I grew up with a dad who prays the Liturgy of the Hours, and as a result, the Church’s daily pockets of prayer have always held a special attraction for me. Perhaps when I am an older woman, I will live the kind of life conducive to praying the Divine Office, but for now, my own version will have to do.
Alone on the couch with a prayer book, I prepare for the day that lies ahead. My husband is in the shower, coffee is in my cup, and my children are still in their beds.
But not for long.
“Mama,” Gabby calls from the stairway. “Where are you?”
And so she finds me. And entertains me. With stories of her dreams – of princesses and butterflies. With demonstrations of a dance move she is perfecting – toes pointed and arms moving gracefully through the air. With questions about up-do hairstyles, painted nails, pierced ears, and the magic age she must reach before acquiring these worldly delights.
As I listen, I pray:
Give me your ears, Lord. Help me to hear in this small voice not an interruption, not something that pulls me away from you – but the very purpose for which you put me here on earth. Help me to hear a garrulous girl who is growing up, who needs my guidance, who craves my attention, and who – at least for now – values my opinion above all others. Give me ears to hear the gift that comes in her small, curious, animated, and admiring voice.
Finally weary of children telling me they are at risk for malnutrition, I pull boxes of pasta from the pantry and make my way to the kitchen to prepare lunch. A pile of school papers tall enough to make the fire marshal twitch awaits me at the counter. Greasy gunk and saucy splashes from last night’s chicken dinner greet me at the stove. I straighten the stack of papers, grab a nearby dishtowel, and wipe half-heartedly at the stove top while waiting for the water to boil.
As I wipe, I pray:
Give me your eyes, Lord. I want to see the blessing of “enough to eat” in my kitchen’s messes. Help me see the privilege of having my children at home in the piles of papers and chaos of the dining room. Show me that messes are temporary things, but the souls we are raising are forever. Help me to know that my own preferences for greater tidiness and order will be met in due time. Right now, I want to see only love.
With two of my smallest children along for the ride, I drop off one child at basketball practice, drive to the next town to drop off a second, stop at the grocery store for just a few items that somehow turn into an overflowing cart that costs $130, and then head back to the gyms to begin the picking up part of my day.
It is already dark by the time we pull into the driveway, and my head is filled with laundry to finish, phone calls to make, e-mails to write, deadlines to meet, and dinner to prepare.
But three-year-old Danny has fallen asleep. Gently, I unbuckle his seat belt, lift him from his car seat, and we make our way through the dark toward the house. The cold air wakes him, though, and he squirms, cries, and kicks.
As I hold him, I pray:
Give me your arms, Lord. I need gentle strength. Help me respond to anger with a gentle touch that soothes. I want to touch all my children in the way they need it most. Give me capable arms to hold them when they need to be held but wise ones, too, that know when to let them go. In my every touch, may others feel your love.
After dinner, cowboys take over the house. There is gunfire in the living room and a cattle roundup in the hallway.
“Settle down!” I hear myself say. “Time for pajamas!”
But cowboys don’t always listen to their mothers. And big boys sometimes grow deaf, too. Like when they are so close to beating their high score and mom says it’s time to turn that noisy thing off.
As I scold, I pray:
Give me your voice, Lord. Help me to see that the words I choose can build up or tear down. When I grow tired of repeating myself and want to give up or shout, inspire me with a better way to gain my children’s attention. Give me grace to correct fairly and inspire virtue. Help me to say out loud the things that are good and true about my children. I want to encourage them.
“Mama,” someone small speaks to me in the dark. “I need a dwink.”
I will myself from the warmth of my bed and force myself to walk through the door and down the stairs to fill a sippy cup. I return, present the gift of hydration, and lead the thirsty one back to his bed.
“Stay here,” he begs, and so for just a moment I settle down next to him.
As he sleeps, I pray:
Give me your heart, Lord. In the sleeping, breathing bodies that fill the beds of this room and the next, help me to see the preciousness of the souls you have entrusted to me. I want my heart to overflow with grace and love, joy and gratitude. Help me to know that my life in this home and my days with these children are a temporary privilege.
Teach me to see you, to feel you, and to know you in the peace and stillness of this night. Touch my heart and show me where you lie patiently waiting for me – beneath the noise and chaos, in every moment of every day.
(This is an old column of mine that originally appeared at Inside Catholic.)