The following is a talk that was given by Rachel Stott, M.Div. to a group of mothers of various ages and walks of life. While her examples are drawn from her own experience as a mother, her reflections are just as relevant to anyone seeking meaning in the midst of their everyday routines.
A friend has a bumper sticker that reads, “Run Like a Mother.” I laughed and then immediately, thought, “Pray like a Mother.” How is it that we pray like a mother? For our time together, I would like to explore how I “pray like a mother.” To structure our time together, I would like to share a prayer and a quote.
The first is the prayer:
“Mold Me, O Lord, into the form which you have chosen.
Not my will, but your will be done.”
My mother taught me this prayer and I have passed it along to my own children. Since I was a child, this prayer has intrigued me and become a touchstone of my spiritual life as it gives me direction and focuses my attention on becoming who God calls me to be. I think of Jeremiah and the potter’s house. God is the potter, we are the clay. Let me be shaped, formed, reformed and reformed again by God.
But how does this happen? In everyday life, how am I being taught and formed by God? As St. Ignatius of Loyola would ask, “Where am I seeing God’s presence each day?”
The second is the quote, a definition of prayer:
“To pray is to laugh, whistle, dance on happy feet, sing, shout and jump Higher than ever before.
But it is also to whisper, wonder, stumble in dark places, cry, scream or just hold a tired head in tired hands and wait… Prayer is our tired reaching out to the One who holds us closer and loves us more that we would dare imagine.”
– Greta Schrumm
I love this quote because it highlights the range of emotions that we can openly, honestly have before our loving God in prayer. True transparency; true intimacy for we are loved beyond our imagining. Nothing is out of bounds: the good, the bad, the ugly. All fair game to bring to prayer. All ripe for forming, shaping in reflection.
Some concrete examples of prayer:
There are of course the obvious screams of an infant that any mother knows—“Get to me now!” Another’s needs made known, at high decibels (my oldest child’s cry once rang a crystal bowl across the room!).
But a scream I emit as a mother often comes from laundry and cooking.
Piles of it. Dirty to be washed, washed to be folded, folded to be put away, left on the floor somehow multiplying at a rapid rate.
Never done, always unfinished. Kind of like me.
Where is God in the laundry?
Kathleen Norris, poet and author, gave a lecture titled “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work”. Quotidian is a word from the Latin meaning daily or ordinary, and she writes:
I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self (p. 70).
Acts of caring for another. Clothing the naked.
Seeing the tedious, boring, rote, ordinary tasks as a place to show our love for another.
Rinse, later, repeat.
Feeding the hungry.
To the grocery store again? I am seriously on a first name basis with the guy who stocks the yogurt. The energy it takes to feed another — especially with our family’s allergies (more on that later if you want to hear about it!) is a lot. Honor the work.
More lunches to pack. Dinner again? Do you have to eat every night??
Acts that have deep significance and meaning. If I allow God in.
Take on the attitude of service towards others. Imitate Christ.
Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
Clean up the kitchen (for the millionth time) so it is a place of hospitality and comfort, a place to live fully.
Manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self. Sound like a mother’s life? Sounds like a mother’s prayer.
Mold me, O Lord, into a loving person. Help me be centered in You so I know that the fruit of my hands benefits your creation.
Stumble in dark places.
Depression is 50% more prevalent in women than men. It’s a reality in most women’s lives, some for short periods of time, others for longer. Almost none escape it completely.
I certainly haven’t.
A small, quotidian example of searching for God while stumbling in dark places….
After the holidays, the year my youngest was in kindergarten, I was depressed. The children were out of the house more and I began to feel my life was largely irrelevant in the wider world. Not much tangible output…not much feedback that I mattered. This is how depression at this time presented itself. What am I doing with my life?
One day, N., our littlest, came home and was so proud because he was a “tie-er”. I didn’t quite get what he meant and asked him to explain. He said, “now that I can tie my shoes, I can go anywhere.” He was free! He had a measure of independence. He was thrilled with his capable hands.
I taught him to tie his shoes. God was speaking loud and clear to me: This everyday task empowered your child. You are needed in this relationship.
Mold me, O Lord into someone who trusts you.
Cry, laugh, etcetera.
I am graced to have the two best sisters in the world (they, too, are mothers).
To be with them — via phone or physically with them — is to be in God’s presence.
Crying, laughing, dancing, singing (like at a Train concert) with them is a major way I “pray like a mother”. I need them. I know that these relationships are places where I can be completely myself — dirty laundry and all! And, God is there.
I can call either of them up, crying from a bad interaction with one of my children that left me worried and angry at myself for not handling it better, and know that I have a compassionate person listening. Not judging. Being present.
I can call either of them up and share a moment being proud — a beautiful interaction that reveals the deep love my children have for one another, tell of a game-winning hit in baseball, a time when we laughed at the silliness of it all.
The sheer trust among us is a bit of heaven on earth. They teach me how to be a better person, a better mother.
God is in the conversation.
We talk endlessly about the joys and struggles of being a parent. They help me “jump higher than ever before”: from working through specific problems to solve like how to help set up homework time, to processing what are realistic expectations of our children. We discuss why sports are helpful for life lessons, what are the ways we try to teach how to serve others.
How do we help them navigate the music, peer pressure, competition and friendship concerns? This is prayer. This is the stuff God wants to know about, be let in on.
They challenge me, point out my blind spots and lift up my gifts. They show me God’s presence in my life.
Mold me, O Lord into the best I can be, to jump as high as I can, supported on their shoulders.
One of my favorite of Ignatius’s phrases is Ad Majorium Dei Gloria. Give glory to God. Often, I am struck with wonder when I contemplate my children. All our children love to play sports and are very active. My daughter Z. is a naturally gifted athlete. To see her play soccer, basketball, run, catch a football is to witness God’s beautiful creation. She is so happy and free when she plays. I get to pray with wonder and awe when I watch her.
Mold me, O Lord, into someone who sees your beauty.
A., my 12-year old, is, well 12. Friction is beginning to show up. Sometimes, he can be tough to be around at times with his negative behavior, backtalk or bad language. And, then, there are the times when, as my sister would say, Jesus “throws me a bone!” Shows me where to really focus.
An example: a new boy came into school this year. Tough to be new. A. was a new boy last year.
Tough to be different. This new boy is in a wheelchair as he has muscular dystrophy. A. was genuinely kindhearted and asked him to eat lunch with him. When he told us about it at dinner, I welled up with tears.
This is what Jesus taught us to do. To welcome others, to be kind, to do what is right, regardless of what others think. They are friends now, often eat together. His kindness wasn’t a ‘drive-by” do it for the teachers thing.
A.’s empathy for another is awe-inspiring. A. teaches me to see the good in someone, even if they are not always “perfect”. Like he did.
Let me do the same for him.
Mold me, O Lord, into a more understanding person. To love unconditionally.
There seem to be thousands of other ways to “pray like a mother.” I haven’t even mentioned going spinning, which is hugely important to me as I often meet Jesus on the bike.
Or praying with the calendar. Who goes where? What’s happening in their lives and the lives of others around us? I see the work of coordinating the schedule as a prayer, a way of paying attention to someone else. To lives being lived, potentials striving to be reached.
Or the quick conversation with a friend that just seems to be what you need to hear or are able to give.
I believe deeply that relationships are the place where we meet God. We relate to God, to others and to ourselves.
As mothers, so much of our life, our daily interactions, our life long work is to enrich the soil in which seeds are planted. We watch growth.
We are not alone. God is with us.
Another quote, one my sister gave me:
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust
As my husband says, our families are our root system. I pray I can — we all can — pay attention to the nurturing, the blooming, the pruning and the joy of the harvest.
See God in all of the tedium, the screaming, the stumbling, the wonder and the happiness.
Mold me, O Lord, into the flower which you have chosen.
Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net