The summer of discontent

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

At the beginning of this year, I set myself a spiritual goal to focus on contentment.
I have not been incredibly successful.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to be. Some goals are set knowing they are beyond reach—knowing that the striving toward them brings one closer to God.

Still, it’s been a hard year to reach for contentment. The summer disappeared beneath a deluge of appointments, meetings, and a million other very worthy time constrains that are not writing time. Early July, a friend offered me an open invitation to sit in her screened-in gazebo by a creek—with wifi!—to work any day I wanted. “I can’t come tomorrow,” I said, “but I’ll be there the day after.”

It’s been eight weeks and I still haven’t had time.

57071841

During this same interlude, I began reading Shannon K. Evans’ new book, coming out next month—Rewilding Motherhood.

Almost right off the bat, she asked a question that stopped me cold:

Why are we demanding that we be content? What if our discontent is a message from God? What would happen if we followed, rather than denied, that discontent? What if that discontent is a holy prompting, calling us to something more?

This question shocked me into self-reflection. I think her primary focus is mothers who feel pressure from the culture—especially the religious culture—to be content with motherhood as their total identity, all the fulfillment they need. That was me, once, but not for a long time. Publishing music, publishing a novel—I am officially on the rolls of working mothers.
I used to get squirmy and guilty identifying myself as such. I still hesitate to claim the label; my work is so flexible, it often gets shunted aside altogether. (Hence my recent discontent.) I am not caught between two immovable forces the way mothers who work outside the home are.

But work it remains. And I realized long ago that the gifts God gave me were not given to be stuck under a basket for twenty-odd years until my nest empties, at which point I’d be so rusty it would take another series of years to hone them, if indeed I could at all at that point.
So my first thought was that I’m not sure the question entirely applies to me.

And yet… and yet! What if my difficulty finding contentment is not a sign of my own lack of spiritual fortitude, but of the whisper of the Spirit saying, “Something is out of balance”?

Simply giving myself permission to ask the question shook loose some recognitions in the way our family life is set up. There are things we tend to laugh about. Like, Dad is sitting at the kitchen table on Saturday morning and Mom is outside pulling weeds, and yet the kid comes outside to ask Mom for whatever the thing is? Really?

Twice on Sunday afternoon, I closed the bedroom door to do something for myself—write this blog post, the first time, and the second, simply take a nap—and literally within fifteen seconds someone shouted my name. It’s like there’s a radar that says: “Warning! Mom is taking time for herself! Red alert! Stop her at all costs!”

Voice such a frustration in public and a mother will inevitably get variations on one of two themes: 1) “You’ll miss this someday! Enjoy it while it lasts!” or 2) “That’s the nature of the job!” It never occurs to us to say, “Sure, I’ll laugh at this someday, and of course I’ll miss my kids when they leave—but that doesn’t change the fact that right now, people are interrupting my self-care for ridiculous minutiae they are perfectly capable of dealing with without me.”

What if I actually asserted my Godly identity as a human being independent of motherhood? What if I chose to say, “I am a person too, and my needs are more important right now than your Xbox time”?

What if I stopped making a martyr of myself and simply, firmly insisted that others must also be flexible—that I am not always the one who must give way?

The religious part of me rears up at such things. Self-gift! Self-sacrifice! Self-emptying! But these things go more than one direction. Mothers are not the only ones who need to practice them.

Gratitude, round 2

The sheer volume of What Must Be Done lately has completely buried me. I am worn down, tired, and frustrated. Summer school is supposed to give the kids structure (so they don’t sit in the house fighting all day) and me time to work and see to my own “oxygen mask,” but it hasn’t worked out that way this summer.

So it’s a good thing for me to be intentional about gratitude—because, left to my own devices, I would only grouse.

I am grateful for:

Sightings of my (secular fiction) book “in the wild”–this one is Rhode Island, but I’ve gotten these shots from Colorado, California, Chicago, Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan, New Jersey, and more. Anxious book mamas can take a deep breath, seeing those shots.
Wine dinner with my husband–what a lovely evening!
Daily giggles from the Daily Buzz my chromosomally-gifted daughter does at school as part of her self-awareness, self-reporting, executive functioning IEP goal.
My patio and back yard. I’d live our here if I could.

Oh yes…and this.

DONE with driving lessons! We have a third licensed driver in the house… FINALLY.
Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

What are you grateful for today?

Shaking up the Prayer routine

For years, my prayer routine has been consistent: audio daily readings from the USCCB, followed by the USCCB daily reflection video and usually a Robert Barron reflection email.

Throughout the pandemic shutdown and semi-shutdown, I’ve been coping with the extra togetherness by going for hikes and long bike rides, which give me greater time for prayer in solitude and (sort of) stillness. (Sort of, because my brain is a beehive constantly)

But as the weather got too cold for outdoor rest/restoration/prayer time, I realized I have to shake up my prayer routine to offset the lack of access to stillness and solitude. In December, I reached out to one of my choir members who has been involved in contemplative prayer outreach, and he generously put together a stack of books to get me started.

So this year I am devoting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to contemplative prayer, and mixing up the other four days of the week with daily Scriptures, etc.

The first thing I realized is that I’ve already been doing this for years. But now I’m approaching it in a new way.

Contemplative prayer is hard work, but I can feel the difference. Yesterday the weather was unseasonably warm, and I carved out two hours for a hike/walk along a creek in a local nature area. I found an eroded bank to lean back against for about forty minutes of off-and-on bonus contemplative prayer. For the rest of the day and evening I basked in a glow of contentment. Despite it being the craziest day of the week; despite having thousands of things to do and all kinds of anxieties surrounding circumstances I can’t change. Despite it all: contentment.

It was an eye-opener. William A. Meninger says that contemplative prayer is the most effective one there is–not that rosaries and Lectio Divina and so on are not good, because they are, and will always be necessary–but this is where we most truly love God, because we are simply being with him, without agenda–and for that reason it is the most effective praying we can do. It has been a part of Christian prayer for millennia.

The way I felt last night certainly gave some weight to that assertion.