This past Sunday, as I was walking back from communion at our early morning Mass, I noticed a young mom with two small children. The mother was holding a tiny newborn while also working to keep her toddler next to her.
I had a flash of admiration for this woman, here at Mass by herself with such young children, and just as I turned to head down the aisle back to my pew, I heard loud wailing from the little girl.
The cries continued and once I was back at my seat and moving to kneel, I noticed a friend of mine had stepped in to help. She was seated closer to the front of the church and clearly saw that the toddler’s meltdown was not going away. My friend walked over to the mother and offered to carry the little girl back to the cry room. The mother gratefully accepted.
It was such a simple thing, offering to carry that small child, but also brave and courageous. How many times do we see a mother struggling and hold back. We don’t want to intrude, we aren’t sure how we will be received, we don’t want to insert ourself or offend someone.
But in this instance, my friend pushed past all that doubt, got up out of her pew and walked over to help. She knew, because she had been there, what it’s like to feel helpless and overwhelmed. Like mothers everywhere, she recognized that sometimes you are just in over your head, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
After Mass I told my friend I was proud of her. She admitted she had all those normal doubts and reservations, but decided she was willing to risk it to get that mother through the difficult moment.
“That,” I said to my friend, “was one of the most pro-life acts I’ve ever seen.”
It seems silly to say, but I really believe it. In that moment, standing in the gap, my friend was the support and encouragement this young mom needed. She was there for her, in a desperate hour, not to say “what in the world were you thinking?” but to say “you’re going to be okay, you’re going to make it through.”
If you’ve never felt like you’re drowning in motherhood, that might sound crazy. But I’ve been there, in the deep, deep trenches, when I’m trapped with my brood or in over my head and someone offering me a life line is what has kept me going.
And lifelines can look different. Sometimes a lifeline is a friend telling you “it’s going to be okay. You’re going to make it.” Sometimes it’s a stranger helping you walk to the back of the church.
But in those moments, when someone is there to recognize you are low and that you need a hand to get up, that is the encouragement that can make or break you.
I went through a hard season, years ago, when I felt like every time I called a friend I was on the verge of tears. Or maybe already crying. I can’t remember the details of the season (maybe not a bad thing) except I had a lot of little boys in my life and felt overwhelmed on a regular basis. I was tired, I was worn thin.
I had good moments too, but what I remember about that season is that I started living in five-minute increments. “The next five minutes are going to be great, you can get through this.”
And what I needed in those days was someone encouraging me, being there for me with love and care. It takes someone being willing to speak truth and offer help, not to help you figure out how you can be better, but to tell you how wonderful you already are and you will indeed survive this challenging season.
This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.