The Face of God

After we got home from Ukraine, I was really great about waking up for my pious obedience of morning prayer.  4:30am was the time because, with this early rising group, what other quiet time is there to pray?  And then the days went on… and I was so exhausted.  My body stopped waking me up.  I started turning off my alarms in my sleep every morning without even realizing it.  When I was actually awake at 4:30 I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bed.  On the rare chance that I did crawl out of bed, I would be summoned back again by our two year old who got clingy and decided he needed me from 4:45 to 6:00am every morning or he couldn’t sleep.  I gave up.

I haven’t said my morning prayers for almost two months now.  And that isn’t the only thing that has slipped… my patience, my energy, my willingness to serve my family… it’s all been fleeting lately, like grasping at straws.  The guilt, the overwhelming amount of work to do that can’t possibly be done, the endless toil of meal after meal and corralling four small children, the physically draining reality of two new children and one already on the way, the ongoing march of doctor’s appointments and therapy and paperwork, the children who are in emotional upheaval and who are all coping differently… it’s enough to make me want to run away in the worst moments.

Yesterday was a bad day.  Today is better, but yesterday I hid in my room for the majority of the evening.  I just couldn’t anymore.  While in hiding I decided to look up post-adoption depression, my symptoms are classic… and not at all mild.  Post-partum depression is a very widely accepted and discussed emotional issue for new mothers.  But post-adoption depression?  It’s taboo, we’re not supposed to talk about it.  We just spent the last year convincing governments and social workers and immigration services and courtrooms and orphanage directors and grant organizations and to everyone else that we will be really great parents for these children.

Then we get home, and reality sets in… we aren’t the picture-perfect parents we set ourselves up to be.  We promised to always provide this and to never resort to that, that we had access to this and that they would get that.  And perhaps we live up to that some of the time or even most of the time… but I doubt any of us truly emerge as the immaculate vision of love and joy and peace and kindness that we tried to explain to everyone and their third cousin that we could be.  And yes… I could be all that… technically.  But I’m not.  I have bad moments and I have bad days and I have had so many unexpected problems come up that my children still don’t have all their therapists and equipment  and resources in place.  Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Guilt.

Post adoption depression is real folks, and some days (like yesterday) our family is just caught in the thick of it.  This morning I woke up to a much more emotionally stable Dalas.  A Dalas who wanted to love on her kids and clean the house and get ready for our new arrival and start thinking about Christmas.  I like that Dalas.  She’s much easier to get along with.  And, as is typical, while on the upswing from my three days of deepening sadness, I determined to make it stop.  How can I prevent that from happening again?  Where do I start?  And then I remembered those prayers… the ones I’m not doing.

Praying is always infinitely more difficult in the midst of a depression, and it has been particularly hard for me to muster up the energy for it as of late.  “Of course.”  I thought to myself “I’m not praying so no wonder I’m struggling to love my children or want to care for them.  Of course I have no desire to serve them… if I would only pray more God would give me the strength and the patience and the love and joy I’m missing.”  So another thing to feel guilty about, just add it to the “I don’t do _______ well enough,” running tally in my head.

But then I sat down to read a book written by a lady for whom adoption was a catalyst of faith.  I would highly recommend it to any adoptive mamas out there.  Anyway, she was in the Holy Land and started helping at a particular monestary that was also a “school” (more like a shelter) for Palestinian girls whose families were abusive or unsafe.  One nun was in charge of the care for all eleven girls… in every sense but by law, she was their mother.

The author questioned her about this and the following conversation ensued:

“Yes, but is this really good for you?  Don’t you think raising children takes you away from the monastic path?”
“It took me a while to figure this one out.  But I got it eventually.  Nuns keep their eyes on God all the time, essentially living with God on earth, right?”
“Yes…”
“But I have to keep my eyes on the children all the time, right?”
“Yes…”
“And for a long time I thought I was just looking at children.  But then I got it: By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  I am living with the truest icons of the Lord Himself.”

And then I got it.  By keeping my eyes on the children, I am keeping my eyes on God.  All this time I was looking for God in the quiet, lonely hours of the morning.  I was praying without my little icons!  It was not my inability to find prayer time that was making my job as a mother difficult… it was, in fact, my lack of desire for God, my pulling away from Him that was pulling me away from my children.  The last place anyone wants to be while drowning in a pool of guilt and depression is before the Face of God.  I could have been saying lots of prayers… sleepy or not, clingy toddler or not, in quiet morning hours or not.  The truth was I just didn’t want to.

And when the time came for the children to be awake and for me to start the next marathon of watching four rambunctious children for the next 12-14 hours I didn’t want to do that either… not because it was particularly difficult or frustrating or trying and not even because it was exhausting.  I didn’t want to do it because in seeing their little faces hour after hour, minute after minute, I was looking into the Face of God.  And His was the last one I really wanted to see.  Serving them would have meant serving Him, and in my prideful, unrepentant state I loathed the very idea of it.

I thought that my lack of prayers was causing a lapse in my ability to love my children, but that was actually not the case at all.  My inability to love my children was rooted in nothing more than my resolution to avoid God.  It wasn’t the cooking or cleaning or correcting that I loathed… but interacting with His Image over and over all day long that was infuriating me.  What a humbling and freeing realization.

These children were not the chains holding me back from a simple, prayerful life… they were my ticket to it.  They were not the burden creating such darkness and despondency in my soul… they were the mirror warning me of my error and they are the balm that God will use to heal it, if only I am willing.  A pious and holy life is right before me, complete with all the bells and whistles of nighttime vigils, caring for the sick, fasting, feeding the hungry and living daily in the presence of sometimes no one other than God and His icons.  He is here for me every hour of every day literally, to love and to hold and to enjoy… what a blessed life.

Dear Lord, Who has given me every good and precious gift for the benefit of my salvation, when I begin to struggle with the weight of my duties, with the all-consuming cares of raising my young children – remind me that this is the work you have given me to do.  That in this work I will find You, which means I will also find peace and rest.  When the weakness of this earthly frame begins to balk at the exhaustion, whisper gently that such discomfort is the respite of my soul.  Help me to see your Glorious Image in the faces of my children, to treat them with humility and love.  Let me approach this task with great fear and trembling, a tangible reminder that ignoring my children is ignoring you, being harsh with them is dealing just as real a blow to my Savior as if I were a soldier at your Passion.  May I nevermore be so bold in my sin.  Grant me the grace to love You.  Amen.

Comments

  1. Linda Jordan says:

    Dearest Dalas Even when we drift from our devotion to God, He never leaves us. Thus, your ability to see Him in your children.Later, when you look back on your years, I am sure you will find as I do, that the beaches of my life are full of single foot prints. And you will change frn guilt to thanksgiving.

  2. What a beautiful post and something to think about for all moms! Love this blog. Thank you!

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