Confessions of a Restless Heart

I have a confession to make: I don’t always enjoy cuddling my children. I like think of myself as a huggy person; but motherhood has taught me that I’m also an extreme introvert and that being depended on by three little people all day every day from the time I wake up till the time they go to sleep can strain my resources to the breaking point.

Sometimes it’s all I can do to let them sit in my lap for fifteen minutes while every fiber of my being wants to scream: GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE! No, I don’t scream or dump them on the floor. I let them snuggle close to me and take from me the comfort that they need. But inside I’m writhing in discomfort. The screaming feeling doesn’t go away. I just suppress it for those fifteen minutes (or two hours or however long they need) for the sake of my children.

Still, sometimes I feel like a terrible mother because shouldn’t I be able to enjoy this special time with children who all too soon will be too big to want to sit in my lap?

This isn’t a post about mothering, though. It just occurred to me this morning that the struggle to sit still and hold my needy child is a perfect metaphor for what my prayer life often looks like.

I often don’t want to sit down to pray. Sometimes every fiber of my being wants to scream: NO! I’d rather do just about anything else rather than sit still for the fifteen minutes it takes me to read through one of the hours of the divine office. Still, I do it. That screaming feeling doesn’t go away. I just suppress it for the fifteen or so minutes it takes me to finish the prayers.

I feel like a terrible Christian, though, because shouldn’t I long to spend time in the presence of my God?

Motherhood as a vocation stretches me to grow beyond my own selfish desires. It teaches me to carry on acting in a loving manner even when my heart rebels. And in turn mothering teaches me to pray. I learn that giving my child that precious time with me is a gift I can give. Perhaps, though they don’t know it—I hope they don’t ever sense how I feel!—those cuddles when I don’t feel it are a hundred times more valuable as a gift than the snuggles I give wholeheartedly.

Likewise, those minutes I give to God when my mind and heart are restless and the prayer seems to be empty and hollow as I think of everything under the sun except the words that my lips say… perhaps those are a hundred times more valuable to him than the prayers I give him wholeheartedly. Prayer stretches me. Its value lies not in what I get but in what I give.

Sometimes I feel that a grudging gift is an unworthy gift. Sometimes I feel like a terrible person because I don’t put my whole heart into the prayers, because I’m just going through the motions, mouthing the words, skimming the lines while I. Just. Can’t. Wait. For. This. Torture. To. Be. Over. But even when I’m merely paying lip service; I am telling God that I have decided to give him my time. It’s a pathetic little gift but surely fifteen minutes here and there from my day are better than ignoring him completely.

God, today give me the strength to persist in love, to persist in prayer, to give even when giving feels like a torment.

6 Responses to Confessions of a Restless Heart

  1. Melanie Bettinelli December 27, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    Thanks, Dorian. There is definitely something magical about having a little baby squirming about inside of you while you hear the proclamation of the Incarnation. He gave a mighty kick that made me leap at one point in the middle of Midnight Mass.  Did you know that this is my fourth time being pregnant at Christmas? And baby Francis, who I miscarried was conceived at Christmas.

    Merry Christmas to you and all the Speed family.

    scotch meg,

    Likewise we spent some time Skyping with my parents and brothers in Texas.  How sad that your son couldn’t make it home; but being able to have a video chat it is definitely a blessing when you are far away from your loved ones at the holidays. I love the idea of carrying the computer from room to room so you can share the day.

    I stared receiving on the tongue when Bella was born and it definitely makes things easier with little ones. We usually try to stand in the priest’s line as well as he always gives the children a blessing (and is less perturbed by distributing on the tongue).

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  2. Jennifer December 27, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    What beautiful photos!  My son was sitting on my lap as I read and wants to play with your son now.
    I agree on the disconnect between Bible and history.  I think it’s taught that way and some people (me) never really mesh the two timelines in their heads.  I’m working on it.

  3. patrice December 27, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Lovely – Merry Christmas !!  Snow day for my husband today too – makes the Christmas feast so wonderfully long.  We’re playing lots of board games – lost our power last night and it was so nice to sit and talk by candlelight. 

  4. Dorian Speed December 27, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Merry Christmas, Melanie! I loved reading this and seeing your beautiful photos. There is something magical about being pregnant at Christmastime. I am glad to hear you are all doing well and can’t wait to “meet” your new little one.

  5. Valerie December 27, 2010 at 2:06 am #

    Blessings of the Christmas season to you, Melanie, and a bright New Year. Thankyou for your writing and photos. – from Valerie in New Zealand.

  6. scotch meg December 27, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    Merry Christmas!  What a beautiful day, and what a beautiful essay.

    Here we were a little sad that our son in the Marines couldn’t make it home for Christmas, but he was not on duty and spent most of the day with us via Skype.  We carried the computer around from place to place and included him in the activities and conversation of the day.

    Just a tip about Communion with Mom-fixated small children.  I got into the habit of receiving on the tongue because it allowed me to gently hold my children’s hands, thus preventing both grabbing motions and crying because of being left behind.  To tell the truth, during my husband’s medical training years, I didn’t have the option of leaving a child in the pew because he couldn’t attend Mass at all on many Sundays.  What started as an act of desperation quickly became the easiest way to receive Our Lord reverently and without distraction.  I’d be interested to hear if it works for you also.

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