Not too long ago I had one of those days Alexander has – a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I can’t really say what happened to make my day turn out so lousy. Nothing devastating happened to me personally, although loved ones I knew were suffering from some crushing news. I don’t remember if I stubbed my toe or if the kids were bickering more than usual. What I do recall is the visceral feeling of depletion and defeat that was on the verge of swallowing me whole as I sat on my kitchen floor with a fussy baby clinging to me while I watched a cloud of dog hair studded with crumbs drift along like a tumbleweed in an abandoned desert town.
Life was overwhelming at that moment. The tearful baby, the mess on the floor were proof that I could not keep up with my house, the homeschooling, my children.
Flailing along on the edge of burnout was bad enough but what was worse were the feelings of guilt that here I was living just shy of Eden while others faced real suffering, including family members with debilitating, chronic pain and cancer. How could I feel even a shred of despondency while living in a beautiful home, married to a wonderful man, and being the mother to four healthy, energetic children?
Recently, a caring friend of mine invited me to help serve dinner for a single mom and her three children who were homeless because the mom couldn’t find work. This mom had a real reason to be overwhelmed. Meanwhile, I was playing the world’s smallest violin.
Or was I?
I once had a dear friend tell me something I’ve never forgotten. This friend had faced a mother’s worst nightmare. She had watched her child suffer surrounded by a maze of medical tubes only to die after several months of being in the hospital. The experience crushed in her in many ways, but she also confided in me that as difficult it was to lose her sweet girl, she also had never been more aware of God’s grace than at that tragic time in her life. On the other hand, the daily struggles – what seemed like insignificant, toothpick-like crosses – could really weigh her down and sometimes made her feel like she was alone and even abandoned.
As an American mother married to a kind, hard-working husband with a great job, I live a charmed life and I give thanks for all that I have, but I also know that I, like other mothers, do suffer in small yet significant ways. I was recently persecuted – that’s a strong word, but it’s true – for the size of my family. I wanted to look in to the narrowed eyes and tell this person that a family of six is paltry and that I’m a slacker compared to many of my friends who are bursting with blessings. Instead, I kept quiet and used every ounce of self-control to keep the tears at bay and to steady my voice as I spoke.
Yes, I suffer from sleep deprivation, feeling like the odd woman out or the old woman in the shoe with so many children she didn’t know what to do. I feel inadequate at times, overwhelmed, fearful, But I’m afraid to admit it. Healthy moms of healthy children who have a house over their heads and all the comforts they could desire don’t feel like they should ever have anything to complain or grieve about so when they do have a less than perfect day, not only do they feel sad and overwhelmed but they feel guilty for feeling that way. We don’t want to complain of feeling persecuted when there’s bride burning and other horrific things happening in the world.
Our children are our blessings. Our husbands our rocks. In the United States, we (mostly) have the freedom to practice our faith. We have enough money to pay the bills. Ergo, we have no right to lament when the toilets overflow and flood our basement because at least we have modern plumbing. We better not ever resent those nocturnal children of ours and our interrupted sleep because at least we have healthy children. And don’t you dare admit that your preschooler sometimes drives you crazy with her irrational requests. Don’t sweat the small stuff – like the new glittery-pink graffiti a child added to one of the few pieces of new furniture in your home. People are more important than things, after all. And is another potty mishap – maybe a nuclear diaper or a puddle of pee on the couch – really that big of deal?
Yes, sometimes it is. For some of us mothers the call to holiness is not about enduring dire suffering in the form of abject poverty, disease, or serious religious persecution. Sometimes it’s subtle eye rolling in your direction for trusting God or buying into the “fantasy” of faith. Every day it’s a slow dying to self. It’s mopping up toilet water from the basement floor. It’s folding laundry day after day. It’s sleepless nights. It’s giving up blogging or any other hobby to make more time for your family. It’s being proud of the small village you’re raising and overseeing on a daily basis.
Do you know what women inspire me the most? They’re not the moms who pretend they love every minute of being a wife and mother. They’re not necessarily the moms who flaunt enviable domestic prowess. They aren’t the moms who have half a dozen children or more and make it look easy. They’re the moms who aren’t afraid to show you that it’s hard. They are the moms whose children might go out in public looking like ragamuffins because combing unruly hair is less of a priority than reading lots of storybooks or being responsive to a needy baby. They are the moms who, though they stumble, rise with grace and continue to put one foot in front of the other even when they’re tired, frustrated, or frazzled. They’re the moms who say with their lives, “This is tough, tough, tough work, but it’s worth it. I love my kids more than life itself, but they sometimes drive me nuts. I feel overwhelmed some days. I’m scared sometimes and question things, but in the end I trust. I can’t do it all, and I won’t pretend to. But whatever I do try and do I will try to do well. And when I don’t do anything well, I’ll sometimes sit on the kitchen floor and cry a good cry before getting back up again and finding my own brand of holiness in sweeping a messy kitchen floor while holding a cranky baby.”
They are the moms who accept where they are and what they are. They’re not always hauling around big, obvious crosses, but they do sometimes suffer nonetheless. And they recognize that each moment in their life – whether they enjoy it or simply must endure it – is “best and holiest thing”* that could happen to them. They are not flashy heroes, but they do practice heroic virtue.
They are rooted in love; they are rooted in God. And when the messes, exhaustion, wayward children, plumbing malfunctions, and profusely shedding dogs seem too much to bear, they’re not afraid to cry out and ask for help.
This post was not only inspired by a tough day in the trenches but also by this quote in Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s newest book Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women:
“What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us. Every moment we live through is like an ambassador who declares the will of God, and our hearts always utter their acceptance. We can find all that is necessary in the present moment….At every moment God’s will produces what is needed for the task at hand, and the simple soul, instructed by faith, finds everything as it should be and wants neither more nor less than what it has.”
Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade* (1675-1751), as quoted in Chapter 7: In My Struggles
About the book: Donna-Marie marbles plenty of personal stories into this encouraging volume and closes each chapter with discussion questions as well as a prayer. Rooted in Love is a gentle invitation to embrace your calling as a Catholic woman.
My Advent gift to you is a chance to win a copy of the book. Leave a comment below to enter to win. Contest ends December 15th at 8 pm EST. If you share this post on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll glean additional entries. Please leave a comment for each separate action so if you share on FB and Twitter, leave three separate comments (one for your general entry, on for FB, and one for Twitter).
Follow Donna-Marie along her Rooted in Love blog tour by visiting the book’s website.
To learn more about Donna-Marie, please visit her main website.