Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Prayer

I remember, back in Irving when I went to the University of Dallas, getting up at 5:30 in the morning and driving under the last flicker of stars to morning Mass. Sometimes it was at the Cistercian Abbey. Sometimes it was at St. Luke's. It was usually still dark though and most of the church was usually shrouded in darkness. If I was at Cistercian, I'd join the priests in their Morning Prayers before Mass. If I was at St. Luke, Morning Prayer was said in the Eucharistic Chapel after Mass.

I always enjoyed praying the Divine Office. The rhythmic nature of it, the universal use of it, and the beautiful images and language it always brought to my day were treasures of that silent, still early hour.

When I got married, James and I continued to say the Divine Office together.

Then we had kids.

Now, I've heard tell of children who sleep in until 9, 8, or even 7am. But you won't find them in my house. At least 1, usually 2, and occasionally all 3 of my oldest girls are up by 6 or 6:30 at the latest. So it has been a struggle through my years of motherhood to say my Divine Office. I rarely have any quiet time in the morning.

And I used to really beat myself up about it. I mean, the Divine Office was my prayer. Some people adore the rosary. Some have another devotion. The Divine Office was mine. And yet I couldn't do it, at least not consistently. And then when I did do it, it was usually distracted with repeated interruptions and constant "MOM!"s making me stop and come back and reread and repray, etc. Some days it would take me hours to get through it.

And that was the problem. Over the years it became something to get through so I could say I did it, I prayed that day. But I wasn't able to really lift my heart to God through 10 minute interruptions and refereeing bickering and changing diapers, fixing and cleaning breakfasts, etc.

And so last Spring, I basically gave up. I didn't want to give up praying, but I finally accepted that praying the Divine Office was just not a form of prayer I could do heartfully. And since it was the primary formal prayer I'd done for years, I just didn't know where to go from there.

Then, in August, I went to Confession and spoke to a local Franciscan about my prayer difficulties. He was an elderly heavyset cheerful Franciscan and was very understanding of my challenge to find time to pray with four small children. And he said something to me I think has been one of the most impacting and significant things any priest has ever said to me in Confession. He said, "Make your children your prayer. The priest places the host on the paten and offers it to the Father. You are part of the common priesthood. Like the priest lifting high the host, you lift high your children through all you do for them." He said to make even the briefest, simplest offering in the morning of my day. Try to be conscious of it when I can. And make an examination of conscience at the end of the day. But do everything I do for each of my children all day long for God. The anal/OCD side of me said, "But does it count all day even if I don't think of offering it, because I spend half my day unable to gather my own thoughts?" He consoled me that that was what the morning offering was for, to cover all those times when I wasn't conscious of it. My psyche needs these reassurances.

And I began trying it. And it was wonderful. I was more patient. I knew I was praying but it wasn't prayer I was squeezing in just to say I did it and if I was distracted half the day with constant "Mom!"s, it was okay. My prayer system was built for those. And I enjoyed my children even more without the stress of trying to get back to prayer or mentally mark it done.

Then we all got sick. The stomach bug. And everything got thrown off, including my prayers. And I forgot to make my morning offering and try to be conscious of my offering. And everything got worse. My attitude got worse. My temper got worse. And, as I got worse, my children's behavior got worse. It stunk.

After the stomach bug and the cold virus, I was resolved to try to get our days back on track. So I told my husband to get me up the next morning at 5:30, figuring I'd get a jump start on the day and get the day off to a good start.

After he woke me, I thought, well, I have this quiet time, I'll say my Divine Office.

Then I had to get Teresa back asleep.

At 5:57am, Felicity had to get up and go potty and Elizabeth was awakened. I sat for almost 20 minutes trying to get them back to sleep to no avail. And by the time I gave up James was already up, showered and dressed and I had to ask him to keep Elizabeth and Felicity away from the bedroom long enough for me to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. And a dark cloud set over my head. I was already grumpy.

I resented how my day began. It took me a day and a half and a cuddly baby to get rid of the frustrated, stressed, rushed feeling and short temper. (Sad, it took that long, I know.) I went back to my simple offering and it is amazing how much more calm, patient and peaceful I am.

I still love my Divine Office, but it simply not a prayer I can faithfully pray at this season of my life. I'm sure I will pick it up again one day when I'm staring at the clock wondering why my teenagers are still in bed and having to nag them to get up.

I still hope to incorporate some other prayers into my day, like the Angelus, and I would like to try to bring the Chaplet and/or the Rosary into our day, but those would be prayers that would be said with the girls such that I wouldn't be needing to find personal quiet time for them and even if we didn't say them every day, I wouldn't be concerned that I hadn't prayed that day.

It is so nice to have a prayer that I not only can do, but that can fully incorporate into, penetrate, and uplift my day.


  1. Yup exactly ~ except for me it is Adoration. While I was having children, the closest parishes ended or greatly reduced their adoration times.
    Morning offering and 'small steps' are now my goals.

    Thank you for sharing your faith journey.

  2. What a great confession and a great and wise priest who heard it. When I was first converting to Catholicism, I couldn't wrap my mind around confession very well - and yet all it takes is one really profound reconciliation to understand its value. It's such personalized help for knitting you back close to God, as exemplified by your story.

  3. Joy, I love Adoration. I used to stop by after my prenatal appointments and enjoy a few moments in quiet with the Lord. Unfortunately our new parish seems to only do adoration at night and it can be harder for me to get there at night. I do so love Adoration though and hopefully will be able to go again soon.

    Mrs. M, Confession is always wonderful but having a good priest on the other side of the screen is like the syrup on top of the ice cream. :)

  4. Oh this is great. God provided you with the perfect words through that priest!