The first sunday of lent is here. A day of feast amidst a time of fasting. Lent has always been a special time for me. A time of renewal. In a strange way, I look forward to lent every year as the Christmas wonder wanes off. And yet much has changed these last three years, and not just about lent. In earlier posts, I have spoken about my difference in experiencing christmas since having a child. Lent has been no exception.
Since I have always been a word and language oriented person, my devotions have centered around both words and silence. And their contrast. Adoration. The year before I married, I added adoration three to four days a week to my prayer life during lent. Words... prayers that I read, scripture readings I undertook, aside from a fasting in which I abstained from small things, food and otherwise.
Last year I was nursing a near six month old hungry baby, and abstaining from anything but sweets or snacks was impossible. That was strange. It was even stranger to be unable to go to the devotions that drew my heart. An hour of adoration was impossible with a screaming 6 month old, besides, I would have fallen asleep in my pew if I had tried. I barely found time for any daily prayers, let alone extra lenten devotions. Both silence and verbal prayers seemed to be gone out. The only thing I was able to do was offer up the simple suffering of daily life. And in those days, every day was indeed a struggle.
A year further and every day is a joy. (okay, nearly every day.) Since nursing has finished, I can regiment a fast once more. But the time for quiet prayer and adoration still is limited. I can find some, and do. But my devotions it seems have changed out of necessity if not out of desire. Last friday I managed to visit the church for a moment, with Joseph. While I could not sit back and quietly reflect on mysteries or theological questions, I could bring my son to the Sacrament, and point him to Jesus. At 17 months he might not understand everything, but he already knows that this is the house of Jesus. It is different.
Today while I sit at mass, I realise how different the experience is with a todler. I used to try and listen and think over every word, participate fully in the whole experience of mass, offer myself up to it. Now, I try and make sure my little boy behaves. I try and teach him to sit quietly, but at 17 months and very mobile, sitting for more than an hour is hard. So I try to distract him with a pencil, with a fingerpuppet. With his childrens bible. I stop him if he tries to run out of the pew and up the altar. I smile as he flirts with the female cantor. I shush him when he tries to be loud.
Our parish is very family friendly, and while there is a nursery, everyone is always happy to see babies and todlers at mass, with all their antics. Of course if Joseph really becomes disruptive, I walk him out and into the narthex to deal with it. And all this hectic experience is shared with my wonderful husband.
Amidst all that, I am lucky if I can focus on a few words here and there. If I can think the credo while my lips form the words. I am lucky if I can stand or kneel half the time, the other time whatever position I am on depends on how I can best stop my sweet little boy from escaping or endangering himself.
I will admit I used to resent it. I used to feel inadequate. I used to feel as if I needed to make up for my lack of spirituality somehow. I was in the presence of the King, and half of the time I spend with my back to him because I was paying attention to something else.
And then I realised... not something else, someone. "Let the little ones come to me". Would Jesus be angered at a mother caring for her child in his presence, even as she tried to listen to Him? Or would he be glad she came and brought her child to be with him too?
Was I being selfish in wanting 'my style' of prayer? The devotions I 'enjoyed' most or 'felt' most? My task now is to bring my Child to him and find nourishment for my own soul wherever I can. Whether that is to teach my sweet baby the sign of the cross one day at a time, or just whispering a "Lord help me" on a busy day.
My prayers have changed from verbal to practical. And I adjust, slowly, but more with an open heart each day. I like the saying about prayer: "Don't give God instructions. Just report for duty." My duty is different now. And so is my prayer.