, so I persevered and was blessed to be able to have the natural childbirth I dreamed of.
My next two birth experiences were much better, partly because I now had an amazing midwife who empowered women to trust themselves and their bodies but also because I didn’t fight the process so much. I didn’t obsess over the timing of my contractions. I listened to my body and when it felt like I could not endure another moment of labor, I relied on the strength that lies in my soul, made that final big push, and then welcomed more babies into my arms.
If only everything in parenting was as simple as labor.
I’m sure some moms are in severe eye-rolling mode at this point but for me, labor was the more straightforward, empowering part of parenthood. So are the early weeks of motherhood when your baby’s needs and wants are one in the same, and everyone you know is bringing you meals and letting you nap and soak up the sweetness of your babe. Things start to get more complicated when you’re on your own and they really get tough as your babies – all gooey grins and sweet coos – grow into willful people, sometimes mini versions of yourself, and you begin to see those parts of you that probably drive others crazy. Yet, your husband, your mom, your best pal, they somehow still love you.
And you still love your child – quirks, maddening defiance, and all.
Maybe I wanted parenting to be a straightforward sprint. If I did certain things – breastfed, implemented positive discipline, filled my little voids of wretched, endless penury with all the love I could – then poof! somehow we’d arrive from point A (a little, malleable human being) to point B (an upstanding, caring, faithful adult who would always remember to call her wonderful mom at least once a week).
But nothing is so black and white. Certainly not parenthood.
Mothering, nurturing these tiny souls God has entrusted with me, is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint. (Cliche, I know. Bear with me here. Remember I had a theme to stick to.)
With three children under my belt, I like to (foolishly) think of myself as a more veteran mom who is slowing down a little more every day. In the trenches of motherhood, speed is highly overrated. If we’re always looking to the next milestone ahead, if we’re sprinting from one activity to the next, if we’re telling ourselves things will get easier, better when our child reaches this age or that age,
As a marathon runner, I learned that too much speed was dangerous. If I pushed myself too hard for too long in the beginning of a practice run, I depleted my energy stores and had to slow way down to compensate. My body ended up paying for it, too. The same is true with parenting. Moving too fast isn’t good for you or your kids.
So will comparing yourself to that “perfect” mom down the street or at your parish or the one with the blog you salivate over during your weak moments. As a runner, I learned to focus on my own pace not that of those around me. I’m learning to do the same as a mom and not pay nearly as much attention to the wrong “cloud of witnesses” – all those well-meaning, over-diagnosing “experts” who have the surefire solution to all of my and my children’s sleep woes or any other parental problem I might be grappling with.
Instead, I’m looking to the only cloud of witnesses that really matter – God, the saints, and of course, Our Blessed Mother who knows what it’s like to love until it hurts and to lose the one you love so much.
With God on my side, I’ll continue to find my pace, to plod, day by day, along this parenting path with perseverance and a whole lot of prayer, and it’s my hope and my goal to always remember to slow down just a little bit so my kids and I have a chance to enjoy the scenery.
Don’t forget to check out these other great Carnival of Catholic Parenting posts:
- Julie @ Journey to the Simple Life talks about her struggles to be a positive witness through her speech in her post, Finding a New Way.
- Heidi @ Extraordinary Moms Network reflects on why she turns to the cloud of witnesses in Sweet Mysteries of Life & Faith.
- Cassie @ There’s A Pickle in My Life talks about the temptation to let others’ choices distract us from our own families in her post, Running the Race.
- Maman A Droit compares the people who help her be a better parent to the people who helped her be a better cross-country runner years ago, in her post, Run Faster!