Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
June 7, 2021 —My daughter pulls her hand away from mine and digs her heels firmly into the pavement. Less than two years old and not particularly verbal, she nevertheless knows how to stand her ground. A resolute headshake and a chubby pointer finger tell me we are not headed in her desired direction.
We often take an evening walk after dinner, Thea and I, while her big brothers ride bikes or jump on the trampoline, and almost never does she approve of the route. Sometimes I happily let her lead the way, but other times I already have a destination in mind. Tonight we are walking to our neighbor’s yard, where Thea will get to play in a sandbox and use someone else’s toys (always more exciting than one’s own). I know there are good things in store for her in this direction, but she can’t see them yet. So she fights me; she demands to go her own way.
Lately I’ve been meditating on the Madonna della Strada, or “Our Lady of the Way,” the patroness of St. Ignatius and the Jesuit order. I find it striking that this particular title of Mary would be so closely tied to Ignatian spirituality and its emphasis on discernment and being led by our desires, because both are spiritual tools through which we find “the way.” Doesn’t this encompass much of our spiritual lives, seeking God’s will for us and following where God leads? After all is said and done, isn’t our hope that in every day, in every choice, in every relationship and every hardship, we are going the right way?
As I age, I realize that the crux of my Christian life is not so much what I believe, but what I live. How I make decisions. How I see the world. How I seek justice and mercy in society. In my daily life, theological doctrine has much less impact on the world around me than do my choices and actions; finding God’s will for me, my “way” so to speak, is always related to how I impact the world.
As I wrestle with how to best live out my faith according to my conscience, Our Lady of the Way has been a gift on the journey. I grew up in a devout Protestant family with no Mary in sight and was surprised after becoming Catholic to have gradually fallen in love with her. Having a companion, a guide, a mother on the path with me has made my sojourn much less lonely.
As a mother myself, I am reminded of how children lack the knowledge of what is truly best for them. I see it in my five kids every day as I try to guide them toward things that are good, true and beautiful and away from things that might harm them somehow, which are, of course, always the very things they want. When I stop Thea from running down the middle of the street, for example, I am repaid with screams and flailing limbs against my back.
But to Our Lady of the Way, I too am a child; and like my daughter I also have a stubborn streak. So often I believe I know the way all on my own; I dig in my heels and shake my head and remain convinced that I know what I need. I am slow to trust the guidance of my mother.
How many times have I been at a proverbial crossroads and felt adamantly certain that I knew the direction I should take? And yet divine grace would have different plans. Such circumstances have often been devastating in the moment — throwing myself down in a tantrum on the pavement hasn’t always been an improbable option — and yet down the road I have seen how, as Scripture says, “all things work together for my good” (Romans 8:28).
When the pandemic first hit last year and my children’s schools closed, I thought being at home with all five of them 24/7 would suffocate me and kill any hopes I had of writing for months. But surprisingly, hunkering down with my little crew was apparently exactly what I needed: I felt enlivened by motherhood again, grateful for an empty schedule to enjoy playing in the backyard, and even renewed in prayer. In the cracks of my day, I began writing a book about motherhood, which I never would have planned and yet which will be published this September.
My way may not always be good for me — but The Way will: the way of trusting God’s will to bring life and peace. What Madonna della Strada offers me is a tangible reminder that I am trusting in something far greater, and better, than myself. With this comfort, I can learn to be content in all things. Like St. Igantius, I can learn to release my own agenda and find inner freedom on the way. And like St. Ignatius — and like my daughter Thea — I can trust a loving mother to always be with me.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Rewilding Motherhood” and “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.