Date: January 28, 2021
By: Jessica C.
“I would have been such a good nun!” I recently lamented to myself as I tried yet again one day to do my daily prayers, but was interrupted by the sound of something breaking. Yes – I would follow the rule of life as part of the order I had chosen, and I would be free of all of the inconsistencies that continually prevent me from getting time with God. Sure, there would have been challenges of another kind, but surely they would not be as rage-inducing as settling arguments about just whose Nerf dart knocked down a cherished Christmas ornament.
As January came upon us I – like everyone else I’m sure – wanted to kiss 2020 goodbye and make a fresh start. The newness of 2021 is like an unblemished blanket of snow just waiting for us to make a move, and we want to make it a good one – am I right? I want to pray like a nun even though I’m a mother of 5 in a busy house. I want to drink enough water every day. I want to feed my children good food, both in the physical and spiritual sense. I want to be a better wife. I want to figure out ways to cultivate the chaos of four young boys and a little girl, homeschooling, and housework, and all of the other daily tasks into a garden of loveliness. I also want it to be easy and satisfying and maybe also provide me with lots of great content to triumph on Instagram.
I think we know reality is going to hit me like a load of laundry if I don’t tone it down. Let’s start with praying like a nun. Impossible right? For me – maybe. However, to build a little more consistent prayer into my life? That might be possible.
When I was young in my spiritual journey, retreats and youth meetings were filled with messages like, “It’s easy! Just five minutes a day.” I will say that as a young person, I was fortunate enough to build a fledgling life of prayer with the encouragement of good friends and family. I wavered here and there with life’s ups and downs. As a single person, and then in my young married life, I was able to make a daily prayer time, go to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament often, and participate in at least one or two weekday Masses. I’d pray the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet while walking to class and I’d just talk to God while I was alone. My life was good and I felt like my prayer muscle was strong.
Soon though, tragedy would test that strength. Genuine loss and suffering rocked the solid foundations I’d built my life on when I was a young wife and mother. Mental illness in the form of post-natal depression crept up on me like a little monster seeking to blindfold me to the goodness that could be found in everyday things. I lost the ability to turn to God at times, and if not for His grace, my husband, and some caring friends, I might have lost my faith altogether.
It was during a time when I felt like I was drowning that I realized I needed to default back to what I’d heard as a young person; to give just five minutes a day to prayer. It wasn’t easy – we shouldn’t lie to people and say it is easy to turn to God for everyone. When pride or hopelessness gets in the way, it is hard for a person to start over. “I was so good at this before!” I’d lament privately. “Now I can’t even make it through a Hail Mary without something distracting me.” Somehow, I pushed through the fog of young motherhood and began to pray while I nursed my baby at night or bleary-eyed in the early morning. I clung to the thought of our Lord’s ultimate act of humility in becoming a vulnerable human child who needed to be fed in the same way I was feeding my son. His humility helped me to learn to allow Him to feed me while I took my own baby steps and learned to pray again. I learned in a tangible way that God wouldn’t abandon me. God was teaching me that He shows up for me through the tumultuous tides.
When I was newly pregnant with a second child and facing the loss of a parent, my instinct was to turn inward, but my previous experience taught me that that doing so would be a mistake. I clung to prayer and the sacraments. Some days it felt like grinding my teeth; unnecessary and unhelpful. It was during this time, filled with both grief and new life, that I learned the beauty of consistency. To consistently pray was a challenge, but once I figured out where it could fit, God showed me that it was as nourishing for my soul as a good breakfast is for my body to seek Him daily.
I began to pair prayer with my morning coffee. Pairing it with something I’m going to do every single day has helped me stay consistent. Often, I will tell my children, “It’s coffee and prayer time for mom. If my cup isn’t empty, I’m still praying.” Sometimes it works. I usually start with a morning offering and then the daily Mass readings. Sometimes there’s time to journal about the spiritual significance of a particular scripture. My preschoolers sidle up to the coffee table for a glimpse of what’s left in my cup, then mostly go on their merry way. If I begin the morning without this ritual, my older kids know and I hate to admit this but it shows in my mood. It makes me laugh when I am particularly ornery and they cautiously ask, “Mom, did you have your coffee this morning?” Then I retreat to my room to escape the chaos and pray that the kids won’t start fighting while I’m taking time for solitary prayer.
St. Frances of Rome famously said, “A married woman must, when called upon, quit her devotions to God at the altar, to find him in her household affairs.” Inspired by this saint, who was married though she had wanted to become a nun, I hope to build this a little more into my life. While I never desired to be nun (until now, apparently) what I find so relatable about St. Frances’s story is her desire for solitude and prayer. I have missed the prayer time I had as a single, childless person, though I know that my vocation is to seek holiness through the life of my family. Becoming friends with saints like St. Frances has borne a lot of fruit into my spiritual life. I put the above quote on my phone screen as a reminder, even if it serves just a cue to get off my phone and do the laundry.
In 2019 I read “Time for God,” by Fr. Jacques Phillippe, which I’d recommend to anyone struggling to pray. I often get distracted by the myriad of tasks to complete, the charms of social media, the book I’m reading, or my own melancholy, but the principles I learned from Philippe’s book come back time and time again. For example, he writes about whether it is good enough to simply pray during our day’s work:
"Someone who believes he loves his wife and children despite having a very active life, but who cannot find time to be one hundred percent available to them, may be kidding himself. Without that free space, love will soon be stifled. Love expands and breathes in an atmosphere of free giving. We must be able to waste time for another person. We will gain great benefits from that “waste”: it is one of the realities signified by the Gospel word “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39)"
It took sitting down to write this to make me realize how much God has taught me in my search for time for Him. I’ve learned that He shows up in the hard things; that sometimes one must start again at the beginning, that He feeds me each day, and that He wants to be even more present in the life of my home. As I ruminate on what that might look like in 2021, I take inspiration from St. Frances of Rome and contemplate what her words mean for me. Where can I seek him in the heart of my home? What does 2021 look like for He and I? We can’t know that we’ll fulfill our New Year promises and we can certainly be filled with doubt, but one thing is certain: God will fulfill His promises for us this year.