|by Mary Reed Newland|
I admit that there is a bit of the feeling of 'If only I had had this when baby number one was still nursing.' But there is no turning back, right? When my dear friend had a look at it while our kids were at choir yesterday, her response was 'It makes you want to start over.'
This is why I need to tell you about it now! So all of our very next babies will benefit. And it is NOT too late for the others, or for us, I'm sure. It's never too late to grow and change. These pages contain some beautiful thoughts that I can tell will have a profound influence on the day to day around here.
Have you read any Newland before? My friend Jess (probably without knowing the treasure she had!) sent me this vintage copy of The Year and Our Children, published in 1956. It's cover is not so awesome now, and you may remember it from a recommendation on Like Mother Like Daughter back in May of 2013 in a "Bits and Pieces" post. This book is sort of a rambling commentary on the faith, while it focuses on instructing families about how to let the Liturgical Year really seep into everyday life. There are many many tremendously helpful little ideas about how to do this, even if the style and organization requires a lot of sifting. It's definitely a book to just have around on your coffee table, because you can always open up to whatever season we're in, or about to be in, to see what little things you might do to celebrate. Isn't this old copy adorable? Can you believe it originally cost 95 cents?!
This book, on the other hand, feels much more organized and instructive in a "read from cover to cover" sort of way. Just head on over to amazon and peek at the Table of Contents. Having only read the beginning, the main thing I want to tell you about today has to do with her approach to prayer. The piece of this that feels particularly Catholic has to do with offering up our sorrows and sufferings, and uniting those with our Lord's in the hope that it will ease His suffering, or be merited to our suffering world in some way. I NEVER heard of this concept outside of the Catholic Church, and I did my fair share of running around. It's so very powerful for me as an adult (and one who is still just learning to practice this!), but I am amazed at how Newland makes this powerfully accessible for the youngest children. Or rather, shows us how to make it accessible to our children in the most intimate and lovely ways.
As a little example, she discusses how important it can be to help children see their work as prayer. She says, "In the beginning, learning to make our bed, dry the dishes, and polish shoes is fun and a kind of play at being grown up, but soon the novelty wears off, and the chores that started out being fun can lose their glamour and become unpleasant drudgery. If they are prayer, however, it can be different. Not that tasks we hate doing are suddenly transformed into occasions of great spiritual joy; but there's a great difference between doing them because you're told you must, and doing them because they can be applied to the sufferings of some other child somewhere, who has no bed to make, who must spend his nights curled up in a hole, shivering, starved, unhappy, and with no one to care for him" (Newland 31).
Newland is confident that a child can see work as something Christ can use "as balm for one of His suffering members," and goes on to say that "one of the loveliest things about teaching children that work is prayer is that mothers can't help having it rub off on them. These diapers that are changed daily, these meals that are cooked again and again, these floors that are scrubbed today only to get dirty tomorrow––these are truly prayer in a mother's vocation as the watches and prayers of the religious are in theirs" (31). I love thinking that my time at the kitchen sink, if offered up, could be valuable prayer in the life of the Church, in the way that a dear Brother or Sister might drag him or herself out of bed for Matins or Lauds to pray for the rest of us. And I believe that Newland is right about children. We don't need to dumb down the faith for them. We do need to share it, though.
In the first section, "Introduce Your Child to God" she articulates this vocation so beautifully. She ends the section with this: "Simplicity of soul is one of the prerequisites of sanctity, and it's one of the things our children already possess. We must be very careful not to contribute to the great cluttering up. We must make a heroic effort to rid our lives of all but one motive, that "impractical" spirituality of the saints, a life in union with God. If this is the undercurrent of our existence, we can expect the spiritual training of our children to bear fruit. Without it, what they learn of God as children will be easily shoved aside when the world begins to make its noise in their ears. We inherited Heaven at the Cross, and a way of life that should lead us all to sublime heights. Our obligation as parents is heavy: we must raise children who are in love with God" (20). Luckily she goes on to flesh out exactly what we can do!
I need books like this to remind me of just that: my primary focus is to aim to raise saints. Primary focus! It is so easy to lose sight of that in the mess or the chaos or the homeschool to-do list. This book is grounding, encouraging, and its tone is loving. I hope you'll take a look and let me know what you think.