|Drawing by Anna Ponchak|
My children have definitely helped me in my quest for holiness and have helped me grow closer to Christ. Through my first two, the Lord started teaching me about resting in him and receiving his grace. The next two helped teach me perseverance. Number six, our boy taught me that God is faithful to his promises. Through my fifth child however, I feel like I have grown the most. You see, she was miserable from day one and continued to be that way until she turned four. She cried all the time, even when I would hold her. She also would not go to anyone else but me and she constantly wanted to be held and nursed so I never got a break.
One day I was sitting in the rocking chair, that she dictated I sit in, and nursed her while also reading a book a friend gave me. The book was Interior Freedom, by Fr. Jacques Philippe. I read stories about people that had been prisoners in concentration camps but still had joy and peace because they had found an interior freedom that came from knowing Christ. I cried as I read this book because like them, I also felt like a prisoner, just to a lesser degree. Before my fifth daughter was born, I kind of had it all together, or at least I thought I did. Everything was somewhat under control. I was usually able to complete my "to-do-list" every day. After Sarah showed up however, my world seemed to fall apart. That book helped me to see that there was a lot of work that the Holy Spirit still needed to do in my heart. I realized he was calling me to a higher level of surrender.
I began to realize that my main goal everyday was to complete my mental "to-do-list". I even had prayer on that list. If anything stood in the way of me getting my list completed, I would lose my peace and my joy and my family suffered. After two years of struggling to row upstream and cry out to the Lord, "WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!", he finally showed me my problem. He impressed on me that my main goal every day needed to be to encounter him and help my children encounter him. I then realized, that even though I was making it a priority to pray everyday, I wasn't necessarily taking the time to encounter him. By just trying to complete my "to-do-list" everyday, I had become like a hamster on a hamster wheel and life lost it's joy and felt like drudgery.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all those who encounter Christ."
When our main goal is to encounter Christ, well, we can do that no matter what is going on in our lives. We can encounter Jesus in the joys of life. We can encounter him in the sorrows and the cross. We can encounter him on the mountaintop or the valley. We can find him in the mundane and the thrilling. Most everything we experience, Jesus experienced. He was and is a person. These are also the things we meditate on when we pray a rosary. For my Protestant friends who may think the rosary is all about Mary, it really is not. Through the rosary, we meditate on the Gospel, the life of Jesus. Yes, there are also Marian prayers. Through these we ask Mary for her intercession and to bring us into a deeper relationship with her son. There are also a few things we experience, especially those of us who are mother's, that Mary instead of Jesus experienced. She experienced the joy and sorrow of being a mother. It is okay to meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8). Jesus gave her as a gift to us (John 19:27) and we can find comfort in her story because it is our story too. Unlike Jesus who was also fully God, Mary was fully human and yet she was highly favored and full of grace (Luke 1:28). This should encourage us of how much we also are loved and the level that God desires to elevate us and how we, like Mary are also called to magnify him (Luke 1:46). This is also what we as Catholics meditate on when we pray a rosary. Mainly though, through the rosary we meditate on the life of Jesus. We meditate on his joys, his adventures, his sorrows, and his glory. It is all covered in the rosary. The goal then is to join our lives to his. In this way, we become a living rosary.