My Inner Mary is Dehydrated

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Abbey Dupuy

Abbey Dupuy

Editor’s note: Today, we welcome Abbey Dupuy to our family of writers. Abbey blogs at Surviving Our Blessings and is a busy mom of twins and a preschooler. I look forward to learning from her! Please join me in giving Abbey a warm CatholicMom.com welcome! LMH

My parish used to take the water out of the holy water font during Lent.

Although they stopped doing that a number of years ago, I still remember the feeling of oddly-dry fingers on the way in to Mass that accompanied the stripped-down altar and the absent Alleluia.

inner mary holy water fontI came to the Catholic Church incrementally, but part of what drew me in was the quiet, prayerful holiness of the Mass and the diversity of prayer practice in the tradition. My introverted soul craves quiet contemplation, longs to rest in silence and drink it all in. I remember the days when I used to arrive early to Mass just to kneel and soak it up, letting my soul stretch and reach upward as everyone was arriving. I felt I connected with God at every turn then, and when I left Mass each week, I carried the fiercely burning light of Christ at the very center of my being, so hot that I could physically feel it behind my breastbone.

In the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, I was Mary all the way…sitting at Jesus’ feet and hanging on his every word.

Fast forward to now, and I feel like it’s all passing me by. I’m exhausted. I’m surrounded by clamor and chaos, and it’s my job to restore order. I’m in full-Martha survival mode.

Getting us all to church each week feels like an epic challenge, managed only by my most careful planning and hard work. I try to streamline Sunday morning as much as possible, but by breakfast, we’re often running late. We are never early (partly because we run late almost everywhere these days, and partly because getting to church early just means our little people have to stay put in the pews longer), but I wish we were on time more often.

When we arrive, we park and unload everyone, lugging them into church from the parking garage with the huge diaper bag stocked with distractions and extra clothes and diapers, praying that we will make it through the Mass without at least one child needing to be removed for tears or tantrums. We spend our time not sitting in quiet prayer, but bouncing, walking, whispering, shushing, swaying, pointing at words in books, turning pages, rescuing runaway crayons, preventing people from rolling on the floor, and trying not to be distracting. There are weeks when we spend the entire Mass out in the foyer with toddlers who are driven to walk, to climb, to chatter about everything they see.

I know that’s how God created toddlers. That’s how they experience the world – it’s what they do at this stage in their lives. They are too young to understand about sitting for that long, and we are outnumbered. We bring things to occupy them, but the laws of toddler physics are inevitable: eventually, a toddler-not-in-motion will become a toddler-in-motion…and woe to the mother who tries to impede that toddler.

If we are in the foyer, I always sneak back into the church for Eucharist carrying whichever child is least likely to make a scene. The priest often makes comments in his lengthy almost-the-end-of-Mass announcements about how people should stay through the final hymn, but we usually sneak out again.

When I was Mary, I always stayed through the final hymn. (Honestly, I even judged other people for leaving before the final words had been sung.)

Now Martha is in charge, and she knows that sometimes, we need to cut our losses and get out of there as quickly as possible.

By the time we reverse our arrival process, stuffing our frustrated children back into the car before grabbing lunch quickly in our attempt to make it home before nap time (so we can collapse when the children are sleeping), I’m often in tears, sweaty with exertion. I’m exhausted from the struggle of managing it all. Sometimes my arms are actually shaking from the physical effort of keeping everything together. Most weeks, I only know what the readings are if I managed to read them ahead of time (as the chances of my absorbing much of what is said are low).

Parenting on Sundays sometimes feels like as much work as all the other days added together.

My friends who are not churchgoers wonder why we do this every week. If it’s so hard, why are we putting ourselves through it? Surely God would understand if we stopped bringing them to Mass for a while, if I went by myself while my children stayed home with their dad, if our family came back all together in a couple of years when everyone was better able to handle it?

God would probably understand, yes. But it’s not God I’m worried about.

It’s me.

Although I do believe it benefits our littlest ones to be in church with us, when it comes down to it, I’m the one who really needs to be there. I need to dip my fingers in the font. (There’s plenty of water there now; it’s my soul that is parched.) I need to sing, even if I don’t remember all the words and can’t manage holding a hymnal (or am caught in the foyer without one). I need to lock eyes with the child that is challenging me most and say, “Peace be with you.” I need to encounter Christ. And in that one small moment after receiving Eucharist, I need to take a deep breath, look into the face of Jesus on the cross and say, “Yes.” Or maybe, “Lord, have mercy.” Or maybe nothing at all.

I need to be Mary again, just for a second.

Even if I’m struggling the entire time, in that one moment, there is strength to sustain me. I can keep going for the rest of that day, for another day, for another week. I am not alone in my work of mothering these children. My work is God’s work. My children are God’s children. God loves them infinitely more than I do, and God loves them through me and in spite of me…and as long as I remember that, I cannot fail them entirely.

I’m so grateful for the gifts of their lives. I tuck them in every single night with a blessing and the words, “I’m so thankful to be your mama.” I’m working hard, and I’m learning to manage, and I’m a Martha-among-Marthas most days: capable, organized, and on top of my game.

But sometimes, the Mary in my soul would really, really like to just rest quietly at Jesus’ feet and drink her fill.

Copyright 2013 Abbey Dupuy 

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14 Comments

  1. Oh, Abbey, I go through the same every week!
    I have two angels, and my youngest has autism – which I have to admit, leads to some of the funniest situations during mass service. Sometimes my husband and I can’t help laughing, and at the same time, we feel so sorry for all the other church goers! It’s terrible.
    And I miss my inner Mary, I miss enjoying mass. I know that eventually it will all come back, and Mary will take over again. In the meantime, I’m gratefull for your testimony, it made me smile and feel that I’m not alone in my quest.
    Blessings,
    Juliet

    • Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings on

      Juliet, thank you so much for your comment. Sometimes just knowing we aren’t alone seems to make things feel easier. Thank goodness for the ability to see the humor in things, too…I’m so glad you’re able to do that when things go awry at Mass! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  2. Abbey,
    Thanks for putting into words all of the thoughts and feelings of a mom of three. I can totally relate in so many aspects of your article!
    Thank you!

    • Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings on

      Katie, thank you for your kind encouragement! It’s nice to know others are struggling or have struggled with similar issues.

  3. Abbey, my family of 7 sat in front of you a few weeks ago, and we thought you were a lovely family! Stay the course, and know that there are many of us right there in the trenches with you!

    • Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings on

      Tara- thank you for this! It really does feel like being “in the trenches” sometimes, doesn’t it? I’m so encouraged when young families support each other when things get rough during Mass instead of judging each other’s parenting…it makes church feel like so much more of a community.

  4. That pretty much sums up our Mass experience as well. But you are so very, very right. I NEED it. Whatever may come; I need those graces.

    • Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings on

      Yes. I do, too. And we get them by being there, even when we are too distracted to be fully aware of it. Thank heavens for that. 🙂

  5. Maria Peña on

    Thanks for putting the right words for what many mothers feel when we take our children to church, from my own experience I can tell that time to be Maria again will be back…. Now I’m there and I enjoy it much more than before. God Bless you and give you wisdom always 🙂

  6. Rabia @ TheLiebers on

    Don’t worry, Abbey! I can’t hear your kids over the sound of my own! I think we are lucky to have a pretty understanding congregation (that one woman I’ve run into twice, notwithstanding!) If you want to join our little pew daycare, you are more than welcome. We can save you a seat and play pass the babies!

  7. Mama, you’re doing great. GREAT. My kids are older now but I called this time in their lives “church aerobics” because for that one hour I never stopped moving, my heart rate was elevated the whole time, and I was practically sweating trying to get through it. Not a lot of peace, but that’s okay. Our great friends with 5 kids who sit in the front row and always ‘seemed’ well-behaved gave us a few tips. First – sit as close as possible, the kids will pay much better attention and you can quietly explain what is happening- ex., teach them the Liturgy of the Eucharist; second – almost everyone has been where you are and no one really minds or hears your kids as loudly as you do; third – bribe them. I had no idea but this family went directly to the 7-11 from mass each week for slurpees. First time we did it there were 6 mini-vans pulled up in front of the 7-11. We still do it every week and it’s become a great family tradition.
    It’s a long life – this part is shorter than you think. You’re just in the weeds right now but keep up the great work of getting your family to mass!

  8. You are doing God’s work and teaching them, it is a very short window and this too shall pass, God bless you and your lovely family.

  9. Abbey, I’m a new contributor to CatholicMom.com, and I thought I would start getting acquainted with other contributors and their writing. I really like how you use wit and irony in a very fresh fashion so that moms of preschoolers and toddlers (like myself) can relate! I love it. Thanks for sharing such a unique perspective on being “Martha” versus “Mary.”

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