Jenny Uebbing: Turn off your Autopilot Mom
Q: I love my faith and that doesn’t change, but as a busy mom of two toddlers I don’t have the same time I used to to spontaneously go to adoration prayer journal, or research news – simply to invest. I am in a rut and on auto pilot with a lot of brain fog. I don’t want to be here and I know its normal, but do you have any advice on practical ways to reconnect with our Lord on a heart level. I just want to feel connected, even to a saint, something. I know the truth, but I feel numb. I’d love a strong, loving boost out of this complacency, I want to do something different, be reminded of the adventure he has us on, but I’m so tired.
A: “I sense tiredness in your letter, which is easy to understand…On top of this, you always wanted to plan and do everything rationally. And here is the kingdom of irrationality, where normal activity and energy aren’t enough.”
“The kingdom of irrationality” … pretty much nails parenthood, especially those hazy early years. These words, spoken in tender friendship to the mother with 1-year-old twins, give me so much consolation. Not only because they’re true, but because they come from the lips of my beloved St. John Paul II, writing to a dear friend struggling with her first year of mothering twins. He goes on to say “you need to wait things out, some time to do nothing, and simply, patience – especially since there are two.”
I think his advice on the need for “some time to do nothing” is most essential to us as mothers, and most often overlooked. I know I cram all the available minutes with another load of laundry, another quick round of emails, a flurry of lunch packing and dishwasher loading and reading just one more thing online and then suddenly it’s 11 pm and I’m already behind the 8 ball for a day that hasn’t even dawned.
Physical and emotional self-care is so critical to a healthy prayer life. Even the most disciplined religious orders have regular times for exercise, rest, and recreation woven into their day. I remember reading about Mother Teresa’s sister’s “tea time” in their daily ministry schedule and being amazed. If the Missionaries of Charity can step away from the Home for the Dying to relax with a cup of tea in the afternoon, I can lock myself in my office for 15 minutes of quiet reflection or a nap or a cup of coffee with a good book.
Our prayer lives are generally a direct reflection of the effort we put forth. When I’m exhausted to the bone and frantic over all the details of work and home life, I can maybe squeeze in half a rosary while I’m falling asleep at night. Sometimes, like in those early weeks of nursing a newborn or a toddler in the throes of sleep regression, that is truly all I have to offer. Other times – most times, if I’m being honest with myself – I’ve made other things a priority all day, pressing and important though they may be, and my intimacy with the Lord suffers, simply because I’m not resting with Him.
On a practical level, some of the most fruitful seasons of closeness with Him in my motherhood have been times when I’ve scheduled – ruthlessly and unromantically – quality time with Him. This past Lent, for example, I set an alarm and spent 20 minutes with Blessed is She’s Lenten journal and some spiritual reading before the rest of the house was awake. It was an enormous sacrifice, and it really was hard every morning to not hit that snooze button, but the Lord repaid that time tithe a hundredfold throughout the day with grace in abundance. Other times I’ve tied some of my “have to’s” with spiritual disciplines, keeping the radio off in the car until after I’ve prayed a Rosary or spent some time in mental prayer, for example. Praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet on the treadmill. Offering up petitions for specific children as I wash their dishes and fold their clothes, not only in a general “I hate this so I’m offering it up” sort of attitude, but a real effort to unite that particular action to the child to whom it belonged.
I have also found that when my prayer time is dry and my relationship with God leaves me feeling numb, there is something there that is keeping us from a healthy intimacy. God will use the circumstances and seasons of our ordinary lives to root out past hurts and old wounds, drawing the poison to the surface so that we’ll invite Him into the pain and accept His healing touch. “Unbound” by Neal Lozano and “Be Healed” by Bob Schuttes are two fantastic books that have really been like sticks of dynamite for my spiritual life. Sometimes it’s not only the sleep deprivation and circumstances preventing intimacy with Jesus, but a past hurt or an agreement with the enemy that are keeping us apart.
Finally, it’s always a beautiful exercise to ask God for a particular saint to pray with and then see who pops up. Maybe there’s a saint already “stalking you,” someone whose feast day is your wedding anniversary, whose words keep popping out at you in books, or who share your personality or your interests. Pray for a saintly best friend to accompany you in the spiritual life, and be amazed at who pops up.
Our world is full of noise and endless distraction. That still, small voice of the lover of our souls is difficult to hear over the clamor of social media and the rumble of the washing machine. It’s up to us to open up a little white space in our days and in our hearts so that we don’t miss out on His invitation.
Learn more about Jenny here at Mama Needs Coffee