My friend Allison and I were lost in a conversation about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), which is a faith-based, Montessori-like program where children connect with elements of their faith in a classroom that we call the atrium. Over the past year, we’ve volunteered together in the atrium (classroom) and we’re both currently on track to become Level-I Catechists with CGS this summer. As we expressed our thoughts on all the things we’ve learned in training, Allison sighed and said, “I don’t know when I’ll be able to use this knowledge in the actual atrium.” Her left hand rested on her stomach—which popped out like a balloon, since she was 30 weeks pregnant—while her right arm held her youngest on her hip. In less than three months, she’ll have five young children needing her attention.
As I leaned into her comment and our conversation dove deeper, Allison shared about her struggle with having limited time and availability. She wants to be a catechist, but her young children need her at home and she cannot easily say “yes” to being a catechist in this particular season of life. I thought about the other families who participate in our local CGS atrium and was hit with the obvious truth of my own availability. Like Allison, I too love CGS and am excited to use what I’ve learned in the actual atrium, but unlike her, I am equipped with availability; I can be there in the atrium for Allison’s children during this season when she herself cannot go.
I felt like Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 as I realized God was giving me an opportunity to help her, and in my heart, I responded, “Here I am!” Seeing Allison at that moment unlocked a secret door in my heart that I wasn’t aware of. While carrying my cross of secondary infertility, I had become so fixated on my own cross that I failed to see the struggles belonging to others. I had refused to accept that those who had what I so desperately wanted (in this case, many children) carried their own crosses, too. Here Allison stood before me with a desire to be a catechist, but she was unable to pursue that dream due to her current season in life. That was a hard pill for her to swallow, but I could help!
The Lord says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).” It is with this new heart and new spirit that we are able to see God’s perspective and better empathize with others; we can listen and go where the Lord calls us.
With a worldly spirit, it is so easy to look right past another’s suffering and replace what should be empathy with jealousy. In the past, while hanging out with moms who have many children, I caught myself thinking, “Oh, poor you. You feel so overwhelmed with your children? I would love to be in your shoes.” These are the types of thoughts that come from a “heart of stone” which the Lord mentions in the above verse. With time and God’s grace, I’ve begun to love with my “heart of flesh” and my selfishness has turned into empathy. God has shown me that when a mother is overwhelmed, I can do something; I can help. We are meant to live in community.
An overwhelmed mom can’t do it alone, and that’s not because she is deficient or a bad mom. She never was meant to do it alone. None of us were meant to do it alone. Simon helped Jesus carry His cross and modeled for us how we are to help one another. Many of us desire motherhood, and we often live in community with moms of many children who likely need our help at times. If our hearts of stone are consumed with jealousy, we’ll miss God calling us to exercise our spiritual motherhood. Not only do we miss out, but so do the mothers and children who would benefit from our time and love.
My friends who are moms to many children have helped me carry my cross of secondary infertility for years. We’ve had countless conversations when I’ve had bad days. They’ve brought my family food while I recovered from endometriosis surgery, helped me to stay positive, and prayed for me and with me. I had always known the importance of sharing my cross with them to lighten the burden that I felt, and I am now rejoicing in the reality that I get to help them carry their crosses, too. They ache for help, and I ache for more children, so when we carry our crosses together, we both ache a bit less.
A priest friend of mine taught me a prayer that contains a line that says, “I surrender my understanding of how things ought to be.” We all have an idea of how our lives “ought” to turn out, but the Lord waits for us here and now, in reality. Things turn out exactly how God allows them to turn out, and if we surrender our understanding of how things ought to be, we can start embracing how things actually are and be open to how God wants to use us. As we do this, we become so much more like Christ and so much more at peace.
In the words of Saint Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” What better place to start setting things ablaze than our own communities?
Amy Ambrose and her family live in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where you’ll find them tending to their ever-growing garden, reading at the library, or yelling for one another to come check out the view of the sunset.