How Benedictine Spirituality Changed the Way I Mother

Last spring  came out. It’s a memoir about prayer and motherhood and how the Rule of St. Benedict gave me permission to move toward a new sort of relationship with God: one where grace weighs heavier than my ability to be impressive.

These past few months I’ve been answering interview questions about my book, particularly, “how do you practice Benedictine spirituality with your kids?” or “how has Benedictine prayer affected the way you parent?”

These past few months I’ve also been potty training.

I’ve been cheering on my three-year-old in various toilets around San Francisco. I’ve been having conversations that sound like this: “I think you’re a big enough boy to wear underwear to school today!”

Or “You know, I’m pretty sure that you don’t even need diapers anymore!”

Or “Are you so proud of yourself? What a big kid you are!”

And there have been tears. He doesn’t want to wear underwear to school. He doesn’t want to try again in the potty. But, yes, he is more proud of this potty thing than of anything he’s ever done. He knows he’s choosing it. He knows he’s taking some risks here.

When my oldest son was potty training the tears were mostly mine. I forced him into underwear. I pushed the process on him. I wanted to check it off my list.

It’s amazing how my spiritual life mirrored my mothering life. Complete the tasks. Don’t screw up. Serve the right way. Lay down hard lines. Fail. (I always felt like I was failing.)

I have a feeling that the kind of parent we are will always mirror how we believe God sees us. The gift of the past three years in my life has been the process of letting grace sink into me. Even though I believed in grace before, it always existed underneath my internal spiritual checklists. I was frantic to please God.

Before I could loose the spiritual anxiety in my mind I had to first believe that God’s grace was real enough to matter. That God could really want me, whether I was impressive or not.

What has Benedictine spirituality done for my mothering life? It released me from the burden of striving. Somehow in the process of praying with monks, and reciting the Psalms in the morning, and learning to believe that God loved me and my unimpressive, everyday life, I recognized that following Jesus is not about spinning my wheels in place. It’s about living this moment, and all the moments of my life, with love.

I’m learning to release the burden of being enough for God because, miraculously, my ordinary life already matters. God is already here in it, whether or not I pray enough. Whether or not I do enough.

How has Benedictine spirituality affected how I parent? I don’t really pray all that differently with my kids than I did three years ago. I’m still sitting on our blue-gray couch early in the morning when the boys wake up. They’ll remember me there in my pajamas with my hair messed in all directions. They’ll remember me the way I remember my mom in her rocking chair in the mornings, a Bible in her lap.

The difference is in my wild mind, where God’s ruthless grace swells itself more and more into the spaces where my attempts at good works ruled before. The difference is in the bathroom where I don’t demand my toddler onto the toilet, but where I’ve learned to cheer him on. I’ve learned what matters. What matters is that my three-year-old knows he is loved and that I believe he is smart enough and brave enough and capable of wearing underwear today.

He doesn’t have to do it to prove himself to me. He gets to do it because, my goodness, wearing underwear is the best choice for his life. And diapers really aren’t going to fit him next year.

When I sit on the couch in the mornings these days, God whispers that me as well. Micha, I believe in you. You are enough. You don’t have to prove yourself to me. I want the best life for you.

Of course this sort of thing takes time, doesn’t it?  All the most important things do.

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