As a pregnant mother, I struggle with guilt over saying no. Can I help a single Catholic mom by babysitting every Saturday? No. Can I chair the Women of Prayer's Spirituality Committee? No. Can I volunteer to stack canned goods at the Food Bank on Monday afternoon? No. Can I attend the Pro-Life Talk at 8 PM? Ha! I'm usually in bed by 8:30 through a combined state of nausea and total exhaustion.
In February, I had the humiliating realization that I can't even be counted on to bring a Vegetable Tray to our monthly Carmel meeting. As Jon explained to me gently, "Abby every second of our life is spent on our family right now. And our grocery budget is spread so thin that our 70 year old neighbor is getting great grace by following the Holy Spirit promptings by running us over raisin bread whenever our fridge is down to the bare bones. We're not in a position to volunteer to bring refreshments to Carmel right now. That's other peoples' job. Our job is to receive their charity with grateful hearts."
It's hard to be the one who accepts charity, rather than the one who acts as a cheerful giver.
Yet underneath this guilt about constantly declining invitations to help holy causes, there is also this nagging fear "am I doing enough?"
At the Last Day, we will be judged on whether we gave drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. In my overly active mind, it seems much easier to volunteer for a weekly shift at the Food Pantry and send a large check to restore clean drinking water in Haiti to Catholic Charities. While I'm at it, why not add weekly Adoration time and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to make sure that I'm prayerful enough for Jesus this Lent?
In my small mind and hard heart, my daily work seems so little and useless. I force myself to drink 10-12 glasses of purified water for my little baby. I feed hungry kids fish sticks on Friday. I match my husband's dress socks. I order groceries online. I attempt to remove "rainbow putty" from our company table cloth. I enforce the bike helmet rule and the "no hitting your sister" rule.
At a time when parenting four kids under age 8 means that my family is doing less and less work at Church and our wider community, it's hard to see sometimes that I'm actually following God's will more and more.
In my faith journey, I always stumble around my the hard inner changes a little blind and unsure at first. Poverty and sickness are a great help.
Last Sunday I ran into a friend before Mass. "We miss you! You'll teach VBS (Vacation Bible School) again this summer right? My girls can't wait to take your class!"
"I don't know, I'm pregnant now and expecting a baby this summer" I answered. I looked to the Tabernacle for some contradiction on my statement. I wanted to hear a giant "No Abby! You'll have plenty of strength for my service this summer! Just rely on my grace" on other such reassurance in my heart. However, in my friend Jesus continued his strange silent on the subject.
I love teaching Bible School. My favorite old job was as a summer camp counselor, and VBS brought so much joy last year. I've got a gift for teaching and I love introducing little kids to the wonders of our Catholic faith.
Yet this winter, I gotten nothing but silence from God regarding my exciting plans for VBS. In the deafening silence, I've started to talk over with my husband, that maybe I'm not supposed to teach this year.
In June, I'll be 7 1/2 months pregnant. Handling a 3 hour bus trip in the broiling Southern Sun while pregnant seems idiotic. Even if I coordinate rides to our old church among our many Catholic friends, I'm sure I'll have the stamina to teach 8 hours for five days. What happens if I get myself exhausted less than 8 weeks before welcoming a newborn into our home? Maybe this is the year for Mama to stay home and send Hannah to VBS alone.
I make this painful sacrifice, the sacrifice of rejecting the "good" in favor of the "better," again and again. I stay at home. I conserve my strength. Instead of doing fun things for God, I swallow pregnancy vitamins,. I go to bed early. I teach my seven year old spelling words. I invent easy crock-pot meals. I ignore the legos on the floor, the three week old sheets on the bed and the wilting flowers on the kitchen counter. I say no to lunch dates and skip parish parties. On bad weeks, I rarely leave the house.
I makes these sacrifices to vanity and pride and self-interest, more as a result of my sickness and poverty than out my joyful love of God.
It's okay. God loves me anyways.
By saying "no" more times to people outside my family, I have more energy to say "YES" to charity at home. Last week, I helped my husband bake Irish Soda bread from scratch for a St. Patrick's party at his office. I read aloud the story of Jonah and the Whale at dinner. I dribbled Holy Water of my daughter's bed to protect her from bad dreams.
Today, I read something that applies to my humble Lenten Season.
"To go to church, pray, and visit the sick are fine things, but if you do them when the duties of your state require something far different of you, can you claim to be doing God's will?" pg. 166, The Imitation of Mary.
"The master of whom the Gospel speaks says to his servant: "Come and share your master's joy,' not because you have done great things, but "because you have been faithful in small matters." pg. 167.
A Lenten reminder for me to keep focused on doing little things with Great Love.