My friend, Marie, wrote this meditation for the newsletter of the Little Daughters of the Sacred Heart. I thought you all might enjoy it as much as I do. Posted here with Marie’s permission.
I bet you can relate to what happened to me the other night after a long day replete with soccer games, a piano recital, and birthday preparations. It was nearing bedtime when I came home and began picking my way through the debris that had been left everywhere by children I thought I had trained better. Surveying the war zone through narrowed eyes, I could feel myself teetering precariously over the brink of that terrible abyss known as the valley of self-pity.
Just then, as if on cue, one of my “beloved” children, walked by me and without so much as a guilty look, dumped dirty dishes on the counter and walked out the door. In a flash, I was engulfed with a the desire to lash out at the offender. A litany of my many burdens called out to me and I knew that if I didn’t do something quickly I would soon be sitting at the bottom of that slippery slope licking my wounds. It was oh so tempting but somehow before I launched, I managed to mutter a weak prayer to God to save me from saying something I would no doubt soon regret.
Suddenly I remembered my early years, growing up the middle of seven children. My parents, who had their own difficult burdens and more than enough to do already, routinely housed and fed many of our teenage friends who had no where else to go. Someone my sister barely knew, for example, got pregnant; her parents had already forced her to abort one baby and were now determined to make her do it again. Without any money for food, doctors’ expenses, etc., she came to live in our already chaotic home.
Ten years later, when I was in high school, two of my friends from divorced families came to live with us. Their parents had bailed on them and they scrambled to find somewhere to live. I remember the day when I first asked my dad if a friend could come and live with us. He was at his desk reading the paper when I told him her sad story. Without even looking up at me, he nodded his head and said, “Just tell her that if she is going to live here, she has to be one of the family. This is not a hotel!”
Both girls shared my room, did chores when cornered by my mother, ditched church on Sundays, blared the same dumb love song over and over again when they broke up with their boyfriends, and irritated my father to no end by talking on the phone for hours, long before the days of call waiting.
My father died many years ago, but my mother and her second husband are now in their 80’s. Though my mother is in very poor health, her habit of taking in strays continues unabated. Most people her age are either in a nursing home or at least taking it easy but my mother still concerns herself with what people are going to eat and if the sheets and towels are clean. If you happened to ask her why in the heck she does it, she would probably look at you kind of strangely and think,”What a silly question!”.
I remember a letter my mother received at least 15 years after one of my teenage friends had moved out; she had not been an easy addition to our menagerie. Now, however, she was married and had developed a deep faith in God. She finally understood all the sacrifices my mother had made on her behalf. In closing she added, “I don’t know where I would be today if you hadn’t cared enough to take me in at that difficult time in my life?”
When I reflected on my own teenage years, I cringed at the thought of how many times “I” must have walked past my own mother, unseeing, completely unaware of her concerns or her extreme fatigue.. Did I ever, or at least very often, offer to do more than I was asked? Did I sometimes try to think of her first or was I too centered on me?
Why hadn’t she ever lashed out at me, I wondered, or called “me” selfish when I certainly deserved it? The reason seemed pretty clear at that moment, my mother had a merciful heart and she routinely extended mercy towards others. Mercy-how many times in my life have I been shown mercy? How many times have I refused to offer that same mercy towards my own children?
God, I prayed, make my heart like unto thine.