I stood by helplessly and watched as a text message received by one of my older children instantly transformed a situation that showed much promise into a state of uncertainty. My child was visibly disappointed and frustrated. All I could do was give a reassuring hug and offer some words of consolation. Throughout my work day, I prayed for my child, my heart heavy at seeing my child’s sadness.
Before they are born, we pray for our children. Our prayers are full of hope and promise as well as petitions to safeguard the nine months of gestation. As our newborn is placed in our arms for the first time, we praise with rejoicing and thankfulness. We implore God to give us the strength, courage and wisdom needed to mother our babies and we ask Jesus and His Blessed Mother to make up for what is lacking in our imperfect motherhood.
As the children grow into toddlers, school children, teens and young adults, our prayers reflect the different stages. We intensify them as we see the spark of independence that will one day carry our offspring to lives of their own. I think the most urgent of a mother’s prayers are when our children start to venture forth, away from our protective gaze and helping hand. Our worries and our need to let go bring us to our knees begging God and all the angels and saints to love and protect them in a way that we can’t.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine paints a wonderful picture of his mother, St. Monica. The dissolute life her young son was leading was headed for ruin and St. Monica did the only and the best thing she could do for him; she prayed unceasingly. “She was habitually at the Church,” and she had “faith in Christ that before she departed this life, she would see [Augustine] baptized a Catholic believer.” (Book VI, Confessions) Although Monica had strong faith, she did not cease her prayer; in fact she “redoubled her petitions and tears, begging that [God] would hasten [His] help.” (Book VI, Confessions of St. Augustine) Monica’s faithful devotion and persistence paid off and she died knowing her son lived for God. “My hope in this world is already fulfilled,” she told Augustine. (Book IX, Confessions)
Mary “pondered” in her heart everything that was said by the Angel Gabriel, Simeon and Anna. Her life in Nazareth was a silent prayer, contemplating the presence of God. At the foot of the cross, her silence and steadfast presence was a prayer for Him. Even now, she prays unceasingly for us, her children.
When the oldest of my children were still completely dependent on me, and as our family grew, my most fervent prayer was that I would live long enough to see them able to care for themselves. As I watch my children begin to take their place in society as young contributing adults, my prayer changes. I pray for their academic success, for decisions regarding their chosen careers and for discernment of their rightful vocations – married, single or religious. I wonder for whom I will be praying as they begin married life; if I will be praying as I watch a child of mine profess religious vows or is ordained. I wonder if any have the vocation of consecrated single life and I pray for their happiness and fruitfulness in that life. I dream of how many grandchildren I will one day have and even now I pray that they will be joyful and faithful in God.
A mother’s prayers are offered in sacrifice as she sees to her children’s needs, often putting aside her own. They are uttered in tireless succession as she tends to the needs of her sick child and they are cried in painful anguish at the bedside of a dying child. She beseeches the heavens for her children’s protection, health, happiness and above all, the salvation of their souls.
I once told some friends that what I pray for the most in life is that my children will know God. That, ultimately, is the result of all of a mother’s prayers – that our children will one day stand before God in unfathomable happiness.
Pray unceasingly. Beseech fervently. Petition trustingly. It is a mother’s greatest work and her most precious gift for her children.