Today I was sitting in the play room, gazing upon my still-stacked-high-with-Christmas-stuff dining room table and lamenting to my mom about how much I hate our dining set. Perhaps, I told her, I would hate it a little less if it weren't taunting me with its resident mess that should have been packed up weeks ago. Perhaps. My mom, in her loveliness, told me not to worry. She said she'll help me pack everything up while she's here visiting and then maybe when I can SEE the dining room set we can figure out how to make it so that I LIKE it.
She's a smart lady, my mom. You see, the issue of my frustration today had really nothing to do with the dining set (which, really. I really dislike it. REALLY.) And more to do with the fact that I just can't get that Christmas stuff out of the way. It's not getting done. It's there. It's looming. I should do it and I can't. JUST. CAN'T.
If I were looking for a way to describe how this Christmas was for us, that sentiment nails it. This was the Christmas of "I just can't get it done." I think what it comes down to is that we were SO looking forward to the holidays this year. We had our new baby. We had our new big, beautiful home. We wanted to decorate. We wanted to make it magical. And, you know, maybe somewhere in there we'd fit in a little bit of Holy too. That's the important part, right? Don't forget The Holy. Riiiiiight. HOLY. Jesus is the reason for the season and all that. To be honest, this Christmas blew past me so blasted fast that if I were to put on paper my mental calendar of the past few months, it would go straight from Thanksgiving to today. It CHAPS MY HIDE that this was our reality - that there was no Advent this year - but that's how it happened.
Make no mistake - our Christmas was lovely. But it was fast. It was exhausting. And? Many parts of it were a chore. Getting the Christmas tree. Putting it up. Decorating it. You name it, it was on the To Do List just waiting to be scratched off. Just so we could say it was done.
We have our own little traditions that we're putting in place for the boys, among which include my in-laws joining us for breakfast on Christmas morning so that they can see the boys open the presents that Santa has brought. Once gifts were opened and little people were distracted, I sat down with my coffee and my mother-in-law to enjoy a nice visit. She began telling me how, the day before, she had turned off the TV entirely. She knew that Christmas day would be too hectic to truly meditate and recognize Christ's birth, so she did it the day before.
Truly meditate on Christ's birth. Attempt to comprehend the love behind the Incarnation. Ponder what humility came with that Divine Condescension. I can't remember the last time that I had that privilege...that I made that time for myself.
Days later, in the car by myself, I found myself reflecting on this conversation. The time goes, I realized, we'll be deep into the season of Lent. Another penitential season. Another time of preparation, this time for the holiest days of the year. Another season that, if I'm not careful, will blow past me with little more observation than a few meatless Fridays. In considering these two holy holy seasons, I became frustrated by the fact that (especially now that I have children) they always seem to just pass me by. Sure, I make efforts to recognize the seasons, but year after year they pass before I even realize what's going on.
While I cruised down the highway that day, I began to get a little down on myself. My spiritual life is so different now than it was as a single person, most specifically as a college student living on a campus where you were inundated with holiness. There was no escaping it, no ignoring it. During those years I found it nearly impossible to be too busy to pray, too distracted to meditate, too tired to devote myself to the observance of the life of my Lord. I wondered how I could be a good example to my children in what is TRULY important when, this year, I couldn't even get it together enough to finish the superficial stuff.
As my mind drifted on to my sweet little boys - those little Men In Progress whose souls have been entrusted to me - I started to fret about how in the world I will be able to adequately mold those souls when most of the time I feel like my own is barely hanging on. How can I show them the holiness of Christmas and the love of Good Friday when my own daily prayer consists mostly of a frantic glance at my crucifix and a whispered, "Help me, Lord! Hold me up, Blessed Mother!"
On the verge of despair, a little angel must have whispered in my ear. Nudged me with a gentle reminder of what a priest friend of ours said to me not long ago. He said, "parenthood is not a contemplative vocation." Thank God for guardian angels whispering in ears! It's true, isn't it? Every once in a while when I make it to daily Mass, I always marvel at the fact that I can sit and listen to a homily from start to finish with no distractions. No one squirming. No one falling off the pew. No one putting stickers up and down my arms or rearranging the missals and hymnals. Right now, what makes me holy is the daily sacrifice of being Christopher's mommy. It's the tenderness with which I hold Jake THE WHOLE ENTIRE TIME I'M COOKING DINNER just because he still wants to be my baby and it's one of the few times I'm not holding his new baby brother. My holiness comes in the exhaustion from staying up all night with newborn Nathaniel who thinks sleeping is for babies. Er...well...you know what I mean.
What I didn't understand in the conversation with my mother-in-law is that she has a privilege that I do not simply because of the season of life in which she currently resides. That is not my season. Not yet. Mine is one in which she has already lived, and through it, she has earned her contemplative time. My time will come. Until then, my holiness is to be found (as a blogger who I'm continually learning from says) "in the trenches of motherhood." That is where my soul resides and where my children will learn all of those things for which their souls thirst.
But in the meantime? I have GOT to put away those Christmas decorations.