Lord Jesus, Hear our pleas, our good shepherd and divine physician. We implore your mercy…
Motherhood and prayer
“My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.” — Psalm 63:9
The familiar words wash over me as I rinse the breakfast dishes. Morning prayer, Sunday Week 1. I can see the verses on the page, though today I’m listening to them on a podcast. I don’t have the hands to thumb through my Christian Prayer anymore.
I exhale, feeling the comfort and certainty in David’s words from Psalm 63 as I am rooted once more in the word of God.
When I first prayed those words as part of Liturgy of the Hours, I was just out of college and not sure I would enjoy the repetition of this new-to-me form of prayer. How wrong I was. More than a decade later, these words, memorized and prayed every four weeks like clockwork (and extra on feast days), still bring me peace and remind me of my deepest need: Christ.
Mothers need an authentic encounter with Jesus just like everyone else. And just like everyone else, we need a deep and abiding relationship with the Lord to thrive. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup, and we are constantly being asked to pour ourselves out. Being a mom requires a total gift of self in a way that nothing else does, dying to yourself in a million little ways. The sacrifices of motherhood are large, small and never-ending, which can make maintaining a relationship with the Lord difficult.
I was prepared for some of the changes becoming a mom would require of me. I was ready for the middle of the night feedings, the long recovery from birth, the loss of autonomy. What I was not ready for was the seismic shift that took place in my prayer life once I became a mom.
My cherished middle-of-the-night adoration hour, that bonus time with God while the world slept? Gone. Our daughter nursed all night, and I was already losing too much sleep. Morning and evening prayer from Liturgy of the Hours, daily on a set schedule? Nope. Babies don’t understand time, and their needs can’t wait.
Prayer rhythm with God
Suddenly, all of the ways I was used to praying, all of the aspects of my prayer life I had taken for granted, seemed impossible and out of reach. Being used to spending large amounts of time with the Lord, I struggled with guilt and frustration in that first year of my daughter’s life. My rhythm with God was off. I had to find it again.
In the beginning, I mourned for what was and what I thought would never be again. But in doing that, I was putting God in a box of my own making. Over time, and with the gentle patience he always shows, the Lord led me to a place I didn’t expect. My faith has only grown stronger in my years as a mother, in large part because motherhood has required me to cling so desperately to Jesus.
When we moved into our home we had friends give us a cutting from their raspberry bushes. The first year we left it alone — it was finding its bearings, growing its roots. The next spring, it blossomed and then produced a few handfuls of berries. In the fall we cut the brambles almost to the ground. If you’ve ever grown raspberries you know that it is only in ruthless pruning that you will reap a bountiful harvest. My experience with prayer and motherhood has been a bit like that. There has been a lot of pruning over the years to get to where I am now, and I’m sure that more is to come. My faith is stronger because of it.
We are all created in the image and likeness of God, but we are not all the same. We have different personalities, different tastes, different temperaments. This is true of the food we eat and the hobbies we enjoy, but also of our prayer lives. I may have a deep devotion to Mary but struggle with the Rosary. You may love charismatic prayer but can’t quite understand the appeal of the traditional Latin Mass. The Catholic Church is a big tent, and we are blessed because of it.
But while our prayer lives reflect our unique persons — and thus differ greatly from woman to woman — every mother needs to maintain a deep and abiding relationship with the Lord in order to grow and thrive. I know this to be true because Jesus himself said it when he stated: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me” (Jn 15:4).
Part of my journey as a mother has been figuring out how to remain in Christ’s love in my day to day not just because it makes me a better mom, but because it keeps me rooted in my truest identity: beloved daughter of God. These days, I am often reminded that the word remain is a verb. It is not a passive thing to remain in Christ at any stage of life, but as a mom, I’ve found that it requires a greater amount of intentionality and effort.
Finding time to pray
Sometimes remaining feels like a moving target. I’ll find a great rhythm of prayer and then one child will go through a sleep regression and I can’t keep my eyes awake in the evening to pray. Or I’ll have the perfect pocket of time after lunch and a child will drop a nap. Insert inconvenience here. A large part of motherhood is flexibility, and learning to be flexible in my prayer has been key to helping me remain with Jesus. When I stopped trying to fight all of the changes and simply began to adapt my prayer life to them, I found peace.
For me, adapting meant finding new ways to lean into the riches of the Church I have always loved, like the Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual reading and praying with others. I may not be able to go to daily Mass or pray the whole of morning prayer, but I found I can do a shortened version with a Magnificat or app on my phone. I don’t always have time for spiritual reading, but I do have time to listen to a recorded talk or podcast while I watch my children play outside. It’s not always possible to get a babysitter and go out to meet my friends for Bible study, but I can jump on a Zoom call with them after the kids are asleep and build community virtually. Getting up earlier than my kids isn’t a realistic option because I’ve got a 4-year-old who regularly wakes at 5:30, but I can sneak in 20 minutes after they’ve gone to bed for some silent time with God all on my own before I begin the evening’s tasks.
These may not be my ideal ways to pray, but persevering through the difficulties of prioritizing a relationship with Christ while in the thick of motherhood has helped me grow as a person and as a mom. It’s also kept me sane in the chaos, helping me to respond well to the many unexpected challenges I face each day. I can say with confidence that years ago I was not aware that God’s grace is boundless. He provides more than I need if I but cling to him and allow his hand to hold me fast.
Colleen Pressprich is the author of “Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children” (OSV, $18.95). She writes from Michigan.