One gorgeous Saturday morning, I settle into my chair by the window with my coffee in one hand and Bible in the other. Palpably relieved that the house is asleep, I breathe a deep sigh and notice my shoulders dropping two inches. I am not late getting to school, work, or activities. I do not need to go grocery shopping. There is milk and breakfast food in the house. My phone is still turned off. I look at the sky, radiant with blues, oranges, yellows and pinks, and stare at the moon which has not yet receded into the atmosphere.
As I take my first sip of steaming hot coffee and open to the Gospel, I hear footsteps. Pitter patter pitter patter. Disappointment . . . then a smile. Those little feet. That adorable little person. How long will he be little? Soon he will sleep till noon like the others.
“MOM!” He glows with delight as he throws his hands out as though we have not seen each other in six months. He then rushes like a linebacker into my lap and nestles into my arms. I hug him, stroke his hair, kiss his cheek, and then tickle him. His eyes gleam with delight as his footie-pajama-clad legs thrash in the air. He laughs until tears stream down his soft cheeks. Then, as predicted: “I’m hungry.”
As has happened for twenty long years, I set down the Bible, crying out to be read, remembered, and devoured. I stand up, and shuffle into the kitchen. How I wish I could, like St. Theresa of Avila, enjoy lectio divina meditations upon the life of Christ right now. How I would love to sit in front of a tabernacle this whole morning. I pour cereal into a bowl, select a spoon from the drawer as he dangles his legs from the chair and watches my every move.
It gets worse. He freaks out about a burnt Rice Krispie. He thinks it is a bug. I try to calm him and remove it. He interrupts me helping him with “I have to go to the bathroom!” and he wiggles like he is about to have an accident. He rushes to the nearest bathroom and wets himself as he is trying to unzip his pajamas. Soon I am on my hands and knees, wiping up pee, cleaning him up, and putting on the new emergency laundry.
I wanted to pray this morning. I wanted to spend time with the Lord, remember my identity as a child of God, and draw close to him, so I can be in intimacy with the one whom my heart so loves.
When the bathed, dressed, fed little guy is sitting in front of Saturday morning cartoons, I fall back into my chair, overcome with the sense of defeat. I take a sip of lukewarm coffee and pick up the Bible once again. The Holy Spirit consoles me. For a brief time, I bask in his presence. I cling to him, adore him, and worship him. The Spirit reminds me that, while the vocation of the silent cloister and life of contemplation is a profoundly beautiful gift to the Church, so is the vocation of motherhood. As Christ emptied himself, so mothers empty themselves for the love of their children: “But [Christ] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness . . . He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him” (Phil 2:7-8).
How sublime and beautiful is our vocation that calls us to radical poverty of spirit, emptying out of ourselves, and laying down our very lives for little people who have not earned our favor, who have not merited our love. Our vocation is a life of Christ-like generosity—the gift of our time, labor, and very selves. While it is true that we absolutely need time for private and liturgical prayer, personal retreats and time away from our families to be with God, it is also true, I am reminded, that the patient and loving attention we pour onto our loved ones is, in fact, a mother’s special manner of becoming one with Christ.
This morning I did not love Christ the way I wanted to. But I remember that, instead, by the grace of God, I gave him my self-emptying. This is my calling, my vocation. This is my way of daily seeking Jesus, and daily finding him in the pattern of his cruciform life.