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How to be a Carmelite Prayer Warrior with Very Small Children

alec vanderboom

The short answer to this often asked question is . . .

I don't know.

I'm still working on it.

Right now I'm technically an "aspirant" to Carmel. (The formation process to become a Secular Carmelite is 6 years. My husband and I are currently at year 2 1/2). My Carmel prayer life is pretty much an "aspiration" rather than an establish pattern of daily life. I feel like I just get into my Carmel groove when events in my life conspire to kick me off my prayer routine. My job is then to scramble to get my prayer life back in order.

Life with a non-sleeping newborn totally qualifies as a time when I'm off my Carmel groove.

The daily prayer goal of a Secular Carmelite is (1) a half an hour of Prayer of the Quiet, (2) saying both Morning and Evening Prayers from the Daily Office, and (3) attending Daily Mass "when possible."

When I first started Carmel, my family attended Mass together at 6:30 AM every morning. It was me, my husband and 3 kids under the age of 4. It was pretty awesome. We totally stood out among the quiet group of adult commuters.

Other Catholic Moms told me I was completely nuts to attend a 6:30 AM Mass. I told them "Have you seen my son misbehave in church? Do you think I'm crazy for insisting that he sit on his father's lap each and every time I appear in front of the Blessed Sacrament? I'd be nuts for appearing at 12 PM Mass alone with my 3 active, and rather disobedient children. Give me both Jesus and my husband at an uncivilized time in the early morning any day!"

Then life changed. We lost our car and started taking the bus to another church that had Daily Mass at 7 AM. I got pregnant with Baby Tess. We gradually changed from a family that went every day to Mass to a family that went 1-2 times a week to Daily Mass. My daughter got her first Communion in the Spring. We parents took turns taking her alone to Mass. Then we found a candy store near church that was only open on weekdays. The candy store was a great bribe to get my 5 year old son to start willingly attend Daily Mass again.

Then I hit the hard last stage of pregnancy. I couldn't sleep at all during the night due to chronic rib pain. My husband couldn't sleep with his dear wife in such pain. With the exception of some NICU church days in September, we went from regular Daily Mass attendees to people that completely choose sleep over church every non-Sunday for the past 3 months.

When will I get my family back on a regular Daily Mass schedule? I don't know! It's not happening this week.

About the same thing happened to our daily Prayer of the Quiet time. I love this prayer time. It's the best! I'm a total night owl. Yet I took 3 months to completely retrain my sleep-wake cycle in order to get up and pray with my husband every morning at 5:30 AM. I'd pray silently next to my husband for 30 minutes and then say Morning Prayer out loud at 6 AM, before my little one woke up.

That schedule worked great. I kept it up all through my pregnancy and my baby's NICU stay. Then I got my baby home. Suddenly, I'm responsible for all those night-feedings. I have not gotten my eyes opened any time before 7:20 AM for the past 3 weeks. My prayer of the quiet is now a quick 5 minutes before my 3 year old bangs down my bedroom door demanding her breakfast cereal.

The only part of the Daily Office that is happening right now is "Evening Prayer" which happens at 8:30 PM when my husband comes stumbling out of the older kids bedroom after "bedtime."

Prayer life with very small children is a work in progress. The nice part of having all of these cute external distractions (i.e. my kids), is that the few minutes I get to spend listening to Jesus is so precious!*

*(Carmelite Saint Brother Lawrence felt no difference between praying directly to God alone in his cell and doing his work as cook in a busy monastery kitchen. I'm not there yet. Currently, my play dough filled kitchen with a newborn baby wailing for more breastmilk, feels very different from my quiet, early morning prayer time before a smiling picture of the Blessed Virgin. Yet having "my work be my prayer" is a distant goal for me.)