“Mama! Mama! Ma-maaaaa!” whined four-year-old Raphael as I changed his little brother’s diaper and quizzed his older sister on her spelling words.
“What?” I answered him hastily. “I’m listening.”
“No,” he pouted. “I want you to listen with your eyes.”
Ever have a moment when you feel like someone has taken hold of your shoulders and given you a good old-fashioned shaking? When you feel like you have just been ordered to take notice of your life? I guess I had one then.
My children are good at giving me moments like these. Not all of them are reprimands, though. Some are more pleasant encounters where they simply invite me to pause and pay attention.
Once, when Raphael was still very young, we spent a long day visiting friends and returned home after dark. It was a frigid January night, and so I bundled little him in a blanket and carried him swiftly through the cold toward the house. I might have been in a hurry, but this child certainly wasn’t.
He gazed up at the sky and sighed. “Stars,” he said dreamily.
I looked up. And took a breath.
Have you ever seen the sky on a clear January night in the middle of Nowheresville, New Hampshire? Thousands of brilliant white stars twinkled against a black velvet sky. I’m not sure I knew there were that many stars. They winked and blinked and seemed almost to dance from where they hung in that enormous dome of black.
I hugged my bundled boy close and the two of us spent a moment breathing the icy air and gazing through the darkness at the twinkling sky. I found it hard to believe that without my son’s invitation, I would have missed all this beauty.
Thank you God, I found myself praying, for this glimpse of heaven. In my arms and in the sky. Thank you for the cold that makes us seek warmth. For the darkness that makes us seek light. And for small people who remind us to stop once in a while and look upward. With wonder.
A friend of mine, a mother of seven children, recently told me of a time when she went to adoration but, once there, found herself so distracted and exhausted that she could not concentrate on prayer.
“I can’t keep up with my life,” my friend sighed in the end. “How will I ever have a relationship with God if I have to chase Him down first?”
What I think busy mothers – and distracted people of all kinds – sometimes don’t realize is that we never have to hunt God down. He’s here with us. Right here, right now. It’s just that we sometimes need to peel back the layers of our lives that we have piled on top of God before we’ll recognize His presence.
Kids are very good at helping us do that. One night not too long ago, six-year-old Gabrielle got out of bed. She stood in the dark, at the foot of my bed, and did her very best to sound confident.
“I don’t know why I can’t sleep,” she said. “But I just can’t.”
Her voice was tight and just a tiny bit trembling. In it, I heard more, “I’m scared and alone in the dark” than my growing-up girl was prepared to admit.
I took her by the hand and led her back to her bed. I pulled up her covers and then knelt on the floor beside her.
“Let’s talk about lovely things to think about as you are falling asleep,” I said.
We made a list: Tiny fairies with flowers in their hair. Ice skating on a frozen lake. Ruffled pink skirts that swirl when you spin. Hot cocoa with candy canes. Angel wings. Easter eggs hiding in small patches of snow. Babies’ first kisses. Cinnamon toast breakfast by the wood stove.
Soon Gabby had no more suggestions. Her breathing grew slow and deep.
Even after she fell asleep, though, I remained there, listening to her steady breathing and completing our list in my head. I spoke to God now, and thanked Him for the blessings He has given us. Every moment of our days should be so peaceful and pleasurable as this one, I dared to tell Him.
But then I thought that maybe they all are – beneath the noise and commotion, under the clutter and the pressures of daily living. Maybe we just need to slow down enough to dig deep, see that those moments are there, and treasure them for what they are – glimpses of God.
This is an old column of mine that originally appeared at InsideCatholic.