“Love God, serve God: everything is in that.”
—St. Clare of Assisi
Originally, I didn’t plan on writing this lesson. However, I am sitting next to my newborn baby girl (she is eleven days old) and reflecting on being a mother, and thinking about how much my faith has changed and shaped the person I am. When I first became a mom I wasn’t ready. I was only sixteen when I became pregnant and seventeen when our first daughter was born. All these years later here I am having our ninth child at the age of thirty-six and still, I felt I wasn’t ready! Maybe being a parent (no matter how many times over) is such a great calling no one is ever really ready for it or maybe it’s just me.
You might be wondering what I could have learned from monks about motherhood. Quite a bit actually, I know it sounds ironic. The thing is this; the witness of monastic (or religious) life is a prophetic one. It’s prophetic because it shines a light towards the life to come—to the heavenly kingdom. Choosing to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and living in community with other monastics doesn’t make any sense if this world we have now is all that there is. This witness illumines the lives of all Christians, reminding all of us of this truth. All Christians are called to live their lives according to this truth, the truth that it is the heavenly kingdom we are journeying towards.
This knowledge (and constant reminder by the monk’s regular presence in my life) has made me live my own Christianity differently, which of course changes the kind of wife and mother that I am. I think back to some of the original ideas I had about motherhood and marriage and I laugh. I had little understanding of what Christian marriage and family life were about. I had no idea how truly hard it would be or how much joy I could have in my vocation as wife and mother.
So how have I learned to be a better mother? By learning to be a better Christian. The following are a few of the important things that have stuck out in my mind today as I have been reflecting on motherhood:
Being True to Myself
As a Catholic homeschooling mom of a large family, I notice how often people have preconceived ideas about who I am and the kind of mom I should be. Sometimes my own struggles with perfectionism can creep in and make me feel I need to live up to some of the ideals other people have. Thankfully, these feelings often don’t stay too long.
My husband and I both agree one of the most important things we have learned from the monks is learning to be real, honest, and true to who we are. We cannot have a real relationship with God or anyone else if we are not honest about ourselves first. Shedding the false image and façade we create about ourselves or which may have been projected on to us is a necessary step in spiritual growth.
If you spend time with the monks at Holy Resurrection you might be taken by surprise at how normal they are. There is no false religious piety, no act. They do not try to be the kind of monks people expect them to be. They are simply themselves—a group of men who laugh and joke around, love God tremendously but have faults and struggle on numerous levels and with numerous things and yet, they still get up and keep striving to live holy lives every day. Seeing their humanity and struggle is a reason for hope. As my husband has put it, “Seeing how real that these monks are, especially in their faults, and watching them still strive after holiness like they do just tells me I can do it too.”
Being honest with myself and true to who I am helps me to focus on allowing God to work through me and in me. This makes me a much better mother, when I try to become the loving mother He wants me to be and not the one I think I “should” be.
It’s important for us to see the lives of the saints and to read and know that we are called to sacrifice and martyrdom as Christians. Knowing people who are striving to live that way is equally important. Monasticism is referred to as a white martyrdom—a dying to oneself and living for God. When we see Christians focusing all of their lives and efforts on attaining communion with God, we should be inspired to do the same, because it is by virtue of our baptism that we are each called to die to ourselves and put on the new man.
Sixteen years ago Abbot Nicholas married Manny and I by placing crowns on our heads. The Eastern wedding service is called the Rite of Crowning. The couple is crowned by the priest and the crowns represent two things: one is being king and queen of your family and home and the other is that they are crowns of martyrdom. Once married we no longer live for ourselves but our spouse and children.
I never knew how hard that would be. I love my family with all my heart but daily I struggle to love them more than myself, to live for my family and not do things in life I want to do. I do not doubt I needed to get married and be a mom in order to gain salvation. I guess I can’t say for sure but I think if I was on my own I would never have bothered about Christianity and would have lived for myself alone.
Knowing how important I am to my family (not only do they need my care and love but also my example as a Christian) makes me take up all the small daily crosses that parents have and lovingly embrace the large ones too.
Abbot Nicholas has described Christian detachment as loving one another but not clinging to each other. We can only ever learn to truly love if we learn to be detached in our relationships. As a mom, seeing my children as God’s children first (not just belonging to me) has had a huge impact on the kind of mother I am. As a Christian mother I only have the right to pray for God’s will to be done in my children’s lives and not pray for my own will. I also must cooperate with God’s will and shape and encourage my children to seek His will as well, knowing that they need to form their own relationship with God.
At times we moms can be so hard on ourselves. We can also lose ourselves in our roles as moms and wives, and I mean lose ourselves in a bad way. We forget that before we were ever anyone’s mom (or wife) we were first daughters of God. Making our relationship with God priority is an absolute must, we can’t just say its priority…we have to make it so. Daily prayer, regular confession and communion, retreats away every now and then, tending to our own souls and not neglecting them because we don’t have time is essential to being better moms. I can’t be a good mom without God’s help; I have to walk with God daily not just as a mom and wife but first as His daughter.
At least a few times every year, Abbot Nicholas gives a homily where he talks about Mary being the model of every Christian; I think about this often. In the Theotkokos we see how we should be Christians. She was first the daughter of God the Father, ready to do His will throughout her entire life. She was the mother of Jesus: a mother who did not think of herself and her own desires for her child but taught her son to follow the will of God even unto death. She was the spouse of the Holy Spirit, mystically united to Him and bearing the fruit of salvation for the world.
When I think about motherhood and the kind of mom I hope to be, there is no better source of inspiration then the Mother of God. I am in no way near a perfect mom, but I do know I am a much better one then I would’ve been without my faith and without the sources of inspiration I have in my life.