Being a parent is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I have. It is full of joy and small sacramental moments that often point me toward God amidst the mundane tasks of my day—the pure happiness on my infant daughter’s face every time she sees one of our family members, the wonder at watching a child grow and develop, the lightheartedness and laughter that explodes from my older two as they burst through the front door after school.
Parenting is a job, though, that at times can make me feel like the seams may rip open and all chaos will break out despite my best efforts to meet the needs of my three kids. There are nights I lay awake with worry about one of them and something he or she is facing. So often, I toss and turn as I analyze my actions as a mom that day, often begging Mary to pray for me and to help me be a better mom and to teach me how to love the ways my children need to be loved.
I turn often to my faith and ask, What’s there that can help me? As a mother who is deeply passionate about the Spiritual Exercises, I’ve learned that Ignatian spirituality offers me three helpful lessons as a parent.
1. “Let the Creator deal directly with the creature.”
Ignatius suggests this concept (SE 15) to people leading others through the Spiritual Exercises. There is much wisdom here for me as a mom. While I deeply love and care for my children, God loves them more. While I am always working on their behalf, God’s labor for them supersedes my own. I find comfort in knowing that God is dealing directly with my children the way I experience God dealing directly with me. When one of my children makes choices or decisions that worry me, I find comfort in knowing that God, too, is working on his or her heart.
2. We are active participants.
As parents we are called to be active in our children’s lives. While God is dealing directly with our children, God is also trusting us, as parents, to be actively involved in the rearing of our children, to be passionate about loving them and helping them learn about God’s love for them, and to be diligent in teaching them right and wrong and how to make good choices. As parents, we have work to do, work that is our vocation. Parenting is not a passive role by any means! However, at times, we are called to participate simply by noticing, watching, or receiving what our children have to give the world. Sometimes all we can do as parents is to pray for our kids and participate in God’s unfolding work in their lives.
3. Jesus models the way.
At the heart of the Spiritual Exercises is coming to know the person of Jesus and in so doing we learn how to live and love. Jesus models for me how to go about my job as a parent, even when it feels hard. Jesus went about his tasks with his Father’s help. Jesus carried his Cross with God’s help. Jesus was deeply rooted in God, and he turned to God often. He prayed, and then he went about his task. That’s all I can do as a mom. In the middle of my tasks, I can stop, pause, turn my heart and mind to God, and then go about my day—changing diapers, nursing, running carpool, cooking meals, overseeing homework, doing laundry, and shuttling kids to and from activities. I can go to God often in my day, bringing the joys and worries and mundane tasks to God, and then focus again on living the beautiful vocation given me to be a mom.
I write this post as much for me as I do for other parents who will read this. I need these reminders during my sleepless nights or the days I question my ability to care for the three gifts God gave me in my children. These lessons of Ignatian spirituality bring me comfort and respite as I come to a deeper understanding that there are many things that I cannot handle alone, and therefore, I am utterly dependent on God.
There is a clarity in your writing Becky. An openness that seems easy to emulate. Also you put into words the very things I believe so passionately. Mary has also been a model for me, and I believe that how I live my life is a model for my children. I look with pride upon them, as they take up their belief and make it their own. They have seen my pain and crosses, my compassion and forgiveness, my faith alive and active. I trust God will walk with them in their journey, as He has in mine, only they show differences, because their world outside seems so different to the one I grew up in. The faith basis from which they spring has been nurtured strongly from not just my own belief, but within the family, parish and school community. The whole person is imbued with spirituality! I thank God every day for my faith, my children, my community.
Thank you so much for this. While it can be difficult to remind ourselves to let the Creator deal directly with the creature, knowing that He is frees us of so much unecessary worry, parituclary when we realize that He is dealing directly with us and providing us with the grace needed to love and lead.
May God continue blessing you, your family, and all of us with your ministry… thank you.
I feel so comforted by reading your comments regarding the three spiritual exercises in parenting.
I am a widow whose husband died when our only child was 13. Being thrown into parenting a son alone when I grew up with 4 sisters and knew nothing about the attitudes of male teenagers, I needed help. I turned to God for support.
I did a poor job raising him, but he’s in the Marines now at age 19 and doing well.
Your comments informing me of spiritual exercises is such a blessing. I know I should be more aware of the saints’ lives and other spiritual aids we have. I thank you for opening my eyes at age 56. I will pursue the knowledge of the saints, especially the doctors of the Church, and their gifts given to us to help us become more active in learning how to put God first in our lives and how to live a more fulfilling Catholic life.
Thank you for this, Becky. I’ve been reading your posts for some time now and have been blessed by each of them.
This post on parenting is an especially well-timed reminder for me. My children are grown now, and my parenting role is not so much done, as different. I’m finding that, just as with other areas of life, my role as mother must evolve — with some parts dying and giving way to new purposes — as my children have grown into their own adulthood. It seems so obvious when reduced to words here. But during times of challenge — those times of chaos and confusion when I want to just drop into their lives and fix everything for them — God’s way for me is not always so clear.
Your post reminds me that in these times especially faith and prayer and recognition of my total dependence on Him must be my first course of action so that His will may be done.
So many thanks for this blessing.
The word that best fits parenting, I think, is vocation. The commitment is all encompassing and as my kids grow I am increasingly aware of the responsibility to educate them spiritually as well as academically. I’d love to hear more about practicing Ignatian spirituality with kids, especially those under 10 who can be very wiggly!