Welcome to Mama:Monk’s weekly Wednesday series examining St. Benedict’s Rule and what it has meant to me as a stay at home mom. (Full disclosure! I’m no expert on Benedict or the Benedictine Order. I just love him/them and can’t seem to stop reading books that have “Benedictine” in the title.)
In my former life I traveled with the ease of a butterfly. Alighting here and there, I never needed much recovery when I moved from one spot to another.
We flew home yesterday so excited to see Chris and jump back into our routine. Today my eyes are puffy and my fridge is empty. And for an hour and a half this morning, at least one of my boys was crying.
We don’t transition well.
There’s something I realized about myself a few years ago: I need to allow myself a couple of days to grieve when I come home from my parent’s house. This is not making a statement about my happiness or my independence or the choices I’ve made. It’s just to say I miss my family and I wish I didn’t have to live life far from them, that my kids could be regulars in their family outings and seasonally themed parties. I wish I could take my 11-year-old niece out for regular “coffee” dates and go to my brother’s ministry fundraisers.
When I get home, I feel sad about those things. August was sad this morning too. He woke up knowing the babysitter was coming over for a little while and he couldn’t turn his mind off of it. He’s becoming a worrier. So he cried and cried and nothing could distract him from the thought of my absence.
I couldn’t take it. After 30 minutes of August's tears and Brooksie crying in the living room but being unattended to, I screamed, threw my hands in the air and sat on the toilet lid for two minutes covering my eyes, the background crying something like the swoosh of a white noise machine.
I prayed on that toilet lid: “Lord, help. Help. Help. I might go crazy. Help.”
Thankfully my husband was still at home getting ready for work (and able to tiptoe around me, comforting children). Though I gathered myself and walked back into the tearfest, fifteen minutes later I lost my temper again. I put August in his room and walked through the house like a lunatic waving my arms and yelling: “I can’t take this. I can’t take this.” This time, Brooksie was crying in his high chair, a fistful of sticky cheerios.
I hate the feeling of being out of control, and nothing can do it to me like the combination of sadness, tiredness, and frustration with a child who is also as sad and tired as I am.
Chris tended to August until I while I lay face down on the bed. Then I brushed my hair, changed my clothes and walked to August’s room.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper, buddy. I know you’re sad. Do you forgive me?” I asked.
“No, I don’t,” he mumbled through tears.
“Okay, but can we sit here together until we feel better?”
We sat. Then we hugged. Then he helped me make cream of wheat and snapped out of his funk. Right now, he’s playing in the front yard with the babysitter, telling her stories and pretending to be a scientist.
Sometimes at the end of the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, I can’t help but skip ahead in my prayer times to the prayers we hold for Advent. Just the thought that it’s coming is way too exciting to me.
After the cream of wheat when I sat for a moment in my room, my thoughts turning to the Lord for the first time since I sat on the toilet lid, my Benedictine Handbook held this Advent prayer: “…have no fear. Behold, your God is coming.”
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There is something beautiful about being called to the Hours for prayer. I grew up with a sense that you should pray throughout the day but what mattered most was the time early in the morning (or late at night if you were a night person) when you could be alone and intentional and committed to meaningful prayer.
I don’t regret learning that as a teenager. One of the most important things anyone ever taught me was the significance of intentional prayer, scheduled into my day.
But that sort of prayer life has some difficulty to it. There’s the feeling of failure when you miss that intentional time, the frustration that follows is tinged with guilt. There’s even more guilt when that time of prayer doesn’t seem to change you, when you walk away from God’s presence and straight into screaming children and there’s nothing in you that has carried forward kindness and grace and patience.
Benedict has taught me that there’s grace even in this: I can come back. Or, more like the prayer this morning said: “Behold, your God is coming.”
I haven’t lost my chance. I was a failure of a mom this morning. But I’m forgiven. God keeps coming to me.
The monks begin their days in silence, walk the dark hallways without a word straight into their shared chapel. There they utter the same words they begin every day with: “Oh Lord open my lips. And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”
They go from there into their own individual times of prayer, from that to breakfast. From breakfast to work. And then they come back to shared prayer. All day they go out and come back in. Benedict called that coming back to prayer "the work of God.”
And that’s what I’m offered as well. Forgiveness and opportunity. Prayer and work and prayer and work. Sometimes at the same time.
See, always, God is coming. Whether I’m the basket case on the toilet lid, my face in my hands, or the woman laughing and dancing while I make pb&js in the kitchen. There is always another chance at prayer. There is always another chance to receive from the God who comes. Again and again and again…