parenting & scripture: 4th sunday in ordinary time

“Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties.”

(1 Cor 7:32)

Parenting, thy name is anxiety.

This week I heard a mom joke that she tossed and turned for twenty minutes last night, mentally trying to design multiple escape routes from her home in the event of a fire.

“I thought, ‘What if the fire breaks out between my room and my daughter’s?’ What would I do then? So I had to come up with yet ANOTHER plan.”

We laughed, but behind the smiles lay a nod of affirmation: Yes, I’ve been there. Yes, I’ve worried about that. Yes, I’ve lost sleep, too.

Whether anxiety starts during pregnancy or flares during the teenage years, worry goes hand-in-hand with being responsible for a child. Parents cannot protect their babies from all the dangers in the world, and they toss and turn wondering how to make choices that will keep kids safe.

Today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks directly to our anxieties, both worldly and otherworldly. Yet this passage can seem frustrating: everyone suffers from anxiety; God doesn’t want us to be anxious; so, good luck reconciling those two truths on your own.

But read alongside today’s Gospel, we are invited to see anxiety in a whole new light.

While teaching in the synagogue, Jesus encounters a man with an “unclean spirit.” When the man cries out, Jesus orders the spirit to come out of him, and the man is set free.

A Scripture professor once told me that the stories about “evil spirits” in the Gospels can be read as descriptions of people suffering from mental illness. Lacking today’s clinical language of depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, people in Jesus’ time understood the forces that took over someone’s mind and behavior as evil spirits.

Anxiety falls into this category, too, given how devastating its darkness can become over the mind and body.

So today we hear a story of a man who brings his suffering into a holy place of worship, right to the feet of someone he senses – despite the darkness that has consumed him – can help.

And Jesus does not delay, to the amazement of those who witness the healing.

What if parents could bring their worries to church, in the hopes of being set free?

What if depression and anxiety were no longer cloaked in shame, but bravely revealed in the light of day?

What if we could marvel at the ways God can cast out demons and darkness in each other’s lives, instead of gossiping behind backs about other’s mental states?

Would we worry and agonize a little less, knowing that our faith and our community could help “deliver us from all anxiety and grant us peace in our day”?

My prayer, like Paul’s, hopes yes.

prayers for anxiety in pregnancy

One of the coolest things about blogging is seeing what brings perfect strangers to your writing. On the “dashboard” of this blog, I can see everyday the list of things that people search for (on search engines) which lead them here. And I am completely fascinated by this feature.

For example: what brings more people to my blog than anything else?

Prayers for a baptism anniversary. The post I wrote for S’s 1st anniversary gets hits from search engines nearly every day. I find this to be a hopeful sign, that people really want to celebrate the third moment of sacraments, to keep remembering and living out their their importance. I’m now even more determined to track down good baptism anniversary prayers each year for my kids’ celebrations so that I have more to share.

Every week I get hits related to cloth diapering. Or mothering. Or the Holy Family. Or celebrating liturgical seasons at home. Lots of Goog.les for prayers or poetry on parenting.

But I would never have guessed that a few months ago, I would start getting all sorts of hits for prayers on pregnancy, once I posted this and this. Again, very inspiring; very hopeful. Except that some of these searches were phrased in ways that broke my heart, that found me wondering about the back stories, even sending a quick prayer out to whomever searched and arrived here. Things like:

“prayer for anxious pregnant woman”

“prayers for pregnancy help”

“prayers for unexpected pregnancy”

The growing number of searches I have seen lately on “prayers for anxiety in pregnancy” have reaffirmed for me how hungry, even desperate, women (and perhaps men) can be in the face of pregnancy. It is not always the blissful nine months of joy and expectation that the baby industry paints in pretty pastels.

There are lots of reasons to be anxious and troubled during pregnancy. Medical reasons: previous miscarriages, a history of infertility, underlying health concerns, unexpected prenatal diagnoses, prepartum depression. Financial reasons: an unplanned pregnancy, the loss of a job, the added strain of one more mouth to feed. Emotional reasons: uncertainty about parenthood, fears for its effect on a marriage or other relationship, stress about the responsibilities it brings.

To say nothing of the run-of-the-mill pregnancy worries:

Is my baby healthy?

Am I healthy?

Will my baby come too early?

Can I handle the pain of childbirth?

So when I was reading through the Book of Psalms last week for work, and I came across this familiar one, I suddenly read it with new eyes and realized that Psalm 139 is a perfect prayer for anxiety in pregnancy.

We’ve all heard those reassuring words, the comforting images of God’s hand holding us wherever we go and the beautiful idea that God has known us intimately from our first days in our mother’s womb. (What Post-Vatican II Catholic didn’t grow up singing, “Yahweh, I Know You Are Near?”)

But I had never before reflected on the fact that the psalmist unites the two – comfort in anxiety and the experience of pregnancy – in a way that speaks directly to those who are facing anguish during this time of waiting and worry.

So today I offer this prayer for all of you who stumble onto this page searching for some word of peace in an anxious time. May the God who knows us from the darkness of the womb bring us comfort in the light of day.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the winds of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them – they are more than the sand;
I come to the end – I am still with you.
(Ps 139 1-18)

All will be well and all will be well; all manner of things will be well.

– Julian of Norwich