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. Â I’ve prayed them as a kid in a blue plaid uniform and as a teenager attending a high school named after St. Francis. Â 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. Â You now have to step up to the plate and do what your parents once did for you. Â You aren’t on the receiving end of the action words anymore, like you used to be when you were a kid. Â You’re now the subject of the verb, the one doing the helping or the consoling or the understanding or the listening or Â the comforting.
Is it hard to give and give like that? Â You bet.
And yet even though you are constantly sacrificing yourself for others, and yes, Â even though you may feel a little bitter about that at times, you don’t go away empty. Â 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. Â 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. Â In serving others, we receive our own graces, gifts we didn’t know we needed.
And when you remember that truth, parenting becomes easier. Â 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. Â 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.