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Suffering the Sleepless Nights of Motherhood

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Recently, a notification popped up on my phone’s calendar app: A year ago on that day, my youngest child slept 6.25 hours. High five! 

She would have been just two weeks old at that point, and that would be the best that any of my children have ever slept in the first year of their lives. Looking back, it seems her awesome sleep performance peaked that day. In fact, between molars and learning a bunch of new skills at once, from walking to talking to making the most adorable kissy noises, my littlest one hasn’t sleep in, ohhhh, six weeks, give or take.

Growing up, my mother advised me never to think too much about anything while you’re tired. Sage advice. Except what do you do when there’s no sleep in sight? No one really prepared me for that, and the suffering that I’ve felt by being chronically tired has been both immense and intense.

Suffering is a topic that has driven many a person away from God. They wonder how an all-loving God could allow the big awful things to happen, the sudden deaths, the horrible medical diagnoses, the car accidents. But suffering pervades our earthly lives in tiny ways, too. In fact, it’s mostly in these ways that we experience suffering - the irritating comment made by a family member, the engine refusing to turn over when you’re already late to an appointment, the excruciatingly slow pace children suddenly take on whenever it’s time to leave to go anywhere, a debilitating lack of sleep. 

It becomes crucial, then, to understand why God allows suffering, or at least to understand as much as we can and trust in the mystery of it, and then, of course, to let God in to help.

To say it briefly, we can’t know why God lets this suffering happen or this amount of pain to exist. That belongs to His grand beautiful exquisite and extraordinarily complex plan. But we can trust that God is a loving, merciful Father who allows some amount of suffering so long as an even greater good can come of it. We can picture it easily if we envision a parent taking a child to the doctor for an inoculation. Yes the child will suffer, but the parent knows, while the child can’t quite understand, that in allowing the pain of the needle’s prick and the next day’s sore muscle, greater suffering is avoided and the child will be more likely to enjoy better health. Apply this to Almighty God and we can begin to accept why we are allowed to feel the pain that we do.

And pain we certainly will feel. On both the macro and micro level, we and the world at large are broken and sinful. An unfortunate and continuing side effect of this reality is suffering. Mothers know this acutely, interiorly and in the suffering we feel by proxy with the sensitivities we naturally assume towards our children and our spouse.

One of the greater goods that can come from allowing pain in our lives is an increase in creaturely dependence, that is, the dependence we develop, creature-to-creature, as well as creature-to-God. 

During these sleepless weeks, I’ve had to rely more on friends and family to help. A friend has babysat for me so I could run errands without so many extra people to shuffle in and out of stores. I’ve said yes to the imperfectly completed chores that my husband has offered to do. It has been good for me to rely on them, and it has been good for them to be allowed to help me. It fosters better community, better relationships, better understanding of charity and mercy. 

I’ve also depended more on God. The prayers have been ongoing and constant. “Help!” “Please” and “Thank you” have been dispersed among rosaries and novenas. I continue to pray for the intercession of the saints. St. Jude and St. Rita, patrons of impossible causes, have put me at ease. St. Gianna Molla has walked alongside me.

The suffering will continue. Once the baby begins to sleep again, there will be another kind of suffering. After that subsides, another. God didn’t promise us complete and total happiness in this life. That, He saved for eternity with Him in the Beatific Vision, but in the meantime, I can embrace the suffering He allows, trusting there is some greater good that will come from it, even if I can’t see it through bleary, tired eyes. 

Woman of Worth

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Proverbs 31 is one of my favorite passages in scripture. In fact, it’s the only page I have dog-eared in my bible. There are a multitude of reasons I love this passage, but right now, when I have a tendency to busy myself with things, and then feel guilty about neglecting silent prayer, this passage gives me new light. This “Poem on the Woman of Worth” shows a woman who is uniquely prepared for Jesus’ coming, not only by working industriously to multiply the gifts God has given her, but also her humility in serving others.

This final week of Ordinary Time is preparing us for the end times, allowing us to assess our hearts’ readiness for Jesus’ second coming. Sometimes in this season we can feel inadequate. We think we are not ready to meet Him face to face. In fact, last week I asked our middle school Emmaus small group teens if they thought they would be ready if Jesus came today, and not a single one said yes. While this is a good reminder that we can always improve, sometimes I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Personally, I think these teens, and many of us adults, are ready. God has given us gifts to multiply and as long as we don’t bury them in the sand, but rather try our best to grow them for the sake of His kingdom, I believe He will be waiting for us with open arms when we reach the gates of heaven, exclaiming “Well done my good and faithful servant!”  

So I encourage you, instead of allowing this fear of the Lord’s second coming discourage you, allow it to inspire you to uncover those gifts that maybe you have buried, dust them off, and get creative with new ways to make them grow. Then you will be industrious in the ways of the Woman of Worth, knowing your deeds have sung your praise.

 

Good Intentions

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As I read about the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins I was reminded of formation. We were told to keep our priorities in order. As deacons we would need to balance our spiritual life, our family, our jobs, and our ministry; in that order. Failure to maintain the proper balance in any one of these areas would certainly lead to failures in the others.

In the third year of formation I was struggling to see my children and grandchildren. I was getting my work done, completing all of my assignments and placements for formation, but I wasn’t able to spend much time with the people most important to me. I remember deciding that on Sunday afternoons I would spend time with family, regardless of the status of work or diaconate studies.

Sunday after Sunday I visited my children and grandchildren for four to five hours. We would play, chat, have dinner, and enjoy each other. Much to my surprise, all of the work still got done.

As I reflected on today’s reading I realized that I don’t recall Jesus ever telling us to buckle down and just get things done. Rather he asks us to be compassionate, to be loving, to be kind, and to care for our brother. It's our broken nature that says I will have time for “insert whatever relationship we are putting off” in the future.  Unfortunately, there really is no future. We are all moving through time. Time we can never get back. The wise virgin realizes this and takes care of what is most important right now, while the foolish virgin puts it off with the intention of accomplishing it in the future, a future that may never come. The question for all of us is are we the wise or foolish virgin?

 

 

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