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.


16 thoughts on “When What You Need, You Can’t Have

  1. dottie Sowash

    When I long for that peace to think and daydream alone, I often find it outside like you. Today, I found it reading your column.

  2. I had similar thoughts this Sunday while vacuuming. (I know, profound moments, right?) I realized I had been STANDING so much that day, doing for everyone. My thoughts somehow came to the place yours did – that it’s a ministry to do such a thing. We pour ourselves into it and it’s a blessing even when it’s hard. (It’s so hard.)

    Hope you’ll get a minute outdoors this week, for you.

    • My dream had been to move into a house where I could step into the back yard and be away from the city noise, so I wouldn’t have to go find cliff tops and creek beds, but it didn’t work out that way. Ah, well.

  3. And this I ponder and love: Matthew 14:13-14 When Jesus heard that his beloved cousin, John the Baptist had been brutally killed, He rows away in a boat to be by Himself.

    But the crowds followed Him. Rather than staying out in the water alone, He feels compassion, goes ashore, heals the sick and feeds the multitude.

  4. Great article. I have been where you are. When my children were young, i would often think about Brother Lawrence finding God in the midst of pots and pans.
    That reflection on ministry is great.

  5. Kathleen, thank you for your comment on my blog. Because some of it relates to your post here, I am posting part of my answer. I hope when you have a chance you will check out my whole comment. (hope you dont mind) –

    “…Having a new born baby doesn’t lend itself well to having a regular appointment with God..
    Under your present circumstances, a regular prayer time every day just would not be practical. You are loving God by caring for your children and your new baby. You are living in the present moment which is awesome.
    And you are keeping in touch with God every day in whatever way you can. That sounds like fidelity to me.”

  6. That was a beautiful post and I love the last thought. I’m not a mom but I have two little ones and a third coming real soon. Its hard to find time to tend to my needs and I never get out to enjoy the beauty of nature as I have in the past. We make the trips to the creek but miss the longer hikes deeper into the mountains. Your post puts this into perspective, its in the yearning for Christ;s presence, in the beauty and peace of nature, but found also in the little things of daily life.

    These days we settle for trips to Clear Creek where we can spend a few days living as family but immersed in the contemplative surroundings of the Benedictine grounds.

    This all reminds me of a friend’s story. She was not Catholic but her nanny was Catholic, the nanny would stop and pray the rosary intently for 20 minutes every day while they ran around the house like mad. Nothing disturbed her prayer time. Not the same with a newborn but we can grab our moments for prayer tightly and surround ourselves with beauty.

  7. Aprille

    I so needed this today. I was just weeping to my husband last night that I just want to run away from life with a nursing toddler and I’m so exhausted I just need a break! thanks for the wonderful reminder! It’s okay that it’s impossible! Definitely resharing this on facebook!

  8. This is a great post, and I am right there with you. For me, being out in nature isn’t the biggest thing, but getting in a run or time to read a good book is what I miss most in these moments consumed with caring for a family that includes a newborn. Vincent is now 8 months and I am slowly seeing that I am getting some of that time back. Hang in there, it will happen for you, too.

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