I once went on a retreat in Northern Colorado to a Benedictine abbey where I noticed a bell would ring throughout the day. I later learned that the bell was to let the sisters know it was time for something they were called to do or attend to (prayer, farm chores, someone at the front door of the abbey, etc). When the bell rang, they had to stop what they were doing to tend to whatever the bell’s purpose was for; as that interruption became the top priority.
We have an actual bell in our house, but no one is allowed to ring it because it’s really loud and my kids would never stop. Ever.
At the time, I thought the bell at the abbey felt a lot like parenting. Having kids is one long season of interruption, setting aside whatever we’re doing to attend to the needs of others, and parents learn to roll with it no matter how frustrating that feels at times. But, there are many moments when my time (what little I have) gets taken from me, and it’s a continuous struggle to want to share or give that time away.
Often, in the evenings, I finally get a chance to sit down after a long day of continually serving my family only for someone to need something. Maybe it’s something I can’t really ignore, like someone getting soap in their eyes in the shower, a misunderstood homework assignment, or the baby waking for an unscheduled after-bed diaper change. Often, it’s something I want to ignore but realize is important to one of my kids, like a requested bedtime story, or help with nail polish. On the weekends, my husband will often ask me to help with a project; thwarting any opportunity for me to do things I’d hope to do. Even when it’s not something urgent, my time is often interrupted by thoughts or reminders of things I didn’t do. I’ll start to read a book, then remember I forgot to wash uniforms for school the next day, which leads to discovering a load of towels in the washer which can’t be moved because the dryer is full.
Those with the vocations of parenthood and religious life aren’t the only ones who have “bells” to answer; everyone does. We are all called to serve others every single day; what better way to know when to serve than to be interrupted with a reminder? While at the abbey, I learned the importance of our Christian call to love and serve and how that’s a large part of my vocation as a mom. When I get frustrated at interruptions, I remember the bells at the abbey. I remember my vocation. Every request from one of my family members is a daily reminder and call to serve. It’s kind of my job.
The bells of the abbey remind me that despite whatever curveballs I get in family life, the object is to keep going. Especially when I don’t want to. Find the good in the interruption, the gift, the message, whatever it is God is trying to show us. Look for the lighter side of what I’ve had to adjust and why I had to. That’s what the bell means.
So, how do you stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions?
I don’t know.
Like everything else, I suppose it’s about practice, persistence, determination. I’m not very good at it, but I’m trying to be. I’ve been working on a few things that help like:
- Stop and take a breath.
- Pray for help: Holy Spirit, give me the patience to handle each interruption with patience so I may offer it up to God.
- Prioritize my to-do list after the interruption.
- Remember the importance of my Christian duty to love and serve others. (I know, this is so hard sometimes. I’m terrible at this a lot, too).
We all know living the holy life isn’t easy. It takes a lot of humility and self-sacrifice, and maybe life’s interruptions are God’s way of reminding us of that. If serving others is an act of the highest form of love, then we honor God every time we answer that “bell,” especially if we don’t want to, but choose to anyway for the sake of the one ringing it.
I try to remember that God is always working on my soul. Interruptions are a part of life and I doubt we’ll ever see an end to them. So, I find that with the right perspective, it’s a lot more bearable. As it stands, our metaphorical bell of perpetual interruption serves as a good enough reminder of my duty as a mom to serve my family. Maybe one day I’ll learn to fully embrace the bell. The metaphorical one, not the real one in my house. It’s really loud and it would never stop ringing. Ever.
Originally published January 11, 2021.