As a forty-year-old cradle Catholic, I’ve heard these words more times than I can count:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
I’ve read these words, I’ve memorized them, I’ve sung them. I’ve prayed them as a kid in a blue plaid uniform and as a teenager attending a high school named after St. Francis. I thought I knew them inside and out, until I was reflecting on them a few weeks back and I suddenly realized that they capture motherhood — motherhood, in all its paradox and glory — so perfectly.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
When you have a child, you realize that your role in this universe has forever shifted. You now have to step up to the plate and do what your parents once did for you. You aren’t on the receiving end of the action words anymore, like you used to be when you were a kid. You’re now the subject of the verb, the one doing the helping or the consoling or the understanding or the listening or the comforting.
Is it hard to give and give like that? You bet.
And yet even though you are constantly sacrificing yourself for others, and yes, even though you may feel a little bitter about that at times, you don’t go away empty. There’s a freedom that comes from realizing that your own little you-centered plans for the evening are not the only ones, or even the best ones. You come to realize that playing a game on the living room rug with your kids is actually far more renewing than looking at shoes online. In serving others, we receive our own graces, gifts we didn’t know we needed.
And when you remember that truth, parenting becomes easier. Maybe next time, your kids won’t have to ask so many times before you finally pry yourself away from the laptop and help them set up the gameboard. Maybe you’ll even be the one to suggest playing the game in the first place.
Because there’s a wonderful paradox to parenting: when we empty ourselves, we end up full.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.