Am I Doing This Right? Thoughts on Prayer (Part 1)

My son recently broke his leg—what they call a “toddler fracture.”

As we shuttled him back and forth from doctors’ offices and the ER, we were trying to explain to his big sister why he needed so much help.

We like to be accurate with our kids when we can, rather than dumbing down facts for them. So we told her: “Sweetie, your brother fell in a bad way and broke a bone in his leg. We have to take him to the doctor so they can give him the bandages he needs to keep it steady and help it heal. That way, after a while, it won’t hurt anymore.”

A three-year-old doesn’t understand that beneath our skin are layers of fat and muscle, and beneath those is a bone that makes our limb sturdy but can be broken under certain circumstances. She looked at her brother’s leg and, like the rest of us, saw no bruising or swelling or blood. This was not like any “owie” she had seen before.

But toddlers are smart, and they can be excellent with context clues. She heard “hurt,” “broken,” “doctor,” and “heal” and knew what those things meant. She could see that his leg was causing him pain despite having no visible wound.

She looked at me, nodded gravely, and said “My brother’s gonna be okay, right?”

I assured her he would.

Then she promptly ran to the kitchen to get him a frozen toy—something she knew helped with hurting teeth, which likewise could not be seen but were painful nonetheless—and brought it over to him to put on his leg. In his frustration he slapped it away and she, undeterred, rubbed his back and said, “It’s gonna be okay, Byron. I’m sorry it hurts.”

And that was all she needed to know. Though she could not understand the science of his injury, she could see that he was hurting and that he needed tending. That was that.

When I think about the concept of prayer, I think about how my daughter must feel in confusing moments like this. When it comes to prayer, I’m the child—I’m the one trying to grasp a topic too deep to understand.

Prayer is Beyond Us

I heard something at a recent retreat that, intellectually, was incredibly dense: “Prayer is a conversation with God, in which we get to know Him, He gets to know us, and we get to know ourselves.”

How can prayer be like talking with God when I’m doing all the actual, verbal talking? How can I get to know Him when He doesn’t literally answer my questions or tell me about Himself? How can I get to know myself by trying to grasp what He has to say to me?

Instead of becoming discouraged by my unknowing, I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to be like my toddler: to pick apart what concepts were familiar to me and try and pull some understanding from how they all worked together in that statement. I wanted this lesson to make me better at prayer.

The truth is that, like many components of the Faith, prayer is a mystery. We aren’t able to fully understand it because we only see one small piece of the puzzle: what we experience as the Church Militant. Someday, we’ll know it deeply when we really can talk to God face-to-face and ask Him. But until then, we need to accept the unknown.

That doesn’t mean we must languish, though. There is so much fruit to be born from even the limited knowledge God has blessed us with in this life.

Try This as You Pray

During the retreat, Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin went on to talk about how the nature of prayer frightens us. It could be easy to simply ask God for the things we want, but to go further than that—to use prayer as an opportunity to examine our faith and ourselves—can be intimidating.

We don’t like to admit to, let alone study, our flaws. But, Father Sternberg said, prayer is the safest and most fruitful place to do that.

What do you pray for most often? Which seemingly unanswered prayers most disappoint you? Do you pray mostly for yourself? For your family? For strangers?

How much of your prayer life is dominated by thanksgiving? What about praise? Is prayer time your self-care, or is it a time in which you can glorify and adore your Father—or is it both?

Which saints do you invoke in prayer? What unbidden thoughts tend to come to you while you’re reciting a rosary or chaplet? What topics do you shy away from when speaking to God, and where do you think your shame comes from?

These are all beautiful questions—but they are challenging. They’re challenging to keep in mind during your prayer routines, and the answers to them may challenge your perspective on yourself.

If you have a prayer journal, write down whichever of these questions speak to you—and whichever others you come up with on your own—and revisit them immediately after concluding a prayerful moment each day. Record your answers and give yourself the grace to recognize their meaning. Uncover what’s beautiful about you. Uncover what needs work.

Then, go right back to praying and ask God for His grace to help you do that work.

Check out part two of this series for further reflections on prayer and how we can do it better!

Is Dwelling on My Sins a Sin?

I find Lent to be a difficult season, both practically and spiritually. I know it’s supposed to be challenging—it’s supposed to push us closer to Christ and his sacrificial love for us. But my appetite for fasting is weak and my endurance for “going the extra mile” is a little bit pathetic, if I’m being honest.

Aside from the (admittedly immature) struggle of selecting a sacrifice and sticking to it for 40 days, I also find Lent to be a time of unique temptation. That temptation is toward scrupulosity, and it’s sometimes enough to distract and discourage me from the healing, strength-building journey Lent is meant to be.

What is Scrupulosity?

Scrupulosity is an obsession with sin, real or imagined. A scrupulous person suffers excessive anxiety over the thought of their own sinfulness: they may be convinced they’ve committed a sin when they have not, confuse venial sins for mortal sins, or be unconvinced of God’s forgiveness for their transgressions.

Naturally, this is an exhausting and depressing affliction. A healthy sense of Catholic guilt is one thing, but scrupulosity goes beyond a well-formed conscience. It convinces us we’re doomed, or unworthy of God’s love, or failing at following Christ.

It’s a minor thing, in some ways—I’m not hurting anyone else by being scrupulous. But it is major in a significant way: scrupulosity is, at its heart, a pride-fueled rejection of God’s grace.

How is that? How can it be that a condition of borderline (or over-the-line) self-loathing is actually a condition of pride?

The truth is that scrupulosity is the Enemy’s way of convincing us that our opinion of ourselves is more powerful than God’s opinion of us. To be excessively scrupulous is to tell oneself that God’s promises of love and salvation simply aren’t strong enough to apply to the likes of us.

But that’s impossible. We are children of God, made in His image. There’s no such thing as a soul that is “not good enough.” God would never make it so. God’s love for us is far and away more powerful than our own shame—whether we let ourselves feel His grace or not.

Lent Doesn’t Lead to Our Perfection

So, how does scrupulosity come into play during Lent? For me, it goes something like this:

Step 1: Set a lofty goal of sacrifice and growth for Lent with the intention of achieving spiritual awakening and/or profound holiness.

Step 2: Promptly fail at performing the necessary steps to achieve that goal. (“Oops, I just ate meat!” or “Ugh, I forgot to say my rosary.”)

Step 3: Mentally flagellate oneself for said failure by running over the memory of that bacon and how much I enjoyed it at least 77 times.

Step 4: Ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be better from now on.

Step 5: Repeat Step 3.

Step 6: Do slightly better at performing the necessary steps to achieve the goal.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 2-5, with the addition of an extra layer of guilt that sounds something like this: “For goodness sake, I was doing so well! I just had to go and screw it up again, didn’t I?”

Step 8: Repeat Step 7 with slowly declining frequency for the next 35 days.

Step 9: Make it to Easter. Praise God and congratulate oneself for sort of hitting the right targets. Feel “spiritually grown,” if not “spiritually awoken,” and vow that next year will be better. Be inordinately relieved that my chosen sacrifices are no longer mandated as Easter is celebrated.

Step 10: Forget to ever go back to those sacrifices once Easter feasting is over.

And then repeat it all next year.

If this sounds familiar, I feel your pain as you’re going through it all again this year. I really do.

One thing I realized last year during Lent was that, by focusing on my trip-ups more than my growth, I was making Lent about me and not about Christ. I can’t honor him, meditate on his sacrifice, or give him more of my love if I’m too busy nitpicking my every behavior. To obsessively police myself on the pretense of loving him makes little sense.

The prayers I utter at every failure are less sincere if I’m busy berating myself for needing to utter them. And even in the moments I successfully resist temptation, I shouldn’t be more relieved or proud than I am thankful for the opportunity to turn my eyes to God.

The fact is, God doesn’t want our perfection—He knows us well enough to know that we simply can’t give it in our fallen state. What He does want is our attention, our sacrifice, and our generosity (that is, generosity of spirit as well as material goods).

Lent is focused on three spiritual habits: fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. All of these are expressions of sacrifice. All of them are meant to take our attention away from ourselves and put it onto our neighbors and our God.

Lenten fasting isn’t simply about saying “no” to food. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your relationship with Me more important than your physical comfort?”

Lenten abstinence isn’t about saying “no” to luxury. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your ability to resist temptation in My name stronger than your desire for worldly indulgence?”

Lenten almsgiving—all almsgiving, really—isn’t about saying “no” to hoarding our wealth or possessions. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your love for My family more significant than your love for material goods?”

Love God, Love the Church, Love Yourself

The Gospel is so full of evidence that Christ wants us to love ourselves as deeply as he loves us. We are told to “love others as you love yourself.” We are reminded of the many ways in which we can—and should—make a gift of ourselves to others. We are referred to as brothers and sisters, and told stories of forgiveness and salvation.

All of this implies that we are deeply, inherently good. That’s what God made us to be. And this life is about working to remain true to that goodness, so that we may live it out more fully in the next life.

So be obedient to God’s commandments, be true to your promises, and be good to yourself.

If you’ve stumbled during this Lenten season, confess, pray, and move forward. You can draw closer to Christ, but not on your own—and not if you’re constantly wounding yourself in your attempts to grow. Accept your imperfection and offer it up. God wants all of you, and He will help you do all the things you were meant to do.

“Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything for you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.” – St Philip Neri

Have You Seen God’s Face?

Did you know that “face” and “presence” share the same word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament? A priest—Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin—shared this fact with some young moms on a recent retreat I attended. In speaking to us about prayer and seeking the Lord, he emphasized that, to meet God, we must approach Him face to face.

That happens in prayer, but, truly and physically, we are given an earth-shattering encounter with Christ in the Eucharist during every Mass and hour of Adoration we attend.

The Eucharist is not iconographic of Christ—it is Christ. His face looks out at us from the hands of the priest at the consecration during each liturgy. Do you see it?

Real talk: sometimes I don’t. And it’s my own fault.

The Mass and My Mess of Distractions

It’s not that I don’t believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Although this truth is the deepest of mysteries, I have faith that it is the truth nonetheless. I believe it with all my heart. How could I not, when our Savior told us this explicitly?

But sometimes, I forget.

I forget that Jesus is standing before me, showing me all his love all over again, week after week during Mass.

How is that possible?

Turns out it’s easier than I ever realized.

My children are beautiful. They are perfect blessings and I’m thankful for them every day. But if toddlers can be considered specialists at anything, it’s attracting all of the attention in a room to themselves. They are tiny, sticky attention magnets.

We moms are good at multitasking. We’re good at wrangling the two-year-old before he destroys a hymnal while whisper-screaming at the three-year-old who keeps trying to leave the pew. We’re good at opening a desperately needed snack for the kids (with minimal crinkling noises) while picking up the coats they’ve knocked to the floor. We’re good at managing distractions before they become too bothersome to the people around us.

This is a noble and holy effort—this shepherding of tiny humans so that they can be part of the Communion of the Church. This is something parents are made to do, difficult as it may be.

That said, work is work. It is a cross that we bear in our vocation—yet another way we give less to ourselves so that we can give more to our children and their participation in the world.

It is not easy to be a parent of small children at Mass. And yet our work doesn’t end with the distractions while we’re there, does it? We are called to be present despite them.

Am I Seeking God’s Presence?

This is not to say that our struggle to draw spiritual nourishment each week is something we can simply set aside. It is most certainly not easy to fully participate in Mass—it’s not easy for anyone. Everyone carries their cross to the liturgy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be: Christ asks us to lay down our crosses at the altar and rest in Him.

But we aren’t so good at that. We resent our crosses and, as we carry them begrudgingly to church on Sundays, we are tempted to let them distract us. It’s all too easy to feel pestered by my children during Mass and let my mind focus on that inconvenience instead of what’s happening right in front of me.

Jesus told us that his “yoke would be easy and his burden light,” in part, not because it really is easy to live as a Christian in a fallen world, but because it becomes a lot easier if we truly believe he carries the load with us. When we focus too deeply on what’s difficult, we fall into the trap of lamenting that difficulty. We turn our faces downward to focus on our own effort and away from God.

And it isn’t just the kids, right? Given a structured hour each week to spend in quiet, following ancient rituals over which we have no control and deprived of our chosen distractions (our smart phones, a book, whatever), our unchosen distractions become louder.

Left unchecked, our minds fill with complaints (“Why isn’t my husband holding this kid right now?”), questions (“What is on my calendar for tomorrow?”), and random thoughts (“I hope I switched the laundry before we left this morning…”) and suddenly, that hour is over. Jesus is back in the tabernacle, the motions have been gone through, and we return to “normal” life.

But that’s not was Mass should be. We all know that, in our heart of hearts. It just takes discipline to keep our faces turned to God throughout that encounter—to seek His face and show Him ours in return.

When we do look up at Him—to give thanks for His love, to give glory to His might, and yes, to ask for His aid—the load really does become lighter.

Give It Up

Okay, you might be thinking, this is all well and good. I feel sufficiently guilty for not seeing Christ’s face in every second of the Mass each Sunday. But what am I supposed to do about it?

The first thing is, don’t feel guilty—we all do it. God knows it. He loves us anyway.

The second has to do with a phrase that is, admittedly, infuriatingly vague: we have to “offer it up.”

What does that even mean?

To be honest, I’m not sure if it means the same thing for me as it would for you. But here’s where I’ve landed with it.

Suffering—even small, seemingly petty suffering, as torture by toddler may sometimes feel—is not inherently bad. It is painful, yes. It is frustrating. It can be infuriating and heartbreaking. But it invites us to grow—to see beyond ourselves and our own pain and understand, on some infinitesimal level, the pain the Christ endured to save our souls and bring us home to the Father’s house.

Each moment of distraction during Mass or pain in daily life is an opportunity.

It is an opportunity we can use to our detriment, by focusing on our own hurt and drawing our attention downward to the harsh reality of this life.

It is also an opportunity we can use to our benefit, by checking our negative feelings and pausing to recognize that, yes, those feelings are valid—but Christ endured worse at no fault of his own. He humbled himself exclusively to suffer the greatest pain, just so he could bring us joy and fulfillment in the Kingdom.

So when I struggle to lift myself out of the noisy, irritating messiness of managing young children at Mass, I am going to try very hard to physically turn my face toward God. If only for a fleeting second before I have to reach out and grab one or both children, I am going to gaze at the face of Our Lord and say thank you before I turn back to the work of this world. Because in truth, I know that this work, especially, will be so fruitful. I am going to catch myself turning down toward distraction and negativity, and shift the direction of those thoughts upward—to prayer, to opening my ears to the homily in whatever snippets I can catch it, to resting in the silence of a beautiful moment in God’s house.

I am raising future saints. And, for at least an hour out of every week, I get to do that in the presence of Jesus himself. What better help is there than that? Even if I hardly hear the homily and stumble through the Gloria because I’m expending most of my brain power monitoring two toddlers, I am seeing God’s face and He is seeing mine. I am bringing Christ under my roof and he is holding me tight.

Treated respectfully and pondered thoughtfully, that’s more than enough fuel to last even the most exhausted mom a few days or a week, isn’t it?

25 Ideas for Habitual Self Care

Moms work hard. We give a lot to our families. And while we receive far more in return, it’s still important to take care of ourselves—to reenergize and choose rest where we can so that we can be better at fulfilling our vocation.

Self-care has become almost trendy, and that’s a good thing. The popularity of the practice and the near-universal recognition of its necessity help us feed our souls week to week. But we talk so much about setting aside time for this care and, sometimes, taking that too literally can lead to bad habits.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we compartmentalize this priority into a few desperately planned hours a week, which we (especially me) then expect to totally save the day when we’re running on fumes. That’s not how it works.

Instead of waiting until you’re drained, try adding a couple of these self-care habits to your routine so you can keep your tank as full as possible.

#1: When you sit down to read, aim for finishing 1-3 chapters at a time (depending on their length). It’ll be enough to excite your interest, but setting a small target will help ensure you aren’t disappointed if your reading is interrupted.

#2: Get dressed up—whatever that means to you—once a week or once a month, even if you’ll only be spending the day at home and you’re the only one who’ll notice. You are beautiful and you deserve to see it.

#3: On Monday nights, call dibs on the TV after the kids go to bed so you can watch your show(s). It’ll give you something silly and easy to look forward to on the dullest day of the week.

#4: Go window shopping whenever you’re out running errands and have some spare time. You don’t have to spend money to enjoy yourself, but once in a while, if you see something you love and it isn’t too expensive, buy it as a gift for someone you love or admire.

#5: When you’re solo with the kids and need to pass the time—especially if it’s too cold or rainy to play outside—go for a long drive to nowhere in particular. Take this time to explore a new area of the world right around the corner. You’d be surprised how beautiful things can be just a few miles over, and you might discover new things to do when the weather improves.

#6: Don’t just treat yourself to a favorite food or drink when you’re desperate—regularly nourish your body and your spirit. Barring any health concerns, try not to get hung up on “good” and “bad” foods. Food is meant to be enjoyed. Give thanks for it and feed yourself in moderation without guilt.

#7: Speaking of food, keep a stash of minis of your go-to candy in a secret place and have one, guilt-free, during the hardest part of each day (first thing in the morning, during the afternoon slump—whenever). Share when you’re feeling generous and the kids are being good.

#8: When you wash your bed linens, pull them out of the dryer and make the bed just before you lay down for the night. The only thing better than a fresh bed is a warm fresh bed. This makes the hassle of that extra load of laundry well worth it.

#9: At least twice a week, light a pretty, scented candle just because. Just for you.

#10: Commit to date nights several times a month: with your husband, with your friends, with yourself. We all need some time to just be adults. Even if this means an at-home date night after the kids are in bed, schedule it and plan a fun activity. You’ll get way more out of this intentional act than another night in with Netflix.

#11: Make a habit of sharing the load when it comes to chores, so your husband can lend you a hand with tasks your dread and you can get some perspective on what he does each day, too. For example, if you usually cook, give him dinner duty on Tuesdays. In exchange, you can vacuum for him on Fridays or cut the grass every other week.

#12: Introduce a few of your favorite (clean) musical artists to your kids. It doesn’t have to be all “Baby Shark” and “Be Our Guest.” (My kids love Ed Sheeran and The Cars.)

#13: Don’t buy all your books on Amazon. Once in a while—maybe every third book, maybe every fifth—go wander around a bookstore and take your time choosing something that delights you. More of a library person? Don’t only visit when you have the kids with you. Your library card is your own.

#14: Support local businesses with your purchases and with positive reviews. Building community and recognizing others for their hard work is a great way to fill your soul with a little extra joy, too.

#15: Once a year, write a letter to your past self. Tell her how proud you are of how far she’s come. If you’re the organized type, stash these away and reread them every five years or so.

#16: Pick up your favorite book again. Sometimes enjoying a familiar story can be like chatting with an old friend.

#17: Make gratitude a part of your routine. Begin or end every day with a one-minute reflection on what’s wonderful about this life. Hold onto that little bit of thankfulness as you go about your day or settle down to sleep.

#18: Find a hobby to engage with at least once a week. Don’t feel obligated to monetize it; not everything has to be a hustle. Just do something productive that you enjoy and see where it takes you.

#19: Fish for compliments once in a while. It’s okay to ask, “Does this look okay?” or “How did I do?” or “Did you see this thing I made?” to someone you love and trust. They can’t read your mind or predict your need to hear this positivity. Accept their kind words gracefully. They mean it, even if it took some prompting.

#20: Take up journaling, but it doesn’t have to be literal. Do you like writing but hate your penmanship? Use the computer. Love drawing but not great with words? Sketch your thoughts and experiences from each week. Have trouble sitting down to record your feelings each day? Use your phone to create audio recordings while you’re getting ready for the day or settling down for bed.

#21: Sing and dance in the shower. If not every time, at least half the time. With or without musical accompaniment.

#22: Share your time, talent, and treasure with others. Donate to causes that speak to you without second guessing the cost. At the start of each season, pick out some clothes you don’t need—the good ones, not just the stained ones—and take them to a women’s shelter. Add an extra item to each grocery list for your local food pantry. Giving is a part of who God made us to be.

#23: Never stop learning. Whether you like reading, watching videos, taking free online courses (Coursera has a ton), or attending book clubs or Bible studies, prioritize the ongoing engagement of your brain. Pursue topics that interest you and always be hungry for more.

#24: For 10 minutes out of every week, instead of scrolling through your phone, tap into your own memory. Reminisce on the innocent joy of your childhood or a difficult but formative experience. Think about loved ones you’ve lost. Keep these precious memories alive.

#25: Pray, for yourself and especially for others. Pray without ceasing, even if it’s just three words at a time (try “Come Holy Spirit” or “Lord have mercy” in moments of stress; “Thank you Jesus” or “Grant us peace” in moments of repose). It’s the best way to remember you’re loved and are never alone.

3 Ways to Be a More Childlike Parent

Following my post on why parents should strive to be more childlike in their faith and in their families, let’s take it a step further: just how are we supposed to do it? In what ways should we really be more like our children?

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14

(I’m still digging into Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar with this post. Please pick up a copy to explore if you want to go deeper.)

Emulating the Mind of a Child

Of course, I know on an intellectual level that there are many qualities to be admired in children. Their innocence, for one; their delight; their unquestioning devotion. And yet, it seems to me that so many of these qualities are either unattainable (I am a sinner beyond the age of reason; innocence is not my strong suit) or paired with not-so-desirable features (it’s easy to be delighted when the world revolves around you, but how can I savor the small things when there is so much else to worry about?).

Without doubt, there is something inexplicably beautiful about childhood. Children are a wonder to behold and their intellectual landscape is both fascinating and inspiring. But, having grown into adulthood and “[given] up childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11), how could I have any hope of reclaiming that youthful wonder for my own sake?

Reading von Balthasar’s little book opened my eyes to the many ways in which our souls are made for that childlike nature. As it turns out, becoming like a child when it comes to faith is an even holier pursuit than I imagined.

Among much fruitful insight into what “Christian childlikeness” means, von Balthasar points out a few lovely examples of the youthful qualities all followers of Christ should pursue and embrace:

1. Practice easy, virtuous giving and receiving.

On page 22 of the book, von Balthasar says:

For the child it is natural to receive good gifts, and so docility, obedience, trust, and sweet surrender are not for him virtues to be expressly achieved, but the most unreflectedly natural things in the world. This is so to such an extent that the child adopts the mother’s giving attitude unquestioningly as the right one, and he gives spontaneously when he has something to give. He shows his little treasures without hiding any of them; he wants to share because he has experienced sharing as a form of goodness.

All parents can spot this sweetness in their children. When your toddler finds something delightful or fascinating—a stone, a stick, a bug—isn’t her first instinct to share it with you? To show it to you? To give it to you (even if she expects you’ll immediately give it back)?

This is a beautiful statement on why Christians are called to be like children: we are surrounded by such profound Love that we should be in such a place, intellectually, that we can’t help but emulate it. We should always remember that “sharing is a form of goodness,” and that we can bring that goodness to the world so easily.

Of course, this also means being thankful for what we receive. Gratitude—in prayer, for others, to oneself—can be improved with maturity. We should give without pause like small children do, and give thanks without ceasing like the saints do.

2. Have unfailing trust in our Parent.

Throughout this work, von Balthasar uses examples from the Holy Family to talk about what it means to “become like this child.” In many cases, he highlights the familial relationship between Jesus and the Father as one we can, in some very important ways, recognize and emulate in our own families—and in ways we should emulate in our relationship with God.

For instance, from page 31: “In the Son, the Spirit keeps alive the unshakable trust that the Father’s every ordinance … will always be an ordinance of love, which the Son, now that he is a man, must reciprocate with human obedience.”

This is a message we hear from Christ throughout the New Testament. One of my favorite examples is Matthew 6:25-26, where Jesus says: “‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’”

For children raised in a happy home, as God designed it to be, there is simply no reason for them to doubt they will be kept safe, comfortable, and healthy under their parents’ care. They don’t fret over tomorrow or the next meal or the weather. They simply go about their day and, even in difficult or hungry or scary moments, they never hesitate to cling to their parents and wait for them to make things better—and they never, at this childlike stage, lose faith that things will be better.

How beautiful life would be if we could retain for ourselves that unshakable trust in our heavenly Father—that simple confidence that, no matter what, He will care for us and everything will be okay. If only we were as eager to please and as easy to comfort as the children we once were.

3. Adopt a playful, unworried sense of time.

One further example. In the fifth chapter of the book, von Balthasar says:

The child has time to take time as it comes, one day at a time, calmly, without advance planning or greedy hoarding of time. He knows nothing of appointment books in which every moment has already been sold in advance. … Play is possible only within time so conceived. … And only with time of this quality can the Christian find God in all things, just as Christ found the Father in all things. Pressured man on the run is always postponing his encounter with God to a ‘free moment’ or a ‘time of prayer’ that must constantly be rescheduled. … God defines himself as ‘I am who I am,’ which also means: ‘My being is such that I shall always be present in every moment of being.’

I’m not sure what’s harder to achieve in my life today: that absolute trust in God’s will, or this utterly unstructured treatment of time.

Certainly it’s impossible to completely de-compartmentalize our time as adults. Anyone who works full time, goes to school, has household responsibilities, pursues personal hobbies, or otherwise goes about an independent life understands that. To some extent, we can’t regain that childlike abandon. Our schedules are a necessity of modern, grown-up living.

But how do you spend your moments? Do you find yourself becoming pulled constantly in different directions by distractions, or waiting for the next appointment on your schedule such that you don’t accomplish what you meant to right now, or dreading the end of your “free” time, or putzing around with your phone when you should be focused on the memories unfolding in front of you?

I know I do.

And do you always open yourself up to prayer throughout the day, no matter what persona you have to put on in a given moment, so that your conversations with God can be free-flowing and constant rather than confined to a Sunday morning and a bedtime routine?

Too often, I don’t.

A child is only ever himself in any given moment of any given day. He moves from experience to experience—sometimes easily, sometimes not—always with his full self invested in it. I want that authenticity and the rewards that come with it, too.

Go Home and Love Your Family

It’s not easy to follow Christ’s commands, and the call to become more childlike in a world that strips even our children of their youth far too soon is no exception.

But I think the important thing to remember is that it’s not about recapturing lost innocence or ignorance. It’s not about closing our eyes to the larger world and spending all our time at play. It’s about devotion, openness to growth, learning, and leaning. I think it’s pretty easy to see that, with the possible exception of their worst days, my children are much better than me at all of those things.

I want to grow with them just as they demand to grow with me.

This Lent, I’m Going to Fail. That’s Okay.

Lent 2019 begins next Wednesday, March 6. Are you ready?

To me, it’s important to give up this or that comfort, pleasure, or luxury during Lent. I think that’s true because physical sacrifice—large or small—is a tangible way in which we live our spiritual lives with both our bodies and our souls.

We are, after all, not mere souls trapped in earthly bodies. Each of us is a child of God, and we are created physically and spiritually in His image. Naturally, the entirety of our spirituality can’t be contained to our interior. We must live it out in an exterior way, too. We must engage all of our senses (the best way to do this is to go to Mass, of course—next time you go, see if you can count all the ways in which the Church appeals to each of your senses, as well as your interior self).

But Lent isn’t just about breaking bad habits or getting on the wagon with something we’ve been “meaning to try” for weeks or months. Lent isn’t an excuse to be good or a fortuitous opportunity to establish new habits. Lent is when we plant seeds of goodness in our souls and begin to watch them grow.

Self-reflection > Self-denial

In a recent homily, the pastor in our parish had a lot to say about mortification. He wasn’t suggesting we all literally flagellate ourselves, but rather, that we learn to practice self-denial as a spiritual exercise and not just an annual Lenten ritual or a “quick fix” for bad habits. His point was that, when we learn to deny ourselves in even very small ways—taking the corner piece of pizza when we prefer the middle, or leaving the heat off in our car on a quick drive to the grocery store in the winter, for example—and use those small denials as an opportunity for prayer or sacrifice to God, we are learning what little importance these things have in comparison to our ultimate goal in life: to achieve sainthood.

Practicing self-denial teaches us how small our worldly comfort is in comparison to the great Comfort of God’s love for us. It also teaches us that we don’t need to be comfortable to be happy, fulfilled, or on a path to salvation.

But this is only true if we use those moments as brief but thoughtful opportunities to pause and examine ourselves, to enter into conversation with God, and, when applicable, to adjust our behavior moving forward. Self-denial means very little if it isn’t accompanied by self-reflection and, above all, moving above and beyond the self so that the greater glory is given to God.

So Now What?

Pondering all of this, I’m doing something uncomfortable for Lent this year with the full knowledge that I won’t get it right. (I need to learn that imperfection is okay, anyway. A friend recently mentioned that this is part of his approach to doing the Exodus 90 leading up to Easter this year; I just love that mentality and wanted to take it on as well. That’s something I’ll talk about more in a future post.)

The basic sacrifices I’ll make this year are similar to what I did as a schedule for last year:

  • Week 1 (3/6-3/12)
    • Fast: meat
    • Intention: families suffering from infertility and loss
  • Week 2 (3/13-3/19)
    • Fast: condiments
    • Intention: the United States of America
  • Week 3 (3/20-3/26)
    • Fast: coffee and pop
    • Intention: the poor
  • Week 4 (3/27-4/2)
    • Fast: bread
    • Intention: the unborn
  • Week 5 (4/3-4/9)
    • Fast: TV (other than kids’ shows, because #momlife)
    • Intention: my family
  • Week 6 (4/10-4/17)
    • Fast: chocolate
    • Intention: the faithful departed
  • Paschal Triduum (4/18-4/20)
    • Fast: social media
    • Focus: glorifying God

Having a schedule like this was beneficial for me because, unlike a single material sacrifice for all of Lent (with which I tend to get familiar and less thoughtful toward the end of the season), the changing sacrifices helped me continually choose to resist temptation—thus creating more opportunities for that self-reflection.

Plus, having a specific prayer intention for each week meant that I was more mindful about what these sacrifices were for, and how even my infinitesimally minor “suffering” in giving up these things could be joined to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us. It was an intentional effort to express my love, in a small way, for God and my neighbors.

The downside of this regimented scheduled was that, though I vaguely thought about implementing a version of it throughout the liturgical year, its immediacy vanished after Lent. I’m terrible at holding myself accountable for this kind of thing, and without a specific season in mind, inaction took over.

So, in addition to recreating the schedule for this year and renewing my resolution to continue it in some way after Lent is over, I wanted to add in something that will have a lasting impact on my interior life for this year’s observance.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, because again, I know I won’t do it perfectly, but here goes nothing.

I’m giving up complaining for Lent this year.

It’s the Thought that Counts

If you know me, you probably know that I complain a lot. I’m a pretty positive person, but if asked how I’m doing by someone I know well enough and in the right context, I’m rarely the type to lie by saying “Everything’s fine!”

I complain to make jokes. I complain to express solidarity with others. I complain because my patience is worn thin and I just can’t not. I complain because I’m feeling selfish. I complain to provide a good reason for asking for help from loved ones. Above all, I think, I complain as a way to vent frustration and indignation with circumstances that are out of my control.

Some of these things are okay, I guess. For example, it’s not inherently bad to answer a fellow mom’s unhappy observations by letting her know she’s not alone in her suffering: “Ugh, I’m right there with you!”

But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that complaining takes up a lot of my interior thinking. For every complaint I make out loud, there are at least three kept under wraps.

Grumbling is a knee-jerk reaction for many people, I assume, and I’m one of them. But when it comes to our thought processes, just because it comes naturally doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

In lieu of complaining when I’m tempted to do so, I resolve to utter a prayer—Jesus, I trust in You or Come Holy Spirit—to help lift me up out of that negative mindset and put my eyes on God instead.

Quick caveat: I’m not giving up self-care or asking for help during Lent (those would be futile exercises in helping me grow). I’m not giving up negative emotions or my own sense of need. But I am setting aside lamentation over not getting my way or having things easy. I want to “turn the other cheek” to my own sense of entitlement, which I think will help me be more aware of it and less likely to justify a negative attitude because of it.

So, although I’m saying this as “I’m giving up complaining for Lent this year,” I expect the result will simply be a greater self-awareness of my tendency to complain. More importantly, I want to be more intentionally selfless and put greater trust in God and His will for my life.

Recognizing my own imperfection in this effort will be part of the point: my will can never be enough, but God’s love is more than enough to fill the gaps with grace.

I confess I’m scared of this commitment. I’m frightened of what might come up to tempt me into complaining—justified or not—beginning March 6. But that’s kind of the point, too. Trust.

I hope your Lent is fruitful and your soul grows closer to the Lord this year, and always. God be with you.

Why Parents Should Be More Like Their Children

Some time ago, I discovered a little book that spoke very deeply to me.

Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar is a theological reflection on what it means to be childlike in faith, and how embracing that state of mind draws us closer to Christ and helps us to be better disciples, neighbors, and people.

I have read it twice now, and referred back to it more often than that, and I know I will continue to do so for years to come.

Why?

“Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4

Those are Christ’s words to his disciples. But what do they mean?

In a couple of posts, I’d like to examine that with you. Let’s begin with the basics: why is becoming like a child a worthwhile pursuit for a Christian parent? (Check out my second post on this book here.)

Like My Children?

My three-year-old has recently developed a charming habit. She demands that both my husband and I go through a specific litany of bedtime well-wishes before she permits us to close her bedroom door and go about our hour or two of freedom before we’re too tired to stay awake ourselves.

After weeks of this, I still haven’t nailed down the precise order in which we need to blow a kiss, say “I love you,” “sleep good,” and “goodnight,” and wait for her to do the same before we can close the door without hearing her screech in protest.

And my 20-month-old son likes to play a fun game of his own. It’s called “Can you guess what this noncommittal gesture means before I scream my head off over your total ignorance of my needs?” and I’ve literally never won.

Naturally, I’m not generally inclined to believe children are unequivocally the admirable, obedient souls I picture the greatest saints to be.

So does Jesus literally want me to be childlike? Is he absolutely certain that that’s my way not just to heaven, but to “greatness” in heaven?

The Holy Love of Parent and Child

Though children may lack the reason (and reasonableness) we strive for as adults, they are, indeed, chock full of wonderful qualities we should be striving for, too. To begin with, perhaps the most touching lesson from von Balthasar’s work here is how the nature of human, motherly, parental love emulates the profound love that exists between God and his children.

In many ways, it’s the way children think that we should admire—maybe not so much the way they behave. We should be mindful of how they understand us, their parents, as we examine how we understand God.

Consider this example: On page 12, von Balthasar notes that “at first the child cannot yet distinguish between parental and divine love.”

How staggering is that? Our children can’t distinguish between the love we have for them and the love God Himself has for them. They can only know that they are deeply loved and cared for.

There is a reason the family is called the domestic Church. We emulate the Holy Family, the love in the Trinity, and the greater communities in which we grow and help others grow.

Your child looks up at you and sees the adoring face of God. This makes sense in many ways—you, after all, participated in his creation and have the charge of teaching him about the Faith and the God who loves him. Still, it’s a doozy to consider, isn’t it?

Similarly, I bet you look down upon your sleeping babe and see the face of God in him, too. No creation is more awe-inspiring than the human soul, and you have the profound gift of bringing one of those souls into the world and raising him up to be good.

This is an immense responsibility. We are everything to our children, and at times, that can be a heavy burden to bear. This vocation is no joke.

The Ultimate Support System for Parents Everywhere

Though this weight is heavy, it isn’t ours alone to carry. After all, at the same time as we are parents and leaders, we are children ourselves—children of the Most High, whom nothing can escape or overwhelm.

“To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another, and even in our adult life we never quite reach the point where we no longer have to give thanks for being the person we are,” von Balthasar says on page 49. How true that is.

We are only strong enough to nurture and keep safe our children’s love and trust for us because our God is, at this very minute, nurturing and keeping safe the love and trust we have for Him—whether we’re thanking Him for it or not.

In the final chapter, on page 69, von Balthasar meditates on Mary’s Fiat: “Mary thus learns that the Most High has ever borne a Son in his bosom, and that this Son has now chosen her bosom as a dwelling-place. If she were to reflect on her own possibilities aided by an ordinary ‘adult’ understanding, the result of her meditation would simply be: ‘impossible.’ … However, being a perfect child of God, she does not reflect upon herself but places herself at the disposal of God’s every action.”

Imagine what God can do in our lives if only we adore Him as a girl adores her Papa. What are some areas of life in which you struggle to give God your unconditional “yes,” and how can you work toward healing that struggle—toward becoming more childlike in your devotion to our Father?

No Greater Privilege

Finally, I want to close this first post with a quote (found on page 70) that sums up this book’s special relevance for moms. By emulating Mary in this journey, we can be true children of God and wonderful mothers. This is how we can ensure our humble vocations are truly integral in God’s plan for the world:

“She [Mary] will have to do both things at once: introduce her Child into the business of being human (and this does not merely mean teaching him how to walk and speak, but also introducing him to the religion of his fathers) and learn steadily more from her Child how one behaves as a child of God.”

May we all let our children teach us as much as they learn from us. For parents, there is no greater privilege than to walk this journey with our sweet babies, to guide them on their path—and be humble enough to let them guide us on ours.

Why I Hate/Like/Love NFP after Miscarriage

I’ve said before that my husband and I practice natural family planning (NFP) and it brings us closer together. Boy has that perspective turned upside down (and back again) over the last 12 months.

Before & After

It wasn’t always hard. For a long time, it was just plain easy.

In the early years of our marriage, NFP gave me the tools to understand my body. It empowered me to embrace my natural functioning and to admire the efficiency and the beauty of the female body. And it helped my husband and me respect that nature very deeply—to work with it instead of fighting against it. It made us value one another more.

When we wanted to start trying for a baby, the knowledge we had from using NFP for so long made it blessedly easy. And after we had our first child, it helped me see how my body recovered and how my fertility affected so many other components of my daily feelings and physiological experiences. We successfully used NFP to space our pregnancies. The postpartum period isn’t easy for so many reasons, and the complexity of managing NFP during that time is one of them—but we came out just fine.

It was after my son was born that things got trickier. The postpartum hormones hit me hard that time, and I found it difficult to connect with my husband—I felt so much more like a mother and less like a wife. Between those feelings and some other circumstances, NFP was a point of frustration between us. We fought against it and wished we could control it. But, of course, we couldn’t. That’s not how it works.

Even then, NFP did provide structure where we needed it. It gave us accountability and guidelines that helped us improve and do better for one another. And it took off some of the pressure we were putting on ourselves, on things that we gave too much or too little importance.

But, like many aspects of my life, my perspective on NFP was divided into a Before and an After by our miscarriages.

Before we lost our babies, NFP was a sometimes challenging, but overall very rewarding pursuit.

After we lost our babies, if only for a while, NFP was a difficult reality I struggled not to resent.

When the Mind and the Body Disagree

It was painful to hear my OBGYN try to tell me that my pregnancy tests might’ve been “false positives” when I had my first loss. NFP made it painful because I knew, very intimately, how my body worked and that I’d conceived that cycle.

It was painful to watch my body go right back to normal after that experience, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. (Although it was also a bit of a relief, not living in limbo.)

The next time we conceived, it was painful to see 8 weeks of healthy pregnancy go down the drain when the first warning signs appeared. And it crushed us to say goodbye to those babies, too.

Years of charting and researching fertility burdened me with the knowledge that there was, very likely, something wrong with me that led to our losses. And when I sent my charts to my NFP instructor, she confirmed that something was off. Something I missed. Something I felt I should’ve seen as a warning. Something that told me I failed to protect my babies.

Then, months of charting and seeing no improvement made me resentful of my body and NFP. There were days I wished for blissful ignorance, but at the same time, I was petrified of doing something wrong and putting more babies—not to mention my husband and myself—at risk of another miscarriage. Practicing NFP was excruciating, but the alternative—throwing caution to the wind—was unthinkable. It was an incredibly stressful place to be.

After I saw a NaproTechnology doctor—someone specially trained in natural, life-affirming treatments for infertility and miscarriage, and familiar with the Creighton method of fertility charting—and started supplementing, my cycles did improve. I was happy to see it—happy to see our odds of a healthy pregnancy becoming stronger again. But it was also a painful reminder that my body wasn’t doing it right on its own anymore.

Choosing Beauty

Now that the grief isn’t so fresh and we’re making strides toward healthier fertility, it’s easier to see the positive aspects of NFP again. I know that I’m fortunate to have had this knowledge and these resources, so that we could be empowered to spot a problem and work to resolve it rather than keep trying and failing on our own.

Empowerment isn’t easy. It’s not a hand-out and it isn’t a magic wand that makes taking the reins on life simple. Ignorance is easy—but it’s also empty. Empowerment is what gives us the energy and the skills to do what is right, effective, and good. But that’s a lot of responsibility, and sometimes the weight of it can be so very heavy.

For now, my husband and I are trying to see NFP like we’re trying to see life these days: as a gift that can’t be taken for granted, that must be enjoyed moment by moment, that is out of our control but within our capacity to manage together.

If you’ve experienced a loss, please don’t lose hope. Please hang on, with every last bit of strength you have, to the promise of renewal and understanding and recovery. Have faith, do your best, and love your family. Everything else will follow.

Why Motherhood Is Scary (And That Doesn’t Go Away)

You know that feeling you get in an interview—or awkward icebreaker activity at work, at school, or elsewhere—when someone asks you to “Tell me a little about yourself”? That sense of standing at the mouth of the Grand Canyon and being asked to pick out a single rock that best exemplifies it?

I hate that feeling.

When people ask me to tell them about myself, I find it gobs easier to talk about the people, things, and pursuits I love, rather than many distinct personality traits of my own. It’s hard for me to explain “who I am” in isolation.

I don’t like to talk about myself. But I do like to talk about the things I like or dislike, and I think they say a lot about me.

That’s natural, because as God’s children, we are defined by love. It makes us who we are.

Unfortunately, we are also very deeply motivated by fear. We don’t generally talk about the things that scare us upon introducing ourselves. But our deepest fears do have an insidious way of affecting our choices and coloring our thoughts. That’s a reality we must all learn to acknowledge, no matter our vocation.

Resisting Change and Grasping for Control

If I had to pick one word to describe what it’s like to become a mother, I’d say change. And for someone like me—an introverted homebody who’s prone to worry and sentimentality—an experience dominated by change is also defined by an undercurrent of fear.

I hate change. It unsettles me. It makes it difficult to be myself. This is something I struggle with very deeply, because I know change can be good. But I like things to be smooth and low-key, and I stress easily when they aren’t.

I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, but over the last year I’ve realized that this aversion to change is tied to a quiet desire to be in control of things.

I don’t know which came first—do I hate change because I need control or do I need control because I hate change?—but I do know that both of these qualities are vices for me. The truth is that we are in control of very little in this world. To think otherwise is hubris. To fear it is pointless.

The Unsettled Feeling at the Heart of Motherhood

I know that too much control and too little change wouldn’t be good for me, but it’s hard to stamp down this instinctive fear I have. Unfortunately, this weakness is not at all conducive to a joyful experience with motherhood. Whoops.

Motherhood is defined by change because every day is a transition. Our children grow so quickly, and our bodies and families and emotions change so frequently, that it’s impossible to pin down a definition of “normal” that will last for more than a very brief period before it needs rewriting.

Morning sickness becomes aches and pains. Pains become labor. Labor becomes delivery. Newborns become infants, become toddlers, become preschoolers, become kids and tweens and teens and full-blown adults.

A mother’s heart is a stormy sea. This is often a good thing—the blessings that drop in to churn these waters are full of active, bustling life and they are beautiful. But rarely does beautiful mean easy, and we moms go through a lot to bring our babies up into well-formed adults.

So whether it’s the crazy sleep schedules of an infant, the ever-changing preferences of a toddler, the hormonal mood swings of a teenager, or the far-flung independence of adult children, there is simply no time to pause and breathe and forget the chaos when you’re a mother. And there’s no time to get used to each flavor of that chaos, either, because it changes every hour.

And, of course, we can control none of this. Our babies will do or not do or feel or not feel or say or not say whatever comes to their beautiful little minds, with or without our approval. And as they get older, their self-sufficiency means we have even less of a hand in their actions—and the consequences they will face for those actions.

Motherhood Relinquish Quote

So yes, motherhood is change. Motherhood is letting go. And those are scary things. It means that we must be responsible for our children’s lives, and yet relinquish those lives to the hands of God and the story of their sweet souls. We hold ourselves deeply accountable for their joy, but we can do nothing to permanently impress it upon them. We can only hold their warm little hands and hope for the best.

Our love makes us want to bring them in close and protect them from the world and walk their path for them. But we can’t. And that’s the fear that defines being a mom.

Living in this Moment

So far, in my few years as a mom, the only balm I’ve found for that aching fear is to live in and enjoy each moment with my children. But that can be hard to do, too.

Selfishness makes it hard (“this got you to sleep yesterday; why can’t you sleep for me today?”). A lack of focus makes it hard (says the mom who scrolls through Facebook far too often). Impatience makes it hard (“when are you going to stop throwing every meal I make for you onto the floor?”).

Comparison is the enemy of confidence.

I’ve said that before, but I think it’s an important lesson for so many aspects of motherhood. We become downtrodden when we compare ourselves to other moms. We become discouraged when we compare our methods to the ones in all the parenting books.

Likewise, we torture ourselves when we compare one moment to the next. It’s common knowledge that, when it comes to littles, what worked yesterday probably won’t cut it today—and what gets the job done today will crash and burn tomorrow.

So I’ve had to learn to stop asking myself what if?; to stop wondering why one child develops so differently from another; to stop hoping that this will be the night or the naptime that begins a new, easier phase; to stop being afraid that my picky eater will never enjoy a real meal without a fight; to worry about whether this bad day will become my child’s earliest memory. The examples go on and on.

This applies in other areas of life, too. It’s hard to be grateful for what’s in front of you—to really enjoy it—if you’re too busy being nervous about or anxious for the next thing.

Fear is not always an enemy; it’s a healthy thing. But it cannot define us because, if we let it, it will control us. And that is not the life we were made to live.

In the moments when I’m failing to enjoy what’s before me instead of worrying about what isn’t—to embrace what I am given, good or bad, instead of grasping for what I cannot change—I pray.

Saint Padre Pio said something wonderfully simple about this: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

Sometimes I pray hard and long. Other times, when I don’t have the energy or I’m too bogged down by my fear or self-centeredness, I can barely squeak out a Glory Be or a “God help me.” But every time, no matter what, it helps. If I lean into it and let the words wash over me, it helps.

That’s the relief that defines being a child of God.

 

Why I Don’t Agonize Over the News (And I Don’t Feel Bad About It)

Thanks to a tip from my sister-in-law, my husband and I have been watching NBC’s The Good Place lately. (It’s funny and I highly recommend—catch up on Netflix and Hulu).

Minimizing any spoilers, there’s some conversation in the show right now about how difficult it is for people to be good in the modern world. The simplest parts of life are so complicated and global that even our smallest choices can have drastic consequences—whether we see them or not. One episode used an easy example: simply buying a tomato at the local Piggly Wiggly might mean you’re inadvertently supporting pesticide use and unfair working conditions in communities far away.

Too true. Modern life is stressful, isn’t it?

You wonder if each item of clothing you buy was crafted by a child forced into hard labor. You wonder if your eggs were laid by chickens living a bleak life on factory farms. You wonder if your preferred brand of baby shampoo contributes money to a non-profit organization you deeply dislike. You wonder if your charitable donations are going to the cause itself or just lining executives’ pockets. You wonder if the homeless man asking for your spare change might turn around and spend it on drugs. You wonder if you’re poisoning the water table by using bleach on a stubborn stain.

You wonder and wonder and wonder.

The guilt is everywhere, isn’t it? Certainly it’s on Facebook, where everyone shares idealist memes and posts pictures of their creative protest signs and “5 favorite ways to live more sustainably.” It’s on the news, garish in its display of the very worst of what’s happening in the world (giving no attention to the many, many good things that happen every minute of every day) and haranguing us for the violence and injustices of society. It’s probably in your family or groups of friends, where everyone has an opinion to share. And it’s always on your heart, making you question your choices in the quiet moments, when everything you’ve done wrong in a given day replays across your mind’s eye.

But the thing is that your life, that beautiful and complicated thing with all its individual struggles and triumphs, is stressful all on its own. Justifiably so.

You worry about earning enough to support your family, or supporting your burnt-out spouse in his or her zealous efforts to do so even while you’re running on fumes at home. You worry about raising up good, happy children who will be kind to others and love themselves as God loves them. You worry about voicing the Truth, even when it makes you unpopular, and nurturing your soul. You worry about coordinating childcare, travel, school, passion projects, home maintenance, personal development, meal plans, inboxes, outboxes, taxes, and extracurriculars at the same time, all the time. You worry about managing calendars and maintaining relationships and being fully present for the people you love even when you have a million other things on your mind.

You worry and worry and worry.

There’s just so much on your plate.

I have an unpopular opinion to confess, and I’m sharing it in the hopes it helps other moms feel less guilty when they simply can’t keep up with it all.

I don’t watch the news and I rarely scroll through headlines. I don’t know what the latest food pyramid (is it still a pyramid?) looks like, and I don’t know who’s up for a Nobel Peace Prize or why. I don’t run into every debate I come across to evangelize aloud to my peers. I don’t inspect every ingredient list or research every brand I buy. And most of the time, I don’t feel bad about it.

For a time, I tried to do these things. I tried to keep up with the intricate goings-on of the big, wide world around me, to see the many unseen consequences of my actions and take more ownership of those consequences.

And can I be honest? It was depressing. There was so much bad right in front of me. It left me feeling downtrodden and defeated—beaten down by the many sad realities we’ve made for ourselves in this very flawed world.

What’s worse was that it stole my optimism from me. I believe very deeply that we are all made to be good—we are all given an indelible soul and created in the image and likeness of Love itself. We are all God’s children.

Chasing every negative strand down its inevitable rabbit hole made that so much harder to see. No one was covering the happy things, and I was losing the forest for the trees.

Beyond all that, I was simply running low on time. My kids needed me. My husband needed me. My home, job, and extended family needed me. I needed me. I needed to invest in those things, and the additional time and energy had to come from somewhere.

So I don’t feel obligated to pull the thread of each and every decision I make, testing to see how thoroughly my positive intent unravels into a net negative effect. And I don’t think you should, either.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t live a life of carelessness or solitary self-interest. I buy organic for many grocery segments and have a personal commitment to free-range eggs. I avoid some of the more blatantly irresponsible brands (which, often, are too expensive anyway). I donate items instead of trashing them, I recycle, I buy secondhand where it makes sense, and I teach my toddlers not to be wasteful. I’m trying to prioritize cleaning and self-care products that feature natural ingredients. I donate to people and causes in need. I tell the Truth and live it in full view of my neighbors. I am not blind to what’s happening in the world my children will inherit.

But these are choices I make in an effort to care for my family more responsibly. They aren’t hard rules I punish myself for breaking or hold against others who don’t share them.

We live in a very big, very troubled world. And the reality is that we are each a brief blip on the global radar. For most of us, it will be difficult—if not impossible—to have an influence so notable that our names will be recorded in history books.

But do you know what part of your world is very small and very impressionable? What part of your world is fundamentally influenced by you and the choices you make?

Your family.

I think Saint Teresa of Calcutta said it best. Upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked how we can promote world peace. Her response? “Go home and love your family.”

If marriage and parenthood are your vocations, the ripple effect of your influence on the world—named or not—begins at home. It begins with the love you share with your spouse and the love you instill in your children.

So be a good citizen of the world, but do not obsess over the world or its affairs. This world is not your home.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2