There is a tradition, strong among spiritual writers, that we will not advance within the spiritual life unless we pray at least an hour a day privately. I was stressing this one day in a talk when a lady asked how this might apply to her, given that she was home with young children who demanded her total attention. “Where would I ever find an uninterrupted hour each day?” she moaned. “I would, I am afraid, be praying with children screaming and tugging at my pant legs.”
A few years ago, I might have been tempted to point out to her that if her life was that hectic then she, of all people, needed time daily away from her children, for private prayer, among other things. As it is, I gave her different advice: “If you are home alone with small children whose needs give you little uninterrupted time, then you don’t need an hour of private prayer daily. Raising small children, if it is done with love and generosity, will do for you exactly what private prayer does.”
Left unqualified, this is a dangerous statement. In fact, it suggests that raising children is a functional substitute for prayer. However, in making the assertion that a certain service- in this case, raising children- in fact can be prayer, I am bolstered by the testimony of contemplatives themselves.
Carlo Carretto, one of our century’s best spiritual writers, spent many years in the Sahara Desert by himself, praying. Yet he once confessed that he felt that his mother, who spent nearly thirty years raising children, was much more contemplative than he was, and less selfish. If that is true, the conclusion that we should draw is not that there was anything wrong with Carretto’s long hours of solitude in the desert, but that there was something very right about the years his mother lived an interrupted life amid the noise and demands of small children.
Certain vocations, such as raising children, offer a perfect setting for living a contemplative life. They provide a desert for reflection, a real monastery. The mother who stays home with small children experience a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is certainly monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centers of social life and from the centers of important power. She feels removed. Moreover, her constant contact with young children gives her a privileged opportunity to learn empathy and unselfishness.
Perhaps more so than even the monk or the minister of the Gospel, she is forced, almost against her will, to mature. For years, while she is raising small children, her time is not her own, her needs have to be put unto second place, and every time she turns around some hand is reaching out demanding something. Years of this will mature most anyone.
By Ronald Rolheiser
“The mother who stays home with small children experience a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is certainly monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centers of social life and from the centers of important power. She feels removed.”
As I read that for the first time, I began to cry, not out of sadness for myself but out of relief! Not that I have never been encouraged for what I do, but hearing Rolheiser say those words was like being acknowledged for how I felt and being told “it’s okay!” He really opened up my eyes and I clearly understood those feelings are all part of being a mother. When we take those feelings into prayer we are able to be the mothers God intended us to be.
I am guilty of feeling sorry for myself when I feel most alone and removed from the outside world when I am home with my kids. In the past, it has made me feel a deep sadness as I try to fill that void of loneliness with something else. I have been quick to get frustrated with my children when I am just frustrated with myself. I have apologized directly to my kids when this happens because I know they just want me to be that Superhero I always saw my mom as. Moms are invincible in our children’s eyes and that is not something to burden us, rather thank God for that gift he has given to our children.
Since reading the chapter, The Domestic Monastery (thanks Dad), I now fill my void with prayer. When I feel I am too tired to “mother” I say a prayer and look at my children as God’s gift to me, it is my job to treat them as Jesus in disguise. Now instead of seeing motherhood as a task, I treat it as living a monastic life of prayer. I guarantee love and grace will overflow in your home and through your direct relationships when the trials of motherhood are observed through a different light.
God be with all of you mothers and fathers as you become the light in this world for your children.