“Why did you do that!!!!” I cried out, as the disobedient 4-year-old climbed onto the counter and knocked off the pickle jar. It shattered into pieces on the floor. At the sound of the crash, the baby started wailing. The 2-year-old dove to the floor in an attempt to lick the pickle juice before I quickly intervened. After barricading the kids in another room, I knelt down to clean up the picklely-shards-of-glass mess. Tears immediately welled up in my eyes and flowed in streams down my face. It was the only food left in the house that could assuage my unrelenting nausea from the new pregnancy. (Who named it “morning” sickness? Better put, “all day” sickness)! I lacked the energy to pile the kids back into their car seats so that I could drive to the store for more pickles. If my 30-year-old self had told my 20-year-old self, “Some day you will weep over a shattered pickle jar,” I would not have believed it.
In that moment I yearned to hear a consoling word from someone who could really understand my heart, someone who wouldn’t laugh at me for explaining to them why life seemed so hard, (it was the last of the pickles)! even though saying it out loud sounded ridiculous. The struggle was interior.
Not long before his papacy, Pope John Paul II responded to a letter from a personal friend who had just given birth to twins. She poured out her heart to him about the new difficulties in her life as a mother. After carrying her letter with him “for several days” he wrote her:
“You were afraid that I wouldn’t be able to read your letter to the end. Well, I not only finished it but I carried its meaning within me for several days, thinking about what to reply. Today, these thoughts crystallized when I was receiving the vows of some sisters. I sense tiredness in your letter, which is easy to understand…On top of this, you always wanted to plan and do everything rationally. And here is the kingdom of irrationality, where normal activity and energy aren’t enough; you need to wait things out, some time to do nothing, and simply, patience—especially since there are two. I realized that, on the one hand, there is always a price we pay for love. On the other, thanks to God, love is returned in that price. What I mean is, the concrete challenge of love cannot be separated from Him; it is always in Him.”
The “Kingdom of Irrationality!” Wow! Did he just “get” it or what?! I try so hard to put order into the chaos: labeling clothes bins, maintaining chore charts, organizing homework folders, writing (and then losing) my paper with our meal plan for the week. I have to write it down because my foggy brain cannot remember what I purchased yesterday. I put so much energy into creating order, but the kids always seem to find a way to undo all my efforts. Dinner time at home, with its mix of crumbs on the floor, spilled drinks, crying babies, and mildly recognizable stories from the little ones is surely a great entry into the kingdom of irrationality.
But Pope John Paul saw through the chaos into its deeper meaning, as if he lifted the veil behind the workings of Divine Providence and immediately got to the heart of things: sacrifice is indeed, the “price we pay for love,” but love makes it a joyful and beautiful gift. He consoled this new mom of twins in her struggles as he reflected on the perpetual vows of religious sisters, who had given themselves “totally” to Christ. A mother’s sacrifice is how she “gives herself totally” to Christ; it is how she is consecrated to him. The promise of the cross is that each sacrifice offered in love will be fruitful. It will make a profound difference in the life of her family and in the lives of others. Sometimes, as John Paul II says, a mother just needs to be “patient,” especially with herself, or to take time to “do nothing.” Above all, we should never forget that the “concrete” demands of love, crumbs and all, cannot be achieved purely through human effort. The secret to finding joy in the midst of trial is for us to see that our life, “cannot be separated from Him.” We must see through the eyes of faith, in a way our own human eyes cannot see, that Jesus is there, with us. We can look up with a half-smile in the midst of broken glass and pickle juice and say to him, “I see you hiding there. Come and join me.” Union with Christ is how we can turn our daily frustrations into love. We could never do it alone; “it is always in Him.”
My daughter now tells me every night before bed, “Mom, I love you all the way up to the sky and all around the world and all around the moon and through all of outer space and back.” Who would not give their all to be the queen of such a kingdom?