Motherhood and the Road to Sainthood
Letter from Shawna Navaro
I want to share how motherhood is teaching me to be a child of God. I hope it can bring a sip of encouragement to your day.
Although I have always cherished my Catholic faith, I haven’t always embraced my identity as one of God’s own. Motherhood has invited me into deeper self-knowledge and self-love. The interior journey is bringing me closer to God, my family, and my friends. Perhaps it is because I see the gift each one of my children are that I am finally starting to believe in my own worthiness. I want my children to know and love themselves the way I know and love them—and far beyond that—I want them to know and love themselves the way their God and Creator knows and loves them. I would give my life for my children to live theirs with confidence in God’s love.
The journey of self-discovery is a life-long road. I spent the better half of my youth insecure and armored. Although I was raised in a loving home, with a pretty loving picture of God as Father, I struggled with my own goodness. I didn’t always realize it because I received a good deal of validation from school, work, and social circles. But my frequent interior battle with scrupulosity proved my sense of self-worth came from the approval of others rather than from steady confidence in God’s love.
I’ve competed for attention and approval for as long as I can remember. My parents put me in sports early so that I could build confidence in a skill. I was competing in gymnastics meets and playing club basketball at age 4. When I blundered, I was crushed. I remember crying as I landed the last flip in my routine at a gymnastics competition. I was probably 10 at the time. I knew I messed up some small part of the routine, and before I could salute the judges and step off the mat, snot was pouring from my sobs. I wasn’t sad about losing the first-place ribbon. I was upset because I did something wrong and I let my coach down. I had frequent breakdowns during childhood. As I got older, I learned that tears were for sissies, so I began to hide my shame. This is when the scruples began. I could walk out of confession and into Mass and still struggle to believe I was worthy of stepping into the communion line. Imagine the slap in God’s face. For him to say, “I forgive you.” And for me to respond, “Nah, that cannot be.” For him to say, “I love you and I want to be with you.” And to respond, “Maybe one day, when I figure this out. When I’m good enough. When I earn your love.”
God is love. But my picture of love was not God. It was utilitarian and conditional. Imagine if I only loved my toddler when he achieved something. “Oh no . . . how sad. You peed in your diaper? Again?! No hugs until you go on the potty!” I believed I deserved love in the measure of my performance and productivity. God’s love for me is not based on merit. It’s taken the better part of 32 years to learn that his love is simply based on my willingness to receive him.
Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender. —Saint Therese of Lisieux
I was struggling through my first pregnancy when my younger (but occasionally wiser) brother said to me, “Motherhood is your road to sainthood.” I struggled to hear it at the time because I was still vomiting from extended morning sickness. So far, motherhood was painful, exhausting, and forcing me to accept a completely new rhythm to life. His words, however, have rung true in the five short years I have been a mom. Today, I have two little boys and a baby girl on the way.
From the beginning, motherhood has demanded everything from me: the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The difficulty fluctuates with each new season. The dependency my children have on my physical body alone is high, especially while they are young: through morning sickness, pregnancy aches, labor, and nursing. Don’t get me started on the emotional torment unruly hormones can bring on. As the boys get older they have different needs. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, I am thinking about, prepping for, responding to, or juggling the needs of my kids, my husband, our household, and my career. Yet as God teaches me how to give more of myself, my capacity to love grows.
As I strive to teach my children virtue, I am more aware of my lack thereof. Young kids learn best by modeling the behavior of the adults around them. I have to get better if I want them to grow. Before I became a mom, my character was tested in more controlled environments. I could step away from a difficult conversation, take time to think about the right response, and then go back with a sensible, loving approach. Mommin’ with toddlers is like being put into an instant pot with all your virtues and vices, and those of your husband’s, and trying to keep the lid from blowing off. Sometimes it blows. But with every small victory—the occasional moments when I am able to practice gentleness with my 4-year-old, despite how mad I am that he just pushed his little brother down the steps—a change takes place in me. My capacity for gentleness grows. I had no idea how much virtue I lacked in the realms of gentleness, self-control, and patience. Motherhood moved my focus from an external sense of stability and social validation to a much deeper internal need for God’s grace and guidance—inevitably helping me rely more on God’s fatherhood.
I love helping my children grow. Seeing the light inside them burst through their laughter, playfulness, curiosity, and tenderness each day makes every sacrifice worthy. If I love my kids this much, how much must God love me? How much must he love watching me grow? It makes sense to me now why marriage is my vocation–the path God has set before me to discover myself and grow into the woman he made me to be. Motherhood is my road to sainthood if I’m willing to surrender to Love.
I am learning to become the giver rather than the receiver, the teacher rather than the student. And the paradox in this personal transformation is that I am learning how to let God love me. I don’t have the strength to love, not in the way Jesus loves. Without grace, nobody does. I have to depend on grace, and it’s wonderful. In trusting in God, I get to be a child again. I get to experience the comfort and joy of being with my father in heaven. I get to sit with Mother Mary every day and seek her wisdom and embrace. In my surrender to God’s love, I get to discover hidden wonders within myself and share them with others. What an unfathomable gift it is to be a daughter of God.
“Then, beside myself with joy, I cried out: "O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love! Yes, I have found my place in the bosom of the Church, and this place, O my God, Thou hast Thyself given to me: in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be LOVE! . . .” ― Thérèse de Lisieux
About the Writer: Shawna Navaro
Shawna Navaro is a born Texan, and baptized Catholic. She is wife to a life-loving, outdoorsy, english teacherman, and mother to two amazing little boys who are soon to be big brothers to a baby sister. She spends her days working as an independent brand designer, raising boys (aka: mitigating risk for tiny daredevils), keeping house, and praying for courage to live in the present moment and to love the mysteries of life.