Faith Alive, No. 19, Part 1: Motherhood and spirituality

This meme accompanies Part 1 of Faith Alive! No. 19. CNS illustration; photo by Bob Roller

“Lord, give me strength.”

This has been my mantra of late, every morning when I start to hear the first whines and cries from my 17-month-old around 5:20 a.m.

“Lord, give me strength.”

My swollen body aches, my hips annoyed at the extra strain of a pregnant-again belly. Slowly, I find a way to roll over and push out of bed to start the day.

“Lord, give me strength.”

It’s the prayer I recite at 2 a.m. when my teething toddler can’t sleep and needs to snuggle on my shoulder. Not Daddy’s … just mine.

I always said I admired the strength of mothers before I was blessed with my firstborn. I knew that motherhood was going to be hard work, that it must take a special kind of energy to run around after little humans and also manage to somehow take care of yourself.

And then after the “rugrats” become self-sufficient, to be able to have the stability to stand by and let them grow into themselves and one day become adults.

The Book of Proverbs says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (31:25).

I have been blessed to witness to this type of resilience in my own mother. While I don’t remember much about those early years of chasing my siblings and me around, I do know what a heart swollen with pride looks like as a mom watches her child accept a diploma, walk down the aisle or hold her firstborn.

My mother — boxes of tissues in hand — once drove overnight from Chicago to New York so she wouldn’t miss either graduation of me or my brother who happened to be receiving degrees the same weekend.

To reference Proverbs above, it’s been six years and while she’s laughed about other memories, I’m not sure she’s at the laughing stage yet for the graduation debacle.

It wasn’t until after Brendan was born that I came to fully recognize how much that motherly strength came from God. Perhaps it’s because as mothers we get to experience a God-like love for our children. God loves us, each and every one, for who we are.

He accepts our faults, celebrates our successes and is there to meet us when we fail. I know that the same goes for me and my two children, and any other children I may be blessed with. I will always love them unconditionally, as God has and always will love me.

Praying for strength each day may sound like a pathetic plea for help. But it’s where I have found my spiritual life to be most days.

I admit at times in the last year and a half I’ve been so wrapped up in life — in overnight nursing sessions, in endless laundry, meal planning, diaper bags — that I have not turned to God for more than just to simply ask for a little boost to help me survive the day.

Before motherhood, my prayer life certainly looked different. It was a bit more outwardly focused and more often went beyond myself and the care of my son. Now that I have a mobile child, I can’t say I’m always as focused during Sunday Mass as I used to, or should, be.

The Book of Deuteronomy says, “Be on your guard and be very careful not to forget the things your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart as long as you live, but make them known to your children” (4:9).

Despite the struggles and times when I plead for strength, there are even more moments when I can smile and laugh in awe and wonder at the life God has created for me.

In the early weeks of motherhood, when Brendan slept almost all the time, daily Mass was a refuge. I could go and sit in the chapel with a small babe sleeping soundly on my chest and pray. I could close my eyes, silently cry and marvel at this little life God had blessed me with.

That marveling continues, though usually there are fewer tears involved. Recently, I came home late from work and heard a commotion in our basement. I went downstairs and found my husband lifting weights while my son danced along to the workout music.

It was one of the most beautiful and happy moments of my marriage. I just sat and watched for a few minutes as the two of them enjoyed their evening together in our warm and comfortable home.

This, by the way, is what I need all that strength for. So I can, as Deuteronomy says, teach my children about the wonders of God’s love. So I can teach them to relish even in the small moments of life and appreciate that they are all gifts from God.

Every time we laugh together or go for a walk in the woods or find ourselves dancing in the basement, these are treasured memories and gifts. I just hope God keeps granting me the strength to be able to enjoy them too.