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.