Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Mother's Prayer Time

Another in my series of attempts at creating workable links to writing that has appeared online. This essay first appeared in Canticle magazine about five years ago, and later on Catholic Exchange. I wrote it seven years ago, when Anne-with-an-e was 6, and Betsy was 4. My children were old enough that I could (and needed to) get back into a schedule of prayer. But, if I could change one thing about this essay, I would remind mothers that there are seasons in their lives wherein "scheduled prayer" is nigh impossible. Pregnancy, newborns, illness ... all can lead to times when prayer is offered up (desperately, it sometimes seems) only in the carrying out of our duties at mothers. Walking the floor at 3 a.m., rocking the screaming baby, feeding and feeding yet again ... they are all forms of prayer -- the prayer of the moment -- when given to God.

A Mother’s Prayer Time

One recent morning, I was awake long before my daughters. It was 6:15 a.m., and I settled onto the couch with my prayer book, relishing the thought of uninterrupted, fruitful conversation with the Lord. I had allowed my habit of early morning prayer to slip, and I was eager to reestablish the routine.

I began by asking the Lord to grace me, above all else, with patience on this day. “Give me the patience,” I implored, “to be the mother You want me to be.” The next sound I heard was the unmistakable creak of someone coming down the stairs. My fruitful conversation was ending already! My four-year-old peeked around the corner and asked, “Mommy, can I have some pancakes?”

“Yes,” I sighed, setting down my prayer book. “Would you like them to be green or purple?” Our family has a long tradition of colorful breakfasts.

“Green!” she shrieked, and ran full-force to meet and tackle me with a hug. The day had just kicked into high gear.

As I dropped food coloring into the batter, I rued the loss of my prayer time. I’d been looking forward to meditative, meaningful prayer and had barely begun before the interruption. “There was just that prayer for patience,” I thought, and was suddenly struck by the realization that the Lord had directly and powerfully answered my prayer. The moment I asked for patience, He gave me the chance to exercise it. Oh, how careful we must be about what we ask for! He sometimes has a much better sense of humor than I’d like Him to have.

I had to laugh at myself, and at my impatience over the interrupted communion. What better way, at that moment, could I convey how much I love Him than to put my daughter, the child He gave me, first?

This is not to say that as mothers we don’t need quiet, contemplative time to be in touch with our Lord. Most assuredly, we do. There must be time to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31) but it will not always be as we envision or schedule it. We are not in control of exactly when and how the Lord will come to us in “fruitful conversation”, the thing for which I was so longing. He, being the Father of all fruits and the director of every conversation, will in the end determine the depth of our prayer lives.

But we, too, must play our parts. He cannot imbue our prayer lives with meaning if we don’t keep the appointments we make with Him. When I let my early morning appointment fall by the wayside, I felt the loss and was all the more eager to have prayer on my terms the day I chose to reestablish the meeting time. The Lord, in His infinite kindness, quickly reminded me that our lives are not on our terms, but on His. He also reminded me that while He will always answer my prayers, He may answer them in surprising and exasperating ways. I prayed for patience, and He said, “Very good -- here’s the chance to have some.”

He always knows best how to help me grow, even when I don’t care for His methods. What I wanted most that quiet morning was “my prayer time.” What I needed most was to make pancakes, and to do it with love and surrender. What did I need the next day? To get up again at 6:00, give it another try, and see what He had in store for me.

As mothers, we often find it difficult to keep our prayer lives strong because of the unpredictability of our days. If we remember a simple guideline, both our prayer lives and our motherhood can be strengthened: our duty is to make an appointment with our Lord, and to keep it. If He allows our appointment time to be consumed by making pancakes, settling a fight, or getting a Band-Aid for a scraped elbow, that’s His choice. Our end of the bargain is to patiently, faithfully follow His lead, attending to whatever He has deemed to be the most important prayer of the moment. Sometimes that prayer will be profoundly contemplative, lifting us nearly to the heights of Heaven. Sometimes it will be as simple and earthly as showing our children we love them enough to put down a book, look into their eyes, and say, “Will that be purple or green today?”


Mary Machado said...

Thank you, from a mom needing to hear this now.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Karen, I just wanted you to know that this is one I come back to over and over and recommend to friends. I'm just copying the link to a priest friend who is trying to help mothers learn to pray. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful insight into prayer.

Karen Edmisten said...

Oh, Melanie, thank you. That means so much to me! Prayers for you, and your priest friend, and please pray for me!