The Importance of Showing Mercy to Ourselves #OTEM

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This post is part of our Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy series, in which CatholicMom.com contributors will share their own experiences of living the Year of Mercy. Beginning at Pentecost and continuing through the summer, we’ll cover many aspects of the Works of Mercy in family life.
Ordinary Time Extraordinary Mercy

After the births of my first two babies, I went through some very difficult months of postpartum depression. It was a time of darkness and loneliness for me and it took a lot of hard work to get past it and heal.

Since then, I’ve really begun to look more closely at the relationship between mercy and motherhood.

Mercy – which is simply God’s generous and all-forgiving love – seems to go together so naturally with motherhood. We moms are some of the best at showing mercy to others — most especially our children —  and really being a conduit of God’s mercy in the world.

But there’s something else I’ve noticed since I became a mom. I see it both in social media communities and in “real life” – and going through postpartum depression made it obvious in my own life: 

As good as we are at showing mercy to others, we moms are not always good at extending this same mercy to ourselves. 

What do I mean by that?

Well, first of all, we take such great care of others that we so often neglect our own needs. And at the same time, we can be real taskmasters — pushing ourselves without mercy to do and be everything for the ones who depend on us.

But the truth is, we need mercy so very much.

And, as strange as this might sound, we need to receive it from ourselves.

There’s a little story from the life of Saint John Paul II that I think illustrates this truth beautifully, and I want to share it with you all.

The story is of a young mother of twins named Teresa. She was a long-time friend of John Paul, who at that time was bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow.

The story is that Teresa once wrote to Bishop Wojtyla to tell him of a monumental day in her life: her twins had turned two, and she was finally able to sleep through the night!

(All my kids are really terrible sleepers, so I totally feel this woman’s pain — and her triumph at getting a full night’s sleep!)

We don’t have the rest of Teresa’s letter. But we can safely assume that her life with two-year-old twins was not a cake walk.

It’s not hard to imagine that Teresa was completely burned out.

Now I want to read to you part of the Bishop’s response to Teresa’s letter, because it has such wisdom.

“Dear Teresa,

I sense tiredness in your letter, which is easy to understand. You always wanted to plan and do everything rationally. And here is the kingdom of irrationality, where normal activity and energy aren’t enough…”

 It goes on, but let me just pause here for a moment.

“The kingdom of irrationality, where normal activity and energy aren’t enough.”

How many of you understand exactly what this brilliant Saint means by the “kingdom of irrationality”?!

That really describes my life right now: I have a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a bun in the oven. I am very often at the edge of burnout. I am very often past the edge of burnout!

There’s not a lot of sleep at my house. But there is plenty of drama — I have a 4-year-old girl, so there are just fountains of tears, all day long.

And I spend a lot of time playing referee with my boys. I say things that a rational person should never have to say: “Please don’t put your boogers on your sister.” Or, “Stop licking that!” And, “We don’t pee on the clean laundry! Not ever!!”

We definitely seem to fit the description of “kingdom of irrationality!”

I promise you, we do laugh and play and love each other dearly! But my point here is that burnout can be very real, no matter what season of parenthood you’re in.

Despite the many beautiful moments of my day as a mom, I also spend a lot of time feeling exhausted and wondering if I really have what it takes to live — and love — this vocation. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings.

As Bishop Karol said to his friend, normal activity and energy just aren’t enough for life with little people — and maybe not for any stage of parenting.

So what’s the answer here?

Well, going back to the story: here’s what the Bishop said to Teresa. (You might be surprised!)

“You need to wait things out, some time to do nothing, and, simply, patience.”

Notice how mercifully he answered her.

He didn’t scold Teresa. He didn’t accuse her of not loving her vocation. He didn’t tell her to pray more or try harder, or to suck it up.

Instead, he offered mercy, empathy, and understanding.

And something more — and this is really important. He advised her to take some time to do nothing.

Translated into our modern verbiage, we might say that Bishop Karol was actually recommending that his friend try some self-care. 

I think he recognized Teresa’s burnout. And he was offering a solution.

Moms are superheroes in a lot of ways. Raising children is, hands down, the most difficult job on the planet.

We love our kids more than life — we’d walk through fire for them! And there are seasons when we are called to do that — to really lay down our lives in profound ways for our children.

But loving our children doesn’t mean that we always have to ignore our own needs. Sometimes, yes. But our needs and those of our kids don’t have to be at odds all the time.

Instead, mercy should really compel us to make time to care for our own needs – not just the needs of our families.

This is not being lazy. It’s not being selfish.

It’s simply showing mercy to ourselves, in the same way that we show it to those we love.

And I believe this is a very necessary aspect of living our vocations of motherhood well. Actually, I’d even argue that this kind of mercy makes us better moms.

I know, this seems to go against what we think: that self-care is selfish and “good moms” are always happy just being and doing for their kids.

But this isn’t true. Good moms need caring for just like anyone else.

And, the more we intentionally make time to care for ourselves, the better we’ll be able to love and care for our children and our spouses. {Ask me how I know.}

So, following St. John Paul’s advice, I challenge you, right now, to let go of any guilt that you may feel in taking time to just “do nothing” — to take care of your own needs.

What can you do this week, today, to show mercy to yourselves?

There are many, many ways to practice self-care. Find the best way to care for you. {If you’re looking for some ideas, read the longer version of this post here.}

Self-care is not selfishness. When love guides you, self-care is truly a form of mercy.

And you are worth it, mamas!

I want to leave you with these other profound words from John Paul II, in his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity of Women. Know that they are meant for each one of you, personally:

The Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers … for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; … for “perfect” women and for “weak” women — for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by His eternal love.

Ordinary Time Extraordinary Mercy

Read the other articles in our “Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy” series.

Copyright 2016 Lydia Borja

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About Author

Lydia is a happy wife, a busy mama of three cute and crazy little people, and a two-time overcomer of PPD. She loves strong coffee, dark chocolate, and all things Southern and Catholic. Follow her at http://www.flourishinhope.com, where she's building a community of hope and encouragement for postpartum women.

3 Comments

  1. Absolutely. I didn’t know much about him before I started reading about Divine Mercy. But he has so much wisdom to share and seemed to live on fire for Christ and Mary. 🙂

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