I know exactly which floorboards creak and how to avoid them. I can get dressed in complete darkness. I tiptoe and hold my breath when sneaking past the children’s bedrooms but just when I think I’ve made it safely to the haven of my quiet kitchen, I hear two-year-old Mary yelling, “Mama, I hungry!” and I cringe. Whereas some might long for wealth or fame, I daydream obsessively about privacy. Throughout the last decade I’ve been touched, pushed, and pulled at least as much, if not more, than a turnstile at the entrance of Walt Disney World. All day long I go about my business while toting a toddler, grasping squirmy fingers belonging to bodies that want to cross the street all on their own, kissing scrapes, wiping noses, being yanked on and inundated with questions and outlandish observations. Locked doors are no deterrent for my determined bunch, “Where are the markers?” “Can I have a snack?” “Benji is bothering is me!” they yell every two minutes into the wood that separates us.
“Find your dad!” I shout back from the bubble bath I crawled into for relief from the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion of being needed twenty hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year.
It’s amazing that I still fall for it, the delusion that during Lent I will spend plenty of time reflecting and reading scripture on my own. I am always half hoping that the intrinsic stillness of a Lenten fast will permeate my household like a mood altering narcotic- instantly taming tempers, quieting outbursts, changing sleep patterns too light and anticipatory of a brand new morning to allow for the indulgences of a mother seeking spiritual enlightenment on her own terms. “If only I could hole up in isolation with a Bible and an icon,” I mumble to myself after scolding one of my kids for sneaking out of quiet time, again, and interrupting my attempts at noonday prayers, “then I could prepare myself appropriately for the death and Resurrection of Christ.”
I am always on guard this time of year for big and blatant temptations that if succumbed to, would absolutely put a cramp in my Lenten style. Let’s see, there’s envy, greed, gossip, gluttony, despondency …no wonder I’m frustrated! How am I supposed to find the wherewithal to overcome these ungodly vices if I continually have to make meals, clear the dishes, wash dirty clothes, and settle arguments? When on earth am I supposed to get out there and feed the poor, visit those in prison, and give aid to widows and orphans? I don’t want to be a goat, separated and cast out on the Day of Judgment for not tending to those in need. What a sneaky and devilish sucker punch: keeping me overly fixated on the letter and not the spirit of the law.
“And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).” While searching “out there” for ways to purify my soul, to make a positive difference in the life of another, I somehow lost sight of the salvific responsibilities right here in my lap, draped affectionately around my shoulders, filling my time, testing my forbearance with their enormity. I got sucked into the idea that a mother of young children must retain her own identity, to separate herself, at least intellectually, from the subservience of her role as both a helpmate and a nurturer. “But where are my accolades? Where is the fulfillment that comes only from being recognized for my skills and artistic achievements?” If I’m honest, I’ll admit that that is exactly what I ponder when the weight of domesticity threatens to suffocate my individuality, when repetition starts to heighten my desire for some kind, any kind, of a distraction.
“O Lord and Master of my life take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.”
For procrastinating and avoiding the tediousness of housework at the expense of my husband and children, for the aching to be admired and my displeasure with anonymity, for the shameful habit of trying to dominate my kids instead of lead them by example, please forgive me.
“But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.”
Oh how could I be so foolish, looking everywhere else for my purpose, for an offering that would please You and, let’s face it, myself simultaneously? Where outside of my own home could so many opportunities exist for being stretched and for serving God by serving others? For the moments I feel ready to snap and have no choice but to beg for Your mercy, for the hundredth spilled cup of juice that I am able to wipe up without feeling tense and angry because the annoyance has finally been drained out of me, for the sickening sensation in my gut that comes from talking too long on the telephone or typing too often on the computer when I know I should be cuddling, reading to, or more consistently reprimanding my children, I thank You. For the reassuring peace that comes from unselfish acts of submission, I am eternally grateful.
“Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen.”
This Lent I am a mother to four little ones and a wife to a man working long and hard for our benefit. This Lent my prayers will be active and sticky with jam, syrup, and kisses. This Lent I will be held accountable for how effective I was at helping each member of my family to feel loved, honored and supported. This Lent I have my mercifully specific, Christ assigned work cut out for me. I beg of you most Holy Theotokos, our most perfect prototype of obedience, whose response to the Angel Gabriel was “Be it unto me according to thy word,” who emptied herself to be filled quite literally with Jesus, her son and savior, please assist me in staying true to my calling and in taking full advantage of the chances at my disposal to be faithful.
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