• Lisa Popcak

Not long ago I was in Pittsburgh during the citywide marathon. It was a cold, rainy day. Yet over 20,000 people showed up to run. Another 6,000 or more people volunteered to support those marathoners, many of them standing on the sidelines cheering on the runners and handing them water.

Think about that. For fourteen hours in the cold and rain people stood to offer others encouragement, a moment of connection and a drink to help them go on. There were no bragging rights in that. No medals. No records to break. No coverage in the news. Yet they came, and many of the runners wouldn't have succeeded in their goals if they hadn't.

That is one example of what giving drink to the thirsty is all about. Sure, the marathon committee could have just had unmanned stations along the way for the runners to grab water as they ran by, but that would have deprived the runners of the encouragement and connection that fueled them to go on.

Again, as with the first Corporal work of Mercy -feeding the hungry- we see that it's not just the substance that matters, but the manner in which it’s provided.

Let's look at how this applies to us as mothers.

One example, that always jumps out at me when I think of this work, is hearing, “Cannnn I have a drink of waaaaterrr?” sometime during the night when one of my littles was supposed to be sleeping. Let's be honest here, can anything get on a mom’s last nerve like hearing that when all you want is to get on with something, ANYTHING non-kid related at night. You’ve given your all, all day. You’ve desperately waited all day for those precious, all too short moments of “off-duty” time, and then you hear that call. It can bring us to the end of our patience in a split second. I know there were nights I wondered if it would bring me to the end of my sanity as well.

Then I read a column that talked about how St. Teresa of Calcutta used to awaken one or two hours before the rest of her sisters to go out and tend to the outcasts of the city. On the one hand, I immediately saw the holiness and sacrifice in this. On the other, my exhausted brain thought, “Gee at least she got to decide when she's going to wake up to tend to people, we moms have to jump up out of an exhausted sleep whenever our family needs us. I promise, I wasn't being prideful. I was just such a tired mom that sleeping ALL THE WAY to 3 o’clock in the morning sounded almost luxurious.

But what also occurred to me is that Mother Teresa would go out at 3am with a smile on her face, kindness in her actions, and love for God’s children in her heart. Yet we as mothers are almost encouraged to be grouchy, irritable, and harsh when responding in the night to the needs of God’s children under our roof.

Mother Teresa knew that it was not just water and food that those she tended needed. They needed kindness, comfort, reassurance when they were feeling scared and alone. These are the same things our children need from us when they ask for that inconvenient drink of water, and if we choose to answer with patience, kindness, and love (and yes we usually have to ask God for an extra helping of Grace to do this) we can transform those moments into moments that spiritually transformation for both of us.

In this we get to experience Christ in two ways. In the first we get to minister to the suffering Christ present in our children. Just as we may wish we could have comforted Jesus in His suffering or given him a drink in answer to His words “I thirst”. We can comfort Him in the form of “the least of these” in our children.When we accept His invitation to come to Him in our children, we experience Him showing us how very loved and important we are through our children's eyes,  and we are invited to overcome our weariness and sinfulness just as the woman from whom He asked for a drink at the well was.

Secondly, we transform that moment for our child by being an embodied response of a loving and merciful God who loves them with all of His being all of the time.That response is some of the earliest and best evangelization our children will ever know. When we later talk of the great God who loves them very much,  they will have a reference point in the memory of seeing His face reflected in your responses.

Now I'm not saying we should let this go on all night. If we have tucked them into bed, using a nurturing bedtime ritual, and been loving and kind in response to their request for a drink (or whatever) later if it occurs, it's absolutely fine to set a gentle, firm limit in the behavior if they are old enough. But this limit is far more likely to be cooperated with if you meet the emotional needs behind the request first.

With our older children it is a good idea to use “giving drink to the thirsty” in ways that help us connect with them in supportive, non-confrontational ways. We certainly do this with friends don't we? We don't ask our friends “out for a cup of coffee” or “out for a drink after work” and then sit there drinking and ignoring them because we just want to keep ourselves from dehydrating do we? Of course not. What we're really thirsting for is friendship and connection.

We should extend this practice to our older children. Stop at a favorite place on the way home from school for a lemonade or hot cocoa to reconnect after the day apart.  Have a tea time with them at home with a snack and tea and a good chat. Share cups of camomile tea before bed and catch up on each other's day lives in ways that only seem to happen in the quiet, calm hours of the night. Invite that adult child out for a cup of coffee, at a convenient time for you both,  and catch up on each other's lives.

The purpose of giving drink to the thirsty is much more about the watering of a person's soul then it is about hydration, and you don't have to stand in the rain for fourteen hours to do it, you just have to connect with the children who seek your time and attention because you are more important to them than anybody else in the world.

  • Lisa Popcak

Last time I introduced how, what the Catholic church calls the Corporal Works of Mercy, are very much what we do all the time as moms.

Today I’m sharing how the first Corporal work, Feeding the Hungry, plays itself out in our lives as mothers. Since the beginning of time we mothers have been providing meals for our children. From the first moments our children come into our lives we are the ones who feed them. If others feed our children (caregivers or school) we're usually the ones to check the menus, make sure they're meals are paid for, check that their meals are allergy free, etc. Most often it's mom who does most of the planning, and shopping for groceries, and cooking when home. As our children leave the nest, food is usually part of our reunions with them, as we cook for holidays, birthdays and other occasions. It's a lot ladies!

On the one hand, feeding our families is a real privilege that binds us together with our own families and also with each other as women. I felt this strongly this past Holy Week. I'm fortunate to belong to an online baking group that was created to celebrate the baking history of our local area. As the week progressed, mothers and grandmothers posted pictures of the the beautiful things they were baking to celebrate the religious and ethnic traditions that had been past on to them for Easter or Passover, that they were now creating and sharing again with their families. A love of God and family shone out of every picture. Seeing hundreds of us, and knowing millions more, were serving and loving at the same time, in the same way, and have been for generations, lifted my heart and brought deeper meaning and renewed energy to my own tasks that week.

On the other hand, being responsible for three meals a day plus snacks -  on top of everything else you have to do - can really be exhausting and draining. For many of us feeding our children brings moments of stress with everything from worrying about health and nutrition, the cost of food, hassles with picky eaters, providing something everyone will eat, even, for some, dealing with battles with weight and body image (our children’s and our own). On top of that there is a lot of pressure on moms to “get it right” and there are a million different voices intruding into your life telling you what “right” is. All this can seem like anything but a Mercy for us or our kids.

When we get caught up in all the stressors of feeding our hungry families, we often miss the most important point of this Corporal work of Mercy. The nourishment of the body is imperative of course, but just as vital is the feeding of our children's souls, hearts, and minds through connection with each other while we share food. Consider the fact that it is considered a vial punishment to isolate a prisoner from all human contact and just push a plate of food through a slot to them. Their bodies may be minimally sustained by it, but their souls certainly are not.

Our children hunger for connection with us. This is a biological fact. They can only emotionally, spiritually, and even physically thrive when they experience connection to us. When we don't take advantage of the opportunity meal times create to connect and enjoy being with our children, we are missing a tremendous opportunity to capture their hearts, guide them, form them, create memories, and enliven the love between us.

If we look at the New Testament scriptures we see so many times when Jesus connected with people over food. When he shared meals with them he knew people would pause, eat, make eye contact, listen, talk and share their hearts.

For years I struggled with the story of  one particular time Jesus shared a meal with people. The story of Mary and Martha (Luke Chapter 10) tells us of Jesus being welcomed into Martha's house. She busies herself as anyone would when having guests for dinner, while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him. Eventually Martha complains to Jesus that Mary isn't helping her and tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Now I know Jesus wasn't an ingrate and that they did all share in the meal Martha worked so hard on, so I struggled with his reproach of Martha. I understood Martha.  After all, as a mom, if I don't do this particular work of motherhood, we're all going to be starving in a filthy house pretty quickly! I was sure Jesus wasn't telling us to just sit around talking all day and never attend to these tasks.

Then one day in prayer a different emphasis struck me. The words “you are worried and upset” leapt off the page at me. I suddenly wondered if it was Martha’s negative, frustrated, put upon attitude that Jesus was correcting. After all, Jesus used food as a means of connection. Mary was engaged in connection, while Martha's attitude and words were threatening it. So often we end up undermining our connection with those we love by using mealtimes as a time to discipline the kids, argue about food, or discuss tense topics, or complain about each other's shortcomings. When we do this we lose so many of the benefits family meals are supposed to give us, and make our families less likely to enjoy each other, trust each other, or want to be together.

In a future blog/podcast I will talk more about how to deepen our spiritual lives, and the well being of our families, through this Corporal Work and how deal with some of the practicalities of feeding your hungry people. But I would like to offer this suggestion to begin: Discontinue negativity when you share food with your family. Make it a new rule with your family that  whenever you share food -weather that's an extended meal, a snack, or nuggets in the car before the next after school activity -  you will all work on being pleasant, and up building, focusing on being together and enjoying your time together.

Save conversations about difficult topics, correction, schedules, school performance, etc. for a time, when you're not sharing food. You can still catch up on the day. But make sure you talk about the positive things, as well as the struggles of the day. One way to do this is to use the Thorn and Roses game, where each person gets a bit of time to share a struggle of that day (a thorn), but also a positive part of the day (a rose), while the others listen attentively, support and encourage the person who is sharing. At the very least it will be better for your digestion. But it will also ease a lot of the dread and anxiety many families have internalized about family meals and even food in general.

This one practice may help you all draw closer, connect with each other more deeply, bring you more peace and even make pleasant memories that will make your family want to gather for family meals for generations to come.

  • Lisa Popcak

Have you ever wanted to make a difference in the world, to make it a better place?

I talk to many people who wish they could have a big effect on the world, but feel frustrated and hobbled by the confines of their day to day lives. They day dream about having the resources to build schools for underprivileged children, or being able to dig wells in areas without drinking water. They wish they could join organizations like Doctors without Borders to help heal suffering, or open restaurants that also  give meals to the poor. I've been blessed in my life to know a few people who actually make these things happen in their lives. Yet most people I talk to must deal with the constraints of their daily lives and responsibilities, and are left feeling that they can't do big things in the world.

All of these meritorious actions, and more, are categorized in Catholicism as corporal works of Mercy. They include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving shelter, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, and burying the dead. They are a set of guidelines to help us behave as our highest selves in order to treat others as our brothers and sisters created in the image of God.

Years ago, my oldest child was preparing for his First Holy Communion. I was making breakfast for the family as we talked about his lesson reviewing these works of Mercy. As he listed them, he interrupted himself and said, “You do this stuff every day. They should call these the Corporal works of Mommy.” I was about to correct him and start talking about all the times we see Jesus, or great men or women of God, do these things, after all this was a religion lesson right?! But then it dawned on me…he was right!

All of this stuff we moms do all day really matters!

When people dig wells, or build schools, or serve in orphanages, or volunteer to rock and comfort addicted babies, etc. they are doing great works, but they are doing them because someone, or some group fell short of meeting that need for some reason. This isn't a judgement, just a fact.

People who are willing to stand in that gap and help are lauded for doing great things, and they should be. But what about those of us who do the same things every day on a seemingly smaller and more private scale?  By doing the daily work of mothering, we endeavor to ensure against the creation of those gaps in the first place.

We are often told, and tell ourselves, that the work we do is mundane and unimportant. Why should it be considered any more important to feed a hundred strangers at a soup kitchen, than it is to feed the souls around our table, or to dig a well for a village than to pay our family's water bill or get our little one a cup of water at night? It shouldn't be. When we do these things we are serving their bodies and nurturing their hearts and souls, filling them with the knowledge that they are loved and showing them how to love others as well.

After my son said that to me, it changed my entire attitude about the work of motherhood. It gave me a deeper sense of God dwelling in my family relationships. Daily tasks became an opportunity to see and cultivate the Divine in my home and manifest the servant love of Christ in my own character.

St. Therese had a very similar revelation, that we can all share in. She had always wanted to be a missionary and do great things for God,  but God called her to a cloistered monastery life. Yet she change the world by living her “little way of holiness” showing love to everyone with whom she shared her life through every task and interaction of her day.

However, every mom knows that these repetitive tasks can often be draining and discouraging at times, especially when the people we do them for don’t seem appreciative. Over the next few posts,  I invite you to join me in exploring each of the Corporal Works of Mercy, and how we can ease the burden of these tasks while allowing our spiritual lives and our relationships with our children to be elevated by them.

You, my fellow mom, are the most important and powerful person in the world to your child, and you are a huge part in healing a hurting world when you tend the hearts, minds and souls of the children God has placed in your care. Rest in that knowledge and let it give you renewed purpose, energy, and peace.