When What You Need, You Can’t Have

English: Sierra Nevada
Image via Wikipedia

This weekend, I read the most beautiful description of a place, a description that picked up my heart and plopped it down in the Sierra Nevada, and my whole body ached to hop a plane and follow it there.

There hasn’t been much time for solitude and communing with God through creation in the last…I don’t know, year.  There was a time in my life when I took those opportunities weekly at least. But the proverbial stars hardly ever align anymore: child care, favorable weather, and no pressing errands or deadlines. I think the last time I went out was in September. Five months ago. My insides are crying out for that place of rest.

A few weeks ago at Mass the Gospel was from Mark. The point of the reading was that Jesus healed everyone they brought to him at Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. But that wasn’t the part that clung to my soul. This was:

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
(Mark 1:35)

The mommy pundits are all, to the last one, in complete agreement: You must care for yourself and your own needs. But what do you do when the thing you need, the thing you’re sure God is placing upon your soul, is not possible? Jesus had the self-autonomy to recognize his need and attend to it. He could say, “Whoa! I’m worn out from healing people; my soul needs recharging.” He might have to get up early to avoid getting caught, but he could go.

I can’t.

As long as I have a nursing baby, solitude is not in the cards. But I’ve taken each of my babies out to creek bottoms and clifftops in turn. Last week, when the mercury topped 50 degrees, I had babysitting lined up for the other two, and I had set aside all other vital-feeling commitments in the interest of a trek as far away from the city as I could possibly go in two and a half hours. And that morning the sitter called in sick…and that afternoon, I was in the hospital with Michael.

So when I say it is not possible, I actually mean not possible…not “I’m not prioritizing it.” It’s not possible.

And here, in the bleak midwinter, as snow falls outside my window and all my children, liberated from school, crowd around shouting into my sensitive, still-blocked and painful ear, I realize that I stopped listening to that Scripture passage too soon.

Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
(Mark 1:36-37)

Jesus didn’t get away, either.

This is the point where another truism becomes clear: motherhood is a ministry. And ministry means you don’t always have the luxury of attending to your own needs. You certainly must do so when it is possible, but those of us who have been gifted with parenthood have inherited a ministry in which we must empty ourselves and give of ourselves, whether we choose to do it willingly or not. It reminds me of something shared on a list serve for pastoral musicians a few years ago, when I felt that the demands of full-time parish work were the most brutal I’d ever face:

Ministry is giving when you feel like keeping,
praying for others when you need to be prayed for,
feeding others when your own soul is hungry,
living truth before people even when you can’t see results,
hurting with other people even when your own hurt can’t be spoken,
keeping your word even when it is not convenient.
It is being faithful when your flesh wants to run away.