I became a Christian when I was fourteen.
During that time and after, not having been raised in the church, I needed and was blessed with rich teaching on how to engage my faith in meaningful ways.
Being mentored by a woman in love with God’s word, I developed a deep love and appreciation for scripture as my faith grew. Always struggling to settle down and be still, I wiggled my way through a choppy prayer life, but I was amazed to see the Lord meeting me there when I made the time to commune with him. Corporate worship was the most enriching practice for me as an extrovert, because I found so much encouragement in the coming together of people to bow down in song, communion, learning, and fellowship.
Of course, my engagement in these spiritual practices had a natural ebb and flow, rising and falling as emotions and life circumstances met discipline and the Indwelling Spirit within.
But nothing changed the way I engaged my faith more than having 2 babies 14 months apart in the midst of a global pandemic.
Motherhood is challenging and transformative enough on its own, without the addition of global crises and complete upheavals in our way of life to complicate matters.
Yet, here I was.
A mom of two little ones who had entered the world of motherhood full of hope and conviction, ready to raise light-bearers for the kingdom of God.
The only problem was that over time I realized that my own light was not growing, but slowly diminishing.
Tired, I found my Bible studies often lacking the depth of insight I was used to.
Struggling with managing responsibilities amongst unpredictable sleep schedules, stillness in prayer felt about as attainable as a full night of sleep.
Frequently missing chunks of sermons to nurse my babies and managing baby nap schedules meant I couldn’t lean into corporate worship with the same mindful engagement that I was used to. The addition of the global pandemic just before my second baby was born just highlighted all of the aforementioned difficulties.
As my connection with God waned and hormones continued to rage, I noticed my attitude becoming more cynical, my grasp on spiritual truth loosening, and conviction to raise my family well quickly falling into the category of things I didn’t have space for in this new season.
Maybe you’re like me...
Maybe you are wondering how to find connection with God amidst diaper changes, temper tantrums, and unpredictable sleep.
You read and heard about having a rich family life and raising children who love the Lord, but in these tired and weary days it’s hard to connect with Him yourself let alone lead these tiny tyrants into deep and lasting faith.
You are reaching out for help, but are being met with advice to “go on dates” with your husband, stop nursing your babies, or sleep more. There is nothing wrong with this advice to “take care of yourself,” except that on its own it is ultimately lacking in what we are really missing– connecting with the Creator of the Universe.
As is true in almost all transitions, the shift into motherhood asks us to make some changes in the way we do life. Unlike most other transitions, motherhood is all-encompassing, leaving little mental space to “figure it all out” or even to name the ways our life and hearts are different.
I’ve dedicated much time and many tears, words, and prayers of faith to the process of naming the spiritual and emotional shifts motherhood asks us to make.
Here are a few of the things I have been able to name specifically as they relate to spiritual practices.
First, mothers are tired.
Whether you nurse or bottle feed, sleep train or co-sleep, babies are little tiny humans who do not know how to sleep normally and effectively. In the early days of mothering, our days are filled with navigating baby sleep, managing the temperature of the house, debating whether to let them cry or go in to soothe them, reading all of the differing opinions on how to get them to sleep more, and holding them when they just won’t.
Of course, this is physically exhausting as our own sleep habits are disrupted. But, it’s also emotionally exhausting. Managing the opinions of the internet warriors, our husbands, our friends and family, and holding our own deep desire to do what’s best for our children generally takes it out of us, and we start the day off with a lower battery charge than maybe ever before in life.
Tired mamas may find themselves struggling more than ever to rise and find time in scripture. We might struggle to sit still in prayer without falling asleep.
Exhaustion also does weird things to our mind and body, making those “quiet time” moments uncomfortable instead of refreshing. The messages of “self-care” that we receive just confuse us more as they tell us to do less mothering, instead of teaching us how to adjust our minds, hearts, and bodies to this season.
Second, mom-brain is real.
I can’t tell you how many mothers I’ve heard from that feel like their brain cells have all been dumped out of their head since becoming a mother.
Just a few weeks ago I left my phone on the hood of my car and watched it fly by as I was merging onto the interstate… A well-meaning person was picking on me a bit about being flaky and my response was pertinent to this conversation: a good portion of my brain power goes toward keeping my children alive and well-adjusted, so there’s little extra space for trivial things.
I’d say it’s a fair trade.
I’m pretty surrendered about the loss of trivial things like keeping track of my cell phone, but the pill I’m not willing to swallow is the loss of connection to my spiritual life-source.
The conviction, however, doesn’t change the reality that some days I enter my time with Him distracted and disoriented.
I find myself reading passages of scripture over and over, and find it exceedingly difficult to find the meaning in the things I read. My prayers can become systematic and shallow, simply because I don’t feel like I have the ability to utilize my brain effectively. My time at church is difficult as I attempt to soothe sleepy and overwhelmed children, making meaningful conversation and sermon attentiveness a dream of the past.
Last of this certainly-not-exhaustive list is that motherhood is active.
Motherhood is “on” pretty much 24/7, especially in the early days.
No matter if you’re a stay-at-home, work-from-home, or working mama, the work of motherhood doesn’t ever really end. From feeding, to soothing, to anticipating, to playing and enjoying… Mothering is truly an “action sport,” and leaves us with unpredictable (at best) moments of slowness and stillness.
Unlike in pre-mothering life, we cannot “schedule” rest as easily because kids are generally notorious for resisting a nap right when we have a plan to sit down and spend some time in quiet reflection.
We need spiritual practices to meet us here, in the busyness and chaos. We need spiritual practices that are flexible enough to hold the days when the babies don’t nap, or when they wake up at 5am thwarting our limited and precious “alone time.” We need practices that help our hearts be flexible- able to jump in and out of stillness to meet the ebb and flow of the needs of the day.
Moms are not crazy, lazy, or spiritually “lukewarm.”
Moms are tired, distracted, and constantly “on-the-go.”
We need real and practical encouragement to adapt and grow through this space if we are going to continue to grow deep roots of faith that will facilitate the growth of a flourishing family life in the years to come.
The answer is not to neglect your faith in this season. The answer is to adjust your mindset.
This month, we’re talking all about spiritual practices here at Mothering by Faith, because I wanted us to start the year with tangible practices we could lean into to cultivate deep faith right in the thick of it.
As we dive in, let’s chat about 3 mindsets to hold as we commit to engaging our faith in new ways.
First, approach spiritual practices with grace.
I don’t know what your spiritual upbringing has been like, but I do know that well-meaning Christian teachers have often taught spiritual practices in the spirit of checkboxes, how-to’s, and “why you shoulds.”
I’ve heard (and been a part of) conversations where the health of someone’s faith was measured by whether or not they “had their quiet time,” the quantity of time spent in prayer, or whether they attended church.
I say well-meaning because I don’t think that legalism is inherent in the heart of these teachings, but it’s often the takeaway.
How often have you been overcome by guilt when your quiet time plans are upended by accidentally sleeping in, babies waking up early, or brain fog?
I think one of the huge roadblocks I experienced early in my mothering was continual frustration and guilt that my typical ways of engaging my faith were just not the same, no matter how hard I tried.
Then, I heard an amazing Biblical perspective that gave me so much grace.
Do a quick mental scan of stories of God interacting with women.
The Woman at the Well.
The Widow of Nain.
These women were not on obscure mountain tops, and were rarely alone when God met them. They were right in the middle of their daily tasks.
Drawing water, desperately trying to provide food for their children, making bread for unexpected guests, gleaning grain to provide for family, praying prayers of lament, mourning the death of their children, preparing the body of their dear friend and teacher for burial…
God doesn’t wait for you to “get away,” and climb on top of a mountain away from it all to be ready to meet you.
He meets us right in the thick of mothering life– amidst the diapers and laundry and temper tantrums, he wants to connect with you and redeem you there. The physical and direct mothering role is spiritual in and of itself, so we need not expect that we escape it to get our hearts into a deep spiritual space.
So, next time you’re called off of your mountain top earlier than expected, let go of the guilt and frustration, and instead embrace the downward climb knowing that your Lord will be waiting for you in the midst of real life, too.
Next, approach spiritual practices with determination.
Now, it may seem like this is a contradictory point to my first, but that’s exactly why we talked about grace first.
Yes, we will need grace to account for the unexpected (or expected?) disruptions in or spiritual times, but that grace cannot erase the conviction to seek after spiritual connection regularly.
In my life, this conviction has resulted in some pretty radical decisions.
I wake up early. I structure my day around spiritual connection. I fight for spiritual times with my kids.
I’m not perfect in this regard, but I truly believe that spiritual connection is the only way we will have the strength to mother our children well in these hazy days and have a deep well to draw from when they’re ready for more robust spiritual training.
Self-care cannot trump spiritual connection.
Date nights cannot trump spiritual connection.
“Getting away” cannot trump spiritual connection.
The truth is, engaging in daily spiritual practices will only enhance our efforts to take care of our needs, grow our relationships with our husbands, or rediscover our image-bearing purpose outside of the direct mothering role.
If we are to be women of deep faith that pour life out onto our families, we must not view our time with God as an option.
Yes, it will look different. Yes, it may feel weird. Yes, it’s strange.
But it is our power source for doing this life well, and we will do well to maintain and fight for connection even when it’s hard.
Finally, approach spiritual disciplines with creativity.
Unfortunately, many of us have been taught more formulaic ways of engaging our faith. Our minds gravitate toward “methods” that remove our creative responsibility and give us a list of what we need to do in order to stay in God’s good graces.
I believe that the scriptures show us a deeper picture of engagement with God. Instead of “doing” things that God wants us to do, I believe he desires us to engage with Him, walk with Him, and follow Him in trust into the great unknown of life.
Because of all of the ways mothering changes and frustrates our formulaic life, we will do well to re-awaken our God given creative potential as we seek connection with Him. Instead of looking for someone to tell us what to do and how to do it, try new things and listen to the Spirit within to guide you into what works to draw you into a deeper relationship with God.
When our typical methods of finding connection with Him aren’t attainable, the answer is not to give up, but to try something new. I have been challenging myself to learn and practice different methods of spiritual engagement since just before the birth of my second baby, and let me tell you:
It is lifegiving.
This month, I’m going to share a few spiritual practices that have helped me stay close to God in this weary season.
The goal of this series is not to heap on more “to-dos,” but rather to give you a launching pad for trying new things in your own spiritual walk. I encourage you to approach each spiritual practice with grace, determination, and creativity.
The Lord is eager to meet and commune with you, he’s delighted by your mothering work, and He is ready to lead you into life and life to the full right in the thick of this crazy hazy mothering life.
Next week, I’ll post a link here for you to join us at my friend Mariel’s blog where we’ll chat about breath prayer. Make sure you’re signed up to receive emails from me so you can stay up to date on posted blogs, as well as get access to the in-depth Bible studies on each month’s topic.
Happy New Year, mama.
In the thick of it with you,