God doesn't give grace in advance

As Juris Mater and MaryAlice discussed in their recent posts, many of us Builders have been dealing with adversity lately. Personally, I have been feeling pretty down and overwhelmed and my emotional state has a strong physical componenet. Back in early February, I began the marathon of pregnancy in sprint mode--horrible nausea, hospital IV and anti-nausea meds, and even bedrest due to a large cyst. When Easter rolled around, the fog lifted briefly, I was removed from bedrest, and I started to feel a bit better. But soon other health issues began to plague me-- anemia, hip problems, and general circulation issues in my leg (to name a few!), and I'm only 21 weeks! Having started the marathon sprinting, I'm now dead tired and the distance to the finish line is downright depressing.

I spend my free moments wondering how I will survive the hot summer. What will it be like in August when the heat really kicks in and I'm huge and even more uncomfortable? How can I possibly go through another labor and delivery when my body is already falling apart? What about future pregnancies? How will I ever have another baby? Should I ever have another baby? What about my health? Will my circulation issues ever resolve? As these questions have come to dominate my thoughts, my emotional state continued to spiral downward.

I was sharing all my worries, physical complaints, and general concerns with B-Mama the other day and she gave some great advice. She said, "I have a rule. I don't talk about future pregnancies at all when I am currently pregnant." Great point.

And then I began to realize that I have been spending an awful lot of time worrying about future events, rather than just living in the present.

When I suffer, I tend to look toward the future, toward the light at the end of the tunnel. My forward thinking allows me to see that the suffering is only temporary, as the future usually looks brighter than the present. But this isn't always the case. There are times when our suffering is so intense primarily because there isn't an obvious light at the end of the tunnel (or else that light is so far away we can't even get a faint glimpse of its presence).

6 years ago, I was pregnant with my daugther Therese. Therese had been diagnosed with anencephaly (a fatal neural tube defect), and I knew that the day we said hello to Therese would also be the day we said goodbye. The days, weeks, and months of my pregnancy passed very slowly, and I experienced great anxiety thinking about how I could possibly watch my daughter die. The final days of my pregnancy were spent in a sleepless state, waiting for Therese to arrive, and worrying about how I could ever say goodbye.

And yet, when the time came, the grace was there. When Therese was born and died I experienced the most profound sense of peace I have ever felt in my entire life. I didn't feel one ounce of sadness, fear, or worry. Those moments were perfect and I can honestly say that I have never felt such peace before or since. But the grace didn't arrive in advance. It was there when I needed it, and not a moment sooner.

And this brings me back to my present difficulties. Once again, my sufferings have propelled me into worry and anxiety about the future. But through the guidance of some great friends (thanks B-Mama!), I realized that I don't have the grace to deal with a future pregnancy because I'm not yet there. I don't even have the grace to deal with the hot month of August in my huge, pregnant and malfunctioning body ;-) because it isn't August. But I do have the grace for today. And when the going gets tough, I need to pray harder than ever for the grace to live in the present moment. I need to run the marathon of pregnancy--and motherhood--not one race at a time or one mile at a time, but one stride at a time.

As the late, great Rich Mullins put it: "Step by step you lead me, and I will follow you all of my days."

16 comments:

What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing so intimately. Just what I needed to hear.

June 2, 2009 at 12:38 AM  

This has nothing to do with motherhood but I thought it might make you smile that a 1982 Princeton grad was just made Bishop of Allentown. He has been serving in Wilmington Delaware and has a bunch of degrees and apparently is well loved and respected.I am not Catholic so hope I am saying his title right.

June 2, 2009 at 1:06 AM  

Thanks for yet another thoughtful post from the builders. I was just thinking about this last night: living for today. One day at a time. Thanks for emphasizing it!

June 2, 2009 at 8:02 AM  

Oh wow, thank you so much Red. While not pregnant, I have been feeling exactly the same way lately: anxious, worried and wondering how I can possibly handle anymore without falling apart. Lately I have found that God is really trying to teach me exactly what you articulated - that His grace is not there in advance. As my husband continually reminds me, "You don't even know if you'll be here tomorrow, Elena," and then he adds, "If I thought about tomorrow, I might just keel over; so, I don't.":) Also, it is comforting to look back on past experiences to see that I was able to handle so much more than I thought I could have managed. I often look at my kids sleeping peacefully and think that I need to be much more like them: they just go to bed without much thought to the next day as they trust their parents with what will come. I need to do the same and thank God that He is patient with me. Thank you for sharing: it helps me to feel less isolated.

June 2, 2009 at 8:06 AM  

Red, what an uplifting essay, so beautifully worded and thought out. I think it is so easy for any of us to get ahead of ourselves and become completely overwhelmed, especially when we're talking about the sacrifices of childbearing and rearing! God bless you today. You are such a strong lady. I have no doubt, day by day, you'll endure this too. We all will. ;)

June 2, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

I struggle with insomnia with anxiety, and I was given the advice to turn over my prayers to the saints at night, or Our Lady, so that they would keep praying. I recently shared this with my seven year old -- our bodies need sleep, but the saints can pray all day and night. Red, I know you were given similar advice, to give your worries directy to Jesus and then sleep in peace. I am often disturbed by how easily my peace is broken, and I am also trying to have the supernatural perspective that all things work together for the good. Perhaps this helps with taking things one step at a time.

June 2, 2009 at 9:21 AM  

I wish you lots of luck and peace during the second half of your pregnancy. I found it difficult to just be in the now when I was pregnant this last time, because it seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork to say "are you having more?" and "how will you handle THREE kids so young?" and, annoyingly, "You're not having MORE, ARE YOU?"

But of course we should all just stay in the present, and you really articulate this beautifully. Thanks.

June 2, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

Right now my kids are pretty sick, we are moving this week and my husband is deploying for a year and to top it all off I bought the worst generic coffee to save a little money and it was so not worth it. Regardless, I was at Mass this morning with my fussy kids and I just said, "Ok Lord, you are asking a lot from me right now!." I just keep trying to remind myself to be cheerful and offer it up for my kids so that in their teenage years, they will stay pure, holy, and have the moral courage to be lights in the darkness. If I look at their innocent faces and think of the challenges they face, it helps me get motivated to offer it up for them (and my husband) with a smile. Sometime the smile is the hardest part, but sometimes it is the simple things God is asking of us that can be so hard to do!

May God Bless you all,
A moving Mama

June 2, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

There's a wonderful passage in Screwtape Letters, in which the man whom Wormwood is trying to tempt/destroy is called up for the war. Screwtape advises Wormwood to keep the man's thoughts either on what a great hero he will be, or on how afraid he is that he might turn into a coward. Never, he says, let him realize that the cross he's being asked to bear is uncertainty, for then all is lost.

Uncertainty, fearfulness, insecurity, anxiety... all of these may be the crosses we are asked to bear on a given day. For me, it helps to look at them that way, because it makes it clearer what I need to do with the feelings.

June 2, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

Julia,

Thanks so much for that. I think that all of us builders struggle with wanting to control our futures -- or at the very least plan for them. Your passage was very helpful to me.

Moving Mama -- good luck, we have moved a ton and I know it is tough. I love the idea of offering it for the teen years, I sometimes try to offer trying tasks for the mothers of their spouses, wherever they may be.

June 2, 2009 at 3:16 PM  

Red, thanks for this beautiful, open-hearted post... this is what it's all about. I can only imagine how much energy I waste, and how much present grace I ignore, by insisting on worrying about the future. I think you need to repost this about every two weeks, or at least email me a copy : )

June 2, 2009 at 9:58 PM  

PS--Red, in the picture below, is Gianna holding a green bean? That looks SO much more appetizing than the wilting, off-colored green beans with leprosy from our ghetto bulk vegetable stand that I cooked tonight for dinner. Congrats on seeing the fruits of your hard work! Let me know if you should have any surplus : )

June 2, 2009 at 10:02 PM  

JM--yes it is a green bean, and because it was the first, we split it 4 ways. It was great. While I don't think we will have much of a surplus on the green beans, we will have PLENTY of extra zucchini. The zucchini are overtaking out entire garden, and I fear one plant would have fed our entire family for the summer--and we have at least 5 plants thriving! The surplus is all yours ;-)

June 3, 2009 at 12:26 AM  

When I am feeling overwhelmed with life, which is quite often, it helps me to remember that my current circumstances are only temporary. A pregnancy will soon be over, and beautiful, new little baby will be here. My young children will soon be grown, and my house will seem so empty.

Thanks Red for using your story to encourage others.

June 3, 2009 at 7:16 PM  

This post made me think of a great quote I read somewhere (wish I could remember the source)...it was about life in our modern society and why we are so stressed out as a culture:

"90% of stress is caused by unmet expectations."

This was brilliant to me. It explains why life seems so stressful even though most of us have food, shelter, clothing and all the basic life necessities met. To give an example, I am incredibly stressed if my tired son doesn't nap when I expect him to. If I stop to think about it, there's no real reason to be stressed, there's nothing acutely threatening to my life at that moment.

Yet I am stressed because I expected him to nap and he didn't meet my expectations. Therefore my whole master plan is shot... he will be tired when he goes to physical therapy, and I will be unable to eat or shower beforehand, and I will be tired and hungry (and smelly) the rest of the day. :(

Although I agree with the quote, actually letting go of expectations and the stress that comes with them is another story....

June 4, 2009 at 1:08 PM  

Late to the thread but this great post reminded me of the story Corrie ten Boom used to tell of her dad. When WWII was ramping up, she & her sister became worried that the Nazis would eventually discover the Jews that their family had hidden (which they did). Corrie's dad asked her, "When you were little & I took you to the train to go & see your grandma, when did I give you the train fare?" She told him,"When I was about to get on the train." Her dad said, "Well, God does the same thing."
As you probably know, Corrie's dad & sister died in the concentration camp but Corrie lived to testify to the Truth of what her dad taught her.

June 6, 2009 at 8:30 AM  

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