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
August 31, 2020 — It had been one of the ugliest parenting days I’d had in a while. The restrictions of a pandemic and the demands of parenting five young kids had coalesced to produce a perfect storm of frustration, tears and temper tantrums — all mostly mine. In the late afternoon sun I sat on our back steps with my three smallest children and waited for my daughter’s godmother who was coming to deliver her birthday gift. This drop-in was an especially big deal considering how rarely we see anyone these days.
When our friend arrived, the kids swarmed her like a wave of vultures going in for fresh meat. So much for social distancing, I grimaced, but she didn’t seem to mind. She happily let the boys lead her to visit the chickens, see the new puppy and push the baby in her tree swing. Enjoying my short reprieve from responsibility, I could sense my breath and heart rate begin to slow down as someone else took up the mantle of listening to disjointed stories and answering redundant questions. Slowly, my body began to relax.
By the time her brief visit had come to an end, I found myself laughing at silly trampoline tricks and enjoying being the translator for my two-year-old’s lisp. Seeing my children through someone else’s eyes had given me fresh appreciation for the extraordinary levels of cuteness that I live alongside. For a few minutes I was able to step outside of my own exhausted experience and see my life for what it was: full of grace and joy at every turn.
I wish I could say my day was transformed at that point, but that wasn’t the case. The visit gave me just enough steam to limp through the rest of the day without causing further damage, which is simply what it means some days to be doing our best. The next morning, however, I woke up to an email from my friend. It said:
“I’m still enjoying remembering my little visit with your beautiful children. Just so much joy in every aspect of life. Without little ones around it’s easy to forget the preciousness of every moment and every aspect of creation.”
I stared at the computer screen, blinking back tears. Parenting during a pandemic is hard. There is no getting around that. But how had I slid so far into resenting the basic needs of my children? How had I given way to so much frustration over their simple interferences? I knew the answer was that I had lost my centeredness in God. I was no longer looking for God in all things; I was too busy being preoccupied by thoughts of what I’d rather be doing at any given moment.
I realized the reason I was unhappy was because I had stopped living fully present and attentive to the “now.” I was clinging so tightly to my own disrupted agenda that I’d condemned myself to frustration, choosing an attitude that made it impossible to commune with God in the present moment because I was always thinking of the next thing. While God was trying to get my attention through my toddler’s cheeky grin or my oldest son’s eagerness to help, I felt spiritually barren because I “didn’t have time to pray.”
My friend, whose own children are now grown, reminded me that those of us with little ones are in the favored position of having daily reminders that life is precious and creation is magical. Parenting is perhaps the most obvious invitation into a deeper spiritual life, but it’s also a difficult one to accept. Even those of us who long to see every moment as sacred often lose our way. Had my friend not sent that email, who knows how much longer I would have gone on forgetting that the sacraments of flesh and earth never lose their ability to awe.
This has been a difficult year for families. Fears for the health of our children, concern for their emotional and mental well-being and uncertainty about their education are factors that almost never leave the minds of parents. Most of us are stuck at home with little social interaction and no library story times or camps to go to. Moms and dads all over the world are growing weary. Now, more than ever, we need a village to help us raise our kids.
Friends and family, neighbors and godparents, parishioners and community members: We parents need you right now. We know our village can’t look like it did before COVID-19, but the important place you hold in our lives hasn’t changed. We need you to hold a mirror up for us, to show us the holiness and beauty of what we have right before our eyes. We need your quick, socially-distanced visits. We need your cards in the mail. We need the activity books you drop off on our doorstep. We need you to drive by and remind our kids how loved they are. We need you to set up a Zoom call after bedtime to give us the chance to unload our day.
We need our villagers now more than ever. We need you to help us find God in all this mess. Each and every small act of love you give to us families goes a long way — often, much longer than you’ll know.
This morning I thanked God for letting me see my children and my life through my friend’s eyes. Help me remember, I prayed. It wasn’t a perfect day by any means, but I did get to blow on a baby’s belly, reconnect with a cranky kid, offer water to thirsty chickens and feel cool grass on a hot day. I tried to stay present to the God who was right here, right now, in the middle of it all, and I forgot a hundred times — but a hundred times I got to remember all over again.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “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.