I wear tracks into the floors of our home. I move from upstairs to down, into the bathroom and out, from changing table to trash can, from sink to stove to fridge to table, repeat ad nauseum. Once dinner time rolls around, I realize I’ve barely sat down all day. I’m not really a pedometer or fitness tracker person, so I can’t say how many steps I get each day, but without a doubt, it’s like, three million.
Meanwhile, my middle child never stops talking. He repeats every question an average of 4.2 times and begins every sentence with, “Mom? Mom!” If it’s true that men only speak 7,000 words a day (compared to a woman’s 20,000), Leo is stealing the personal allotment of at least a dozen grown men.
And when I say things like, “I’m exhausted! Can’t I have a moment of peace?” my own overthinking brain looks around the room and says, “Hold my beer.”
I long to count myself among the contemplatives, those in a constant state of meditative bliss with rich inner prayer lives. I long to be the Ann Voskamp of Central Indiana, quiet and calm, my speech rhythmic and considered; peppered with far fewer likes, umms, and ya knows. I want to draw profound connections between the Scripture I read and the literature on my bookshelf and the latest pop culture headlines, but most days I’m too busy trying to remember what I meant to add to my grocery list and searching under furniture for someone’s misplaced Lovey.
As a child, I loved to watch Return to Me with my mom, sisters, and Nanny Ruth. We rented it from Blockbuster at least once a month, and eventually just purchased our own copy. In the movie, Minnie Driver’s character is receiving a heart transplant when her grandfather visits the hospital chapel. Slowly and silently, he lights a candle before kneeling to pray. His is not the only flame; they flicker all around in tiny red votives, bouncing light across the dim room.
The first time I attended an Ash Wednesday church service, my mom asked, “So…are you a Catholic now, or something?” The church I grew up in eschewed anything remotely “traditional.” Nary a hymn ever sung, casual was the name of the game. On any given Sunday, who knew what might happen?
I was in college when I encountered Lent for the first time, and a married adult when I attended a church that—while still of the “nondenominational Protestant” variety—made space for some more “high church” traditions: hymns, call and response prayers and liturgy, Advent, and Lent. I discovered that a little predictability was helpful for my scattered brain. I found meaning in repetition. I could focus more on God’s presence because I didn’t spend any mental energy wondering, “What will happen next?” In his welcome each week, our pastor would say, “Thanks for bringing the church with you into this building today.” I was so happy to be there.
Back at home, my attention is governed by the whims and needs of the toddlers in my care—diaper changes and spills, snacks and pretend play, tantrums, and impossible questions. I zip back and forth, less like the graceful butterfly I’d like to be and more like a drunken housefly.
I want my prayers to be more than just “Please, Jesus, help me not scream at this child.”
But if it’s true what the pastor said–that I bring the church into a building with me–isn’t there more for me here? Isn’t there presence and communion and sacrament, hope and joy, and peace?
I have learned that my prayers need not start with “Dear God” and end with “Amen.” After all, it was Paul who admonished us to “pray without ceasing.” But how? When my children demand my attention, my words, my brain power all day long, how then, can I pray?
I have learned to light a candle.
The first time I stepped into a Catholic Church was as a high schooler. I was on a senior trip through Europe. In six different countries, I stepped into ancient and ornate cathedrals, and my eye always went to the people holding long matches waiting for the flame to catch their votive candle of choice.
Years later, I sat in a church service while my three children contentedly played in the children’s ministry rooms down the hall, and our pastor invited us to visit a table in the back of the room to light a candle. “I’m sure we all have someone or something on our minds today,” he said. “Whether it is Syrian refugees or a cancer diagnosis in your family or a stressful situation at work, I invite you to light a candle.”
Lighting a candle, he said, was a way of wordlessly acknowledging the worries and needs of those in our lives who needed God to show up somehow. A family we knew had just lost their days-old baby, born prematurely after his mom developed preeclampsia. And I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to light a candle.
I stood at the table for a moment, my wordless prayer sending a small trail of smoke up to the ceiling, somehow articulating my worry and heartbreak and sadness better than I could manage with words. My eyes scanned the table, dozens of other small flames carrying our needs to Jesus.
I spend many of my days at home.
Sure, we venture to the park when the weather is nice, and I try to get our money’s worth out of our museum and zoo memberships. We go to a church playgroup on Monday mornings and volunteer at my first grader’s school on Fridays, but much of each week is spent within the walls of our house. I love it there, but the loud children, piling laundry, and sprawling toys seem to rule the roost most of the time.
My heart is torn between these small but significant needs in front of me and the enormous and overwhelming realities of the world out there. So on my kitchen counter, I keep a candle ready and waiting.
I see a headline about a school shooting, and I light a candle.
My husband texts to say a coworker is in the hospital. I light a candle.
I hear talk of tension between our local government and our city’s community. I light a candle.
A friend has applied for a new job, and so I light a candle.
My children will not stop fighting all dang morning—light a candle.
I wear those tracks in the floor, but each time I walk into the kitchen, I see it flicker from the corner of my eye: orange and gold and glowing, bringing my attention back to the reality that God is present, God is at work, God is listening. I am asked to be a part of God’s work, here in my home and outside in the world, and, of course, by prayer.
Any ordinary day is a good time to light a candle.
Lindsey Cornett is a loud talker and lover of the written word who lives in downtown Indianapolis with her scientist husband and three young kids. In both writing and life, she explores the intersections of faith, family, creativity, and freedom from perfectionism. She’s out there providing hope and solidarity to any other women who find themselves afraid to make mistakes. She is a co-founder of The Drafting Desk, an email newsletter for recovering perfectionists. If her kids aren’t demanding to be held, she’s probably carrying a pen, a book, or a coffee. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.