A Meaningful Mess: Lent in the Season of Little Ones

Photo credit: Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash

It was 8 p.m., and the bedtime battle was still underway. My 4-year-old was crying for me to bring him water. My 2-year-old was crying for me to lie down with her. And my 1-month-old was crying for me to feed him. My husband was out of town for work, and I was crying for some rest. Lent hadn’t even started, and I was already feeling deprived as a nursing mother, having given up my usual Lenten sacrifices (chocolate, coffee, alcohol) on top of some new ones (sleep, my body). I was tired and worn out. I wanted comfort. I was searching for warmth. I just wanted some peace and quiet and a chance to take a trip to the bathroom without an entourage.

So this year, instead of giving up something for Lent, I decided to focus on giving myself something for Lent: time with God.

It started off great: I bought a Lenten devotional, a beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written one geared toward women, and some new pens. (Life is always better with new pens.) I woke up five minutes before my alarm on Ash Wednesday and dug into the Scripture over a cup of decaf at my kitchen table just like in Instagram photos I saw of prayer spaces. You know those photos: Rosary beads circling mugs of coffee on a rustic barn table. Bibles next to light-filled windows and vases full of fresh-cut flowers. A silhouette of someone practicing a devotional on the side of a mountain.

I applauded myself for my initiative and dedication.  

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The second day, I barely squeezed in my devotional time right before the kids woke up. On the third day, I didn’t find time until the kids were in bed, and, frankly, Netflix looked much more appealing by then. On the fourth and fifth days, I plain forgot. And on day six, the only time I had was in the waiting room of the car shop: a sparse, sad-looking room with a broken soda machine in the corner and old auto magazines haphazardly placed on the coffee table. Not exactly Instagram worthy.

It hadn’t even been a week and already, I was failing. I kept trying though.

The next night, I set my alarm determined to wake up before the sunrise and hear God’s voice. But it wasn’t my alarm that woke me, and it wasn’t the voice of God I heard. It was my toddler’s at 4 in the morning. Half-asleep, I wandered into her room to comfort her, knowing this would ruin my anticipated devotional time. So, I started to pray a little. She calmed. So, I prayed a little more. By the time she was asleep, tucked under my arm, her warm breath rhythmically keeping time near my ear, I had almost completed a rosary. I say almost because, quite honestly, it had been a long time since I had prayed a rosary, and I know I didn’t do it quite right.

Another failure.

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I unearthed the rosary from the back of my nightstand drawer and put in in the baby’s nursery to remind me to pray during those nighttime feeding sessions. One morning, my 4-year-old found it and put it around his neck exclaiming, “Look, Mommy, a necklace!” My child doesn’t even know what a rosary is, I thought. Yet another failure. Or was it?

I am a great friend of failure. I often feel like I fail as a parent, as a spouse, even as a child of God. I am such a friend that I tend to see failure wherever I go, and sometimes, it’s the only thing I see. What I tend to neglect is failure’s companion: opportunity.  

I failed at having the picturesque devotional time I saw others having on Instagram, but I found my own at 4 in the morning in the bottom bunk of my kids’ room. I might not have done the rosary correctly, but I was praying more. I will probably never be the person who rises before dawn to meditate and make spinach smoothies in her immaculately clean kitchen. But I can carve out some peace and quiet time with God in the corners and spaces I do have.

For the rest of Lent, I will be trying to find my time with God, and I won’t assume it will look traditionally beautiful. But it will be mine. And I will keep trying for it.