Pondering Motherhood and the Vocation of Ordinary Life

Pondering Motherhood and the Vocation of Ordinary Life

[This is draft #2. I thought I’d posted draft #1 Monday night but come Tuesday evening I discovered that it was not on my blog. Gone into the ether. I ranted and raved and then began to pick up the pieces. But I don’t think this version is as good.]

Have you ever noticed how sometimes it seems that suddenly you find different variations of the same theme everywhere you turn? One of them would probably would have been enough, but it’s as if God really wants you to pay attention. I’ve been pondering some beautiful words shared by some of my favorite women the past few days. These words have touched my heart and have been an answer to some prayers. I thought I’d share them with you too.

First, Emily at Back Bay View ponders finding the extraordinary in ordinary life:

My friend made the point that while everyone longs for happiness and wholeness, for intense emotions, the Romantic believes he must escape his current condition to find them, leave behind the fetters of ordinariness, while the Christian believes they will only be found in union with God. So desiring to escape for the Christian should be a desire for freedom from his condition of selfishness, not from domesticity. The journey is more interior, and intimations of this union are found in the beauty of the ordinary things all around him.

To this Emily adds a couple of quotes that really spoke to me:

The January Magnificat editorial by Peter John Cameron, OP, addresses this:

�One of the biggest temptations of daily life is to think that our circumstances are against us. We presume that the reason why we are not happy is because we have been saddled with circumstances that make happiness impossible � circumstances that conspire against us. But then how can Saint Paul say, �I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong� (2 Cor 12:10)?�

Fr. Cameron answers this with this quote from Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ,

�What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us. . . . You are seeking for secret ways of belonging to God, but there is only one: Making use of whatever he offers you. Everything leads you to this union with him.�

I know I fall victim to that thinking all the time: if only this were different or that, then I could be a better person. More organized, more patient….

Then Jennifer at Conversion Diary shares some thoughts on the virtue of fortitude in ordinary life from In Conversation With God, a book of daily meditations:

We have to [pray] to be strong, not only in difficult circumstances which are out of the ordinary, such as persecution, martyrdom, or a serious and painful illness, but also in the normal events of each day: being constant in our work, smiling when we don’t feel like it, or having an affectionate, pleasing word for everyone.

We need fortitude in order not to give way when we are tired, or feel lazy, or don’t want to be bothered. We need it too, to overcome our fear of fulfilling difficult duties, etc. “By nature man fears danger, discomfort, suffering,” [John Paul II wrote]. “Therefore it is necessary to seek brave men not only on the battlefield, but also in hospital wards, or by the sick bed of those in pain,” in the ordinary tasks of everyday life.


Mothers frequently have to practice fortitude discreetly and normally in a pleasant, patient way. They will then be the solid rock on which the whole house rests.

Oh somehow I’d never really pondered the virtue of fortitude. Or not thought of it in terms of the daily little things. I’ve been focusing on patience; but I wonder if focusing on fortitude might not be more productive. I’m going to keep reading this and thinking on it.

And then at the always beautiful evlogia, I discovered a real Treasure:

My spiritual father often reminds me that mothers must learn to be creative in prayer. It’s a matter of taking utter chaos and, by God’s grace, using it to affect the ordering one’s heart. This is the creativity of motherhood. Nursing a sick child in the middle of the night becomes an opportunity to keep vigil. The repeated interruption of a meal in order to serve a hungry child becomes an opportunity to fast. An overflowing basket of laundry becomes a reminder to pray for each member of the family as each piece of clothing is folded and put away. Little ways to capture grace in the smallest of moments.

I spent the first decade of motherhood waiting for a moment of quiet. As soon as the children are older, I can pray. As soon as the house is clean and organized, I can be at peace. As soon as we get through this trying time, then I can be the kind of wife and mother that I truly want to be.

Always missing the opportunity to engage the present moment and instead, living for an imaginary one.

The older I get, the more the present moment becomes a treasure hunt. Where is it? Where is the grace of this moment? God is here. Where is He in this moment? While I used to hunt for quiet, I now spend my time as a mother learning to listen amid the noise and have made it a practice to creatively search for any opportunity to catch a brief spiritual word of encouragement.

It’s amazing how much better you can hear the quiet of God’s voice when the noise of one’s complaining ceases.

Oh so many quiet words to ponder, a map to a real treasure hunt that I long to embark on.

Finally, at Faith and Family Live, I find Sippy Cups for Christ:

�As surely as you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me.�

That�s how the reading ends, and as I heard the words, I grasped for just one ravishing moment the sheer scandal of the Incarnation, so wondrous and devastating in its particularity. The mystery we have just celebrated at Christmas means not one thing we do on earth will ever have the same meaning again. God walks among us, and whether the hand stretched out in need belongs to a starving beggar or a member of our own dear family, we make our response to Emmanuel Himself.

As Dorothy Day once wrote, �it is no good to say we were born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ.� He is here, now, and as in Matthew 25, He seeks to purify our human notions, even our most cherished ideals, about what it means to love God.  Every moment, every action, can be given to Him, for all are freighted with stupendous significance: a chance to serve Him in the flesh.

I wrote something myself about performing the corporal works of mercy in the heart of my home, changing diapers for the Christ Child. And yet I constantly need a reminder. It is so hard to keep my eyes on the goal and not to get tripped up by every little bump and ditch on the path.

And then one last piece that was not in the original post, but another bit of the puzzle, from my dear friend the Philosopher Mom who is so often on the same page as I am:

But of course, the vocation to be at home with the children is—in God’s infinite wisdom—not about me fulfilling my vision of the perfect wife and mother. Most of the time, it’s about learning to hear, to see, to worship the face of God in the littlest things and most inconvenient circumstances. Finding the rhythm and peace of prayer happens not in the schedule of monastery bells, but in that total surrender to and refusal to rebel against his voice in the children’s voices.

Another big help has been the discovery of Mid-Day Prayer, the continuation of “my” lost Morning Prayer. Oddly, I’ve never regularly prayed the daytime Psalms of the Divine Office, but Bella calms down enough in the afternoon for me to slip in a few of them before her sister gets up.

Funny thing: They tend to say the same thing. Either: “Lord, I really need you right now”; or: Lord, I screwed up, but I’ve looked myself over and decided to return to your ways.”

Exactly what a mother needs in the middle of her day.

For some time the mid day psalms really bugged me. I’m not sure why but I found them a stumbling block. Then I found a commentary on psalm 119 (which appears almost every day) and it opened my eyes to the beauty of that office. I should find that commentary if I can and post some excerpts. But the Philosopher mom puts her finger on exactly why the daytime office is so good.

These days I alternate during nap time between the Office of Readings and the daytime psalms, depending on whether I feel like I’m about to collapse or whether I need a greater dose of wisdom from the longer readings. Either way it does make a huge difference to my days and to the flow of the week as a whole if I snatch a chance to pray even a little bit of the psalms in the middle of the day.

I know I had some grand thoughts to tie all these together and make them my own. But they are gone, fled. So here it is, a little scrapbook that I can return to when I need another reality check.

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