When Becoming a Mother Changes Your Spiritual Life
I knew having a baby was supposed to change everything, and I thought I was ready for that change. But for some reason, I had no idea how much it would change my relationship with God. Before I became a mother—back when my body, time and energy were all my very own to utilize however I wished—I had a familiar, comfortable pattern of prayer, worship and connecting with God. I could concentrate during Mass, and linger in the pew afterwards to meditate for a while. I could pray the entire rosary in a single sitting if I wanted to, and read spiritual books for hours on end if I so desired.
Then, BOOM! Motherhood happened! And suddenly, all of my usual ways of connecting with God felt compromised. During Mass, I felt trapped in the noisy exile of the cry room constantly sniffing my son’s diaper to see if that smell was him, and feeling exceptionally blessed if I could make it all the way through to the final blessing without getting spit-up on in the only outfit that wasn't pajamas that week. And at home, reading spiritual readings, and/or praying an entire rosary in one sitting? Forget it. Between me falling asleep, and the baby waking up, I was lucky if I could get a whole paragraph or decade in.
As it turns out, becoming a parent changes everything, including our spiritual lives. This may be a little disorienting at first, but I've found that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having a baby offers us the opportunity to find new avenues for spiritual growth and participation in God's mercy.
Here are a few ways I’ve learned to pray, worship and connect with God in the midst of the amazing chaos that is new motherhood.
Come to Mass prepared. Let’s face it. It may be a few years (decades?) before a new mother will be able to stay entirely focused during Mass again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fully participate in celebrating the sacrament. Studying the Mass liturgy is invaluable for all Catholics, especially new moms. The more we know about it, the more we're able to know exactly what's going on, even when we can't hear or see exactly what's going on. I've also found that reading the Scripture verses ahead of time is extremely helpful. We still may not be able to hear the entire homily every week, but don't worry. We’ll get to that.
Find a good Bible study for Catholic mothers. No one is more understanding and forgiving of the struggles and awkwardness of new motherhood than other mothers. Finding supportive ones who share the same faith, and getting together with them to study the faith can not only help us grow in our spiritual lives, it can help break us out of the isolation that we often feel from being home with the baby most of the time.
Create a buddy system for Confession. Need someone to help watch your baby so you can go to Confession? Chances are, so do other Catholic mothers you know! Make arrangements to help each other with the little ones so each mommy is able to have a turn for uninterrupted, distraction-free Confession. Maybe even see if there’s a priest willing to hear confessions in conjunction with a Catholic mothers’ play date. If not, just go to the regularly scheduled Confession with friends. Confession is a great relief for the challenged soul, and there is no reason why having a little one should keep new mothers from participating this important sacrament.
Listen to Catholic audio books, podcasts and other online teachings. Delving into deep spiritual readings while bouncing a newborn, and interpreting the world through "mommy brain" may not be ideal for everyone. Fortunately, we are blessed to live in the Digital Age with a plethora of audio resources at our disposal. Didn’t quite catch the homily on Sunday? Weekly teachings from Bishop Robert Barron and Dr. Scott Hahn are just a couple of my favorite ways to still reflect on the Mass readings. The St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology offers a whole library of online audio courses that are great to have playing while mommy-ing around the house, or driving around town. There’s even a Fulton Sheen app containing a full library of his sermons. Multitasking may be a necessity at this point, but it’s also an opportunity to fill our thoughts with light, rather than dwell in the excessive worrying that can often accompany new motherhood.
Pray a decade of the Rosary at a time. When I first learned to pray the Rosary, I didn’t even know this was an option. Now, this is pretty much the only way it can happen in my life. Especially in the very beginning, it helps to plan when you’ll pray each decade. For example, every time the baby falls asleep, pray a decade, then do what you were going to do while the baby's asleep.
Find a good spiritual director. Sometimes, we just need a little help finding our bearings. This is especially true if we experience Baby Blues or full-on Postpartum Depression, which can cause us to feel disconnected from God altogether. A good spiritual director can help us discern God's presence in in the midst of our situations, and help us figure out what He’s trying to communicate to us through all of it. Spiritual direction may also help us figuring out ways to find much-needed spiritual nourishment as we settle into our new roles as mothers.
Read Christian children’s books to the baby. As the baby gifts started coming in, we received more than one copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible, so we knew it must be pretty good. For the first several months, I made a daily practice of reading the stories to our son. He loved hearing my voice, and looking at the colorful pages. And I found myself blessed and encouraged to remember God’s goodness in the simple, yet beautiful presentation of the Gospel.
Offer everything to God in prayer. As we began this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I felt the need to become more familiar with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy so I could make sure I was practicing them in my everyday life. I looked them up, and as it turns out, many of our Works of Mercy pretty much describe motherhood! Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, instruct the ignorant, etc. Mercy and motherhood are intimately connected, and as mothers, everything we do can be offered to God in sacrifice and thanksgiving. If we lift our hearts to Him while fulfilling our everyday motherly tasks, those mundane tasks become the very acts of prayer that unite us to Christ in His mission to bring mercy to humanity.
Having a child may change everything, that's true. But change does not have to mean ruin. In fact, change can be good. The truth is that our bodies, our time and our energy were never really our own, anyway. They have always belonged to God, and motherhood is a calling from God. So answering that calling in the way He intends for us to will not separate us from Him, or keep us from growing in Him. Instead, it can bring us closer to Him as we find new ways to become exactly who He has called us to be.