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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. 

Long-suffering

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I'd like to reflect today on a small little autobiography I've read, rather a memoir, about Mother Teresa entitled “Something Beautiful For God: The Classic Account of Mother Teresa’s Journey Into Compassion” by Malcolm Muggeridge. It was published in 1974, which was important to know while reading the book. Mother was just starting to expand her charity outside the streets of Calcutta at that time. Her mission was just starting to grow. Similar to the daily readings this week. The Good News is starting to spread. Collections of the faithful are starting to take root in the cities where the apostles/disciples teach. Each small group is sharing all they have with one another as they bring people into knowing, loving, and serving Jesus. You are all doing that in your own homes right now. The Church couldn’t be stronger, in my humble opinion. Why? Because we are suffering. Long-suffering is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – it is evidence that God is alive. Suffering is meant to foster a dependence upon God. We continue to feel deeply for those around us. If we didn’t feel deeply, then that means that “we retreated so far into our egos and our flesh, put between us and Him so wide a chasm, that our separation became inexorable” (p132). We care. A lot. What we do matters, deeply. Mother Teresa lived this to her core. This is why she saw everything she did as an offering, something beautiful for God, to turn suffering into joy.

I asked our students who their favorite superhero is. Mother Teresa is certainly one of my superheroes. Her model of vocation, tenacity, compassion, and suffering turned inside out is something I strive for. While I know the poverty she encountered every day is foreign to my own experience, she reminds me that poverty exists in many forms. It is where and how we meet poverty that is the love of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I am feeling things rather deeply at this moment. A sense of helplessness that I am unable to correct despite my efforts. It is a feeling that I am not unfamiliar with but results in a level of suffering. As my superhero demonstrates, connecting to God is what helps the most. Pray. Pray unceasingly. Pray that we learn what the Lord is teaching us and never to forget the lesson.

The Path to Life

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“Lord you will show us the path of life.” This is the official refrain of today’s Psalm. It might be slightly different than what was sung, but if you look up the readings for today, this is what you will find. And what a beautiful, necessary refrain of hope we are given today!

The world is in trouble. We are all faced with struggle we could not have imagined. Jobs have been lost. Healthcare coverage lost. People are sick. Many have died. We are all going stir crazy stuck in our homes, ready for life to “return to normal.” We want, oh Lord, that sense of security and ease we had before the pandemic. We want to embrace our loved ones. But we are trapped in a cycle of insecurity and instability as the world battles to understand the nature of this virus and how best to respond.

But the Psalm today reminds us that our security is not in the world. Our security is in God. Lord, YOU will show us the path of life, not money, not prestige, not a bolstered economy or a miracle cure (important though those are). You, God, and only you are our security. You alone give us stability and peace.

The Psalmist goes on to say: “I bless the Lord who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me. I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand, I shall not be disturbed.”

In this time of great trial, suffering, and inconvenience, let us turn to the Lord as our only refuge. Let this time of instability remind us that God alone is our rock. With him fighting at our side, nothing can overtake us.

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