My column in last week’s Catholic Weekly. Click here for more like it.
One day in the week before Christmas I decide to get back to praying Morning Prayer from the Divine Office. I go to a quiet room, pull up the Universalis website on my computer and get two verses into the invitatory psalm before the door opens. It’s eight-year-old Joachim, holding out a page from a kids’ magazine.
“This is funny, mum.” A cat stalking a computer mouse. It’s cute; the picture, and his enjoyment of it.
He thoughtfully closes the door on the way out. It opens again. Husband.
“We should give the girls some money for today, right?”
Right. They’re going to the movies with friends. Cash might help. Between us we find something suitable. Then I notice the pre-schooler who wants to give a gift to his teachers today and ‘rocket shoes’ him into the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash the spot of blueberry juice from breakfast off his nose.
Someone’s started cleaning up the kitchen, leaving the job half done. I finish it. The washing machine beeps. I pull damp clothes into a basket and place it by the back door. Someone else will hang them on the line. Time’s getting away and there’s something I need to do.
But what was it? I don’t remember.
When I was tracking my time on my blog last year I realised what happened to stretches of time or whole days when I felt busy but couldn’t recall having actually done anything. When I’m home with the kids, especially, I’m constantly interrupted. And then I get interrupted from the interruption, and then interrupted from the interruption of the interruption.
Then I find I’ve left a string of half-finished tasks behind and no one is happy with me because I was too busy to give them my full attention and I can’t remember what I had been doing, because it was something I started four hours ago! I know I’m not alone in this.
I also know this is just a season, and that they won’t need me for ever, and that the day will come when they won’t be living with us at all and I will miss being so needed. I know they need our attention now as a first priority, that by dropping everything to look them in the eye and laugh at that joke, listen to that story, take them for that walk, solve that problem or correct that poor behaviour we are building them up in love. By giving way, not always, but very often, to their simple wants and needs we’re forming them to be good and loving people, really healthy people.
But sometimes it’s wearing, all these interruptions, and distressing when really good things get interrupted. So we teach the children not to cause interruptions unnecessarily, not to interrupt people who are speaking for example.
I’ve looked to other mothers for inspiration on this, in real life, in books, and on websites. And some of the saints, such as St Teresa of Calcutta who deftly balanced the demands of efficiency and love.
I know that I can offer these interruptions as part a daily conversation with God. Jesus told us that when we pray, to go to a room, shut the door and pray in secret. This is true, but to my mind (though I might have got this idea from someone else, I can’t remember) that door is more like a cell membrane, a real boundary which also allows things to flow in and out of it, while God remains at the nucleus, fuelling everything.
St John of the Cross, one of the Church’s teachers of prayer and the spiritual life, using one of the psalms, sheds further light: “Draw me, and we will run after you.” As a mum with young kids I can snatch moments of time to pray alone, and I need to do this. But I never truly pray alone. I always bring my family with me in one way or another, and I trust they benefit from this.
Jesus said to let the children come to him anyway. And the Pope tells us that “those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union”.
So my New Year’s resolution is to try to better accept my life as it is. Interrupted. All the time. In little cute ways, annoying ways, and big scary ways. I need a plan for each day and week, or the household can’t function, but I need to learn to hold my very good plan very lightly. It’s not razer-sharp focus God wants from me right now, not goal-setting and achieving, so much as simple awareness of the most important need of each moment.
It’s not an easy resolution to keep, but it’s worth the effort.
Image by Eric Rothermel