Life is so chock-full of upheaval, confusion and change that it can start to make us feel like oranges being squeezed for Sunday brunch. This can be downright depressing, terrifying or give us that constant trickle of adrenaline that makes sleep and relaxation nearly impossible. The feeling of constant floundering and sadness sends many young mothers into depression.
This is not how it should be! Children are gifts from the Lord made to help us grow into stronger and more virtuous people, while providing joy and laughter along the way. If we follow how the Bible tells us to handle challenges, we can turn our sorrows into joys and let the struggles inherent to motherhood mold us into the saints we hope to be.
Our Lady’s example
Our Lady provides an example through how she both experienced and learned from anxiety in motherhood. Every mother can imagine the terror of losing her child in the middle of a crowded pilgrimage and not being able to find him for three days. Scripture tells us that Mary and Joseph were searching “with great anxiety” (Lk 2:48).
Anxiety about the future is not sinful, or else the Blessed Mother would have been perfectly at peace at all times. It is only a feeling, which means that our will can and should be working to master it. However, even in her anxiety, she knew to trust the Lord’s plan. She was not curled up in a ball wailing, she was not complaining, she was not cursing God for the terrifying and embarrassing situation in which he put her. Instead, she actively searched and worked to remedy the situation. I imagine that she was praying continuously and searching nearly as much. While her feelings were anxious, her heart still trusted in her divine son.
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Yet, did she truly have reason for anxiety? Her child was God — the very body, blood, soul and divinity himself. If he desired to go away for a few days, who was she to argue? But being human, she became anxious. We, too, fall into this tendency, but as we are not sinless, we continue down a road paved by lack of trust in God, which often leads to various sins in an effort to cope.
The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph realized their mistake in becoming anxious and immediately said, no more. They knew that it was folly not to trust the Lord, and just as Jesus returned with them, so their hearts returned with him to worry no more. His plan is always best, even when we cannot see how.
The illusion of control
This scenario plays out over and over again in our own lives, albeit with children slightly less perfect than the Almighty … or maybe more than slightly. We, as mothers, are gifted these incredible little creatures, each bearing a will and temperament all his own, yet with just as fallen a nature as ours. Not a recipe for success without some help. Anyone who has ever had the fun of managing children who are fighting, barfing, and a naked baby running wild all at the same time will understand. And if you don’t understand, may the Lord continue to bless you with your ignorance!
No one can disrupt plans, both the large and the small, like children. However, in a society where we have the illusion that we decide the course of our lives, these continual reminders of how little we really do control are causing huge amounts of internal anxiety, fear and depression in mothers. When we see the two pink lines on a test, we instantly begin imagining how we will raise our children, the wonderful experiences we will provide for them, and the beautiful relationships we will have. Then the child is born, and everything is turned upside down. Often, the reality is better than the imaginings, but the time spent learning that lesson is both lengthy and hard.
After eight years of parenting my five boys, I have come to realize that the way to happiness as a parent of many littles is to be happy. Come now, you say, that’s impossible. Fair point — you might be right, but only partly. Choosing joy through surrendering to God’s plan for our lives does not always make us instantly happy, but it does make us a lot less sad, for true sadness is impossible when we know without a doubt that we are working with God’s plan for salvation, rather than against it. This kind of internal joy is a choice that can be carried through any situation or emotion that occurs.
Every time something bad happens, be thankful for some aspect of it. Find the good hidden in every trial. Start small; you would never go to the gym and hit the heavy side of the free weights the first day. Your mind is a muscle, so give it some easy challenges, then increase your weights as you get more skilled.
Being thankful for our suffering helps us to surrender to the Lord’s plan. We cannot truly say that we accept his will when we protest at every bump in the road. Gratitude and acceptance are linked as one leads us to the other. Acceptance helps us appreciate the Lord’s plan even when it is not what we wished; gratitude helps us to see the good in his plan and surrender to it. Not only does this help our spiritual lives, but it also helps us to be better mothers as we can more easily move past trials and get back to living our vocations.
Habit of gratitude
Just as Mary pondered her experience with losing the Christ child, we, too, need to sit back and ponder both our experiences and reactions to them. Are we accepting what God has asked of us in the moment, or are we fighting it because it is hard, scary or uncomfortable?
No matter how dire the situation, there is always something to be thankful for, however small. The Lord is all-powerful, all-good and all-knowing; therefore, he already knew what would happen and has already made a plan to account for every poor choice and every sin so that we still have the best possible chance at the greatest good of eternal life. It is vitally important that we practice this habit of gratitude when our children are little, when hopefully death has not yet made itself too known to us and before the true struggles of life begin to show. When I look at my children, and I look at the world they are living in, I can see the foreshadowing of many potential sufferings, and I hope that I have built up enough mental muscle to remain thankful, joyful and accepting even in spite of what time will deliver.
This is a lot to accept, so take time and ponder this. Our efforts to give our sufferings to God and be both thankful and accepting of his holy will are not taken for granted by the Christ child. He saw how his parents, even in their distress, were trying to accept his will, and he rewarded them by humbly returning to Nazareth with them and being obedient to them. Just so, he sees our efforts and he loves them.
Occasionally I ask my son to clean the bathroom and he balks momentarily, but then smiles and says, “Yes mom!” I cannot express how delighted I am with this. Not so much with the clean bathroom, since it won’t ever be as clean as if I did it myself; no, I am delighted with his acceptance of what I asked and with his obedience. It makes me want to reward him, smile at him, and do extra things to make him happy.
Our Lord is the same. Even when we fail 90% of the time, when he sees one effort to accept his will without complaint, he is overjoyed and will shower down more graces than we could ever imagine. All he wants is our happiness with him. He sees your effort, mama, and he is pleased.