The Penance I Struggle to Make Work

“You have searched me Lord, and you know me.” -Psalm 139:1

Before Easter, I rounded up my four and we headed to our parish penance service. I was going to meet my husband there. We needed the sacrament, of course, and it would be the second time our oldest received. And then, at the last minute, our 5 year old came down with a fever. The boys were cranky. I was at the end of my rope, and figured we’d skip our parish service and find another before Easter. I told our oldest, the “Passionate Princess”, and heartbreak spread over her face. She was looking forward to going! (Amazing! I am so grateful to our DRE for her hard work, and the second grade RE teacher, for making the sacrament not scary to these young souls! I was always afraid and dreaded going, even into adulthood.) Because my girl wanted so badly to receive the Sacrament of Penance, we went. I knew there would be extra graces in store for my younger kids, making a sacrifice so their sister could go to Confession.

We loaded up, met with my husband, and waited for the service to begin. I was stressed, to be sure, but not overly so. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t a frumpy mess from not having time to dress appropriately. From all outward appearances, I was “put together”.

Since I had all the kids, my daughter and I got in line first so we could get back home quicker. I was in line for a face-to-face confession with a priest I’ve met before, but isn’t our parish priest. He also barely knows me. He might have remembered that I am the mother of 4 little children.

I made my confession, carefully, but without giving my life’s history of each sin. No “I was so stressed from a long day of homeschooling and preparing meals for our dietary challenged selves that I snapped and did XYZ.” Nope, I don’t roll that way. It was “I yelled, lost my patience…” etc. The specifics, but not too much information.

And then he spoke. But it was Jesus.

He told me, as part of my penance (and I feel comfortable sharing this, because it is part of how I am growing and walking along my journey, and how I am working to be a better mother raising my someday-saints), to take time for myself. Take time for myself! Inside, my jaw was dropping. How could this gentle, joyful priest know that I had been working non-stop to care for my family, struggling to have any time to rest in peace? How could he have known? He couldn’t, if not for the graces our priests have in the Sacrament of Confession. He couldn’t, without Christ being in him and using him in those moments. He also told me to rest in God’s Word, especially meditating on the story of Martha and Mary.

Martha and Mary. They always come back to me. I am too much of a Martha, struggling to be a bit more like Mary.

And I was told by our Lord to slow down, find some time (or make it!) for myself, and be with Him.


I struggle with this penance. It is a gift. It is like being given a certificate for a spiritual spa day, a spiritual pampering, but feeling guilty about using it. I don’t deserve this! And yet, our Lord’s mercy is a gift. It is a wonderful, amazing gift, and right now, it’s the kind that makes me feel warm and happy inside. I cried with joy at the priest’s–Christ’s–words to me.

I told my husband, who said, “I’ve been trying to tell you to get more time for yourself.”

I know. It’s true, and he kept trying to get me away to have time for myself. Bible study, wives’ nights out, running errands, whatever it may be. And it wasn’t “enough”.

This past weekend, it struck me. Even with the short prayer I kept adding throughout the day, the times out my husband was giving me, I needed something more. Those were all “Martha” times. I needed “Mary” time. Running errands without the kids, it’s great. But it’s not restful. It’s not “me” time. I realized that all the time I have been taking, it’s not at home. It’s not quiet. It’s not allowing me to be with Christ, or do the things that energize me, like my hobbies.

So, I decided to take painful measures to make this penance work. It is penance, after all. Even if I’m still gushing over the priest’s words to me, amazed with how Christ worked in him to see into my soul and bless me with such a wonderful penance, it is penance and penance can hurt!

I am waking up at 5:30am, to be alone and have time before the demands of the day must be met. It is time I can sip my lemon water, pray, blog, work on photos with Photoshop. It is my time. I begin each morning thanking God for another day, spend some time with His Word, and then I do what I don’t have time for when my family is awake. This short time in the morning is my “Mary” time, and the rest of the day, I can feel better about being “Martha”, because I have filled my tank already! I am filled so I can better serve my family and my Lord.

It is beautiful. It is hard to wake up at 5:30am. My littlest has been waking up at 5:30am these last few days, putting a cramp in my plans, but I have a feeling this is going to work, most days.

“You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.” Psalm 139:2-3


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