My youngest child is six and my oldest is twenty-six. By virtue of my vocation (or maybe just my particular kids) I have spent a lot of time on my knees. I’ve also learned a lot over the years about the things that uplift me spiritually—and the things that don’t. I offer here five tips.
I’m no spiritual guru—so if you are looking for some more substantial help with your spiritual life, may I suggest reading Saint Augustine, Saint Francis De Sales, Saint Teresa of Avila or some other spiritual giants. The following tips are just from my own personal experience, from one mom to another.
Tip 1: Attending a weekday Mass alone is sometimes better than going with your kids.
I know this is hard for us mothers. We can’t imagine depriving our children of Mass if we ourselves are going. Believe me, I never would have allowed myself to imagine it when my oldest kids were young.
As a homeschooling mom, I tried to get us all to Mass at least 2-3 mornings a week. I had good intentions. Yet, more often than not, whether it was because we were late, or my kids weren’t behaving like I thought they should, my focus was less on the altar and more on what my kids were or weren’t doing in the pews.
One morning some years into my homeschooling, I went to a 6 a.m. exercise class and then went to the 7 a.m. Mass which was right next door. I remember the feeling of true focus. I listened to each of the readings closely; felt myself lifted up at the Consecration. I stayed after Mass to light a candle for each one of my children, and for my husband as well.
On the way home I realized how recollected I felt. I was ready for the day. I didn’t have any guilt about not bringing my children. I had prayed for them. I realized that as good as it is to bring them to a weekday Mass, it’s also okay to go alone. The closer we bring ourselves to God, the better we are going to be as parents.
Now, with four children out of the house, two in high school, and three under the age of eleven, I often go alone to Mass.
Or sometimes I just take one of the kids. We'll make a stop on the way home: they get a doughnut and I get a coffee. My kids know it’s a treat to go to Mass early with mom. It’s a treat for me, too.
Tip 2: Find a place to pray at home.
I recently wrote a post about finding a place to pray at home. This has been invaluable for my prayer life. A priest had asked me where my favorite place to pray was and I didn’t really have an answer.
After rearranging a room in our home to become more of a study, I began using this room for morning prayer. I put a few statues of Our Blessed Mother on the tables and shelves and made sure the crucifix was in a visible place. I always have about four prayer books or other books for spiritual reading.
Although I don’t get to sit in this room every day, I try to get there as often as I can. I have found that creating a place to pray has helped in getting myself to pray more. I find myself longing to go there. Sometimes to read, but sometimes to just be quiet. My kids know that if they can’t find me in the early morning hours, I am usually there.
Tip 3: Make confession a spiritual focus for the family.
There were times when Confession was not the focus or priority that it should have been in our family. I would try to gather whichever of my kids were not busy on Saturday afternoons and head to Confession at 3:30 p.m., when it was offered at the parish nearest our home.
As much as I would try, this would leave me frustrated. Inevitably one or two (or more) of the kids wouldn’t be able to go because they weren't home. So the following week I would try again. I felt like Confession was less of a regular thing and more of a stressful "catch-as-catch-can" kind of thing.
Then we discovered a few years ago that Belmont Abbey, not too far from where we lived (about thirty minutes), offered Confession before the 11 a.m. Mass on Sundays. We decided that at least once a month we would go to that Mass early enough so that we could all get to confession.
Not only did this help us to all get to Confession regularly; it was also a wonderful feeling to go right from reconciliation with Our Lord to receiving Him at Holy Mass.
We’ve kept this up and now, most months, we all get to confession. There are some churches that offer Sunday Confessions. If you can find such a church nearby, I suggest trying to get your family to Confession before Mass. If not, try hard to work out a way to make this amazing sacrament a priority for your family.
Tip 4: Build friendships with strong spiritual women.
I have a few close friends whom I admire for their faith. I can ask them to pray for a particular intention, and I know they will. Although we talk and share many things, in the end our friendship is based on our mutual love for God.
One of my dear friends and I have a little code for praying for one another. Sometimes I will text and just say, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, save souls!” Then she knows I am dealing with something and in need of her prayers. And she does the same to me.
We share articles or novenas that we come across. I know I can count on her to tell me what she really thinks, and I trust that as a faith-filled woman she will give sound spiritual advice. Just yesterday I received a text from her: "St. Joseph lead our families…”
Treasure your friendships with godly women!
Tip 5: Don’t play the "compare game." Just keep your eyes on the tabernacle.
I heard a talk some years ago from a woman who was about fifteen years older than me. The title of her talk was “Keeping Your Eyes on the Tabernacle.” Although I didn’t realize at that time how much I would eventually relate to what she said, I have remembered her words ever since.
One of the things she said was that as we raise our children, there will always be conflicting pulls. We will look around at our friends and what they are doing, or what their children are doing, and we will often be tempted to think that we need to do it, too. Before long, as our children get older, we can feel pulled in so many directions; or we feel that we are not good enough in comparison to others.
The speaker's advice?
"Keep your eyes on the tabernacle, where God lives. Look to Him for affirmation, not to others."
Are we doing too much? Are we comparing our children to our friend’s children and wishing (or worse: coveting) that our kids were as good as theirs, or as “religious,” or as competent at this or that as theirs are?
Comparing ourselves to others is a dangerous game to play. Believe me, I have had to learn the hard way that, when I measure myself against others or my kids against others' kids, I'm often left feeling worn out and resentful. It is good to remember that each of us has unique challenges.
Even though what we see on the outside might appear perfect, we know that everyone faces difficulties in this life. We certainly should not feel better because other people's lives aren't perfect, either. When we compare ourselves to others, we come close to disobeying the tenth commandment (thou shall not covet), and we end up feeling bad about ourselves in the process.
Keeping our eyes on the tabernacle keeps our focus on Christ. One way to do this is pray the following words, penned by Saint Patrick:
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (An excerpt)
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Focusing on the tabernacle is a way to redirect ourselves to the will of God and to let go of the things that we cannot control. We can rest in the confidence that God knows what is best for us and for each of our children, and we can place the worries or decisions for our families in His care.
It might help to ask ourselves:
What are those things that distract us from the tabernacle?
What takes our focus away from God? (Are we giving ourselves enough time every day to talk with God about these things?)
Do we remember to ask Him what He wants for us?
God loves our children even more than we do. We can rest assured that if we ask Him for His holy help, He will give it to us.
"Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33)
Are these tips helpful for you? Maybe you already practice them?
Do you have suggestions on how parents, moms especially, can deepen their spiritual life in a practical way?