I’m ready to leave the shop, but one thing stands in my way—the door. Not exactly a formidable barrier, but the odds are against me.
My preschooler is running in circles, while my toddler pulls at my left hand; my right hand grips this terribly unwieldy baby carrier. Inside the carrier is my infant daughter. She is hungry and tired and howling. My purse is falling off one shoulder, my diaper bag off the other. Children are asking about snacks and water fountains, and I’m wondering, How are we all going to get through that door?
No one jumps to hold it open for me, though more than enough people are watching to ensure my embarrassment when I attempt to hold it for myself. Myself, that is, and my entourage: these three precious ones who know life only through my own life, who see me as the primary source of all things.
Somehow, with bags crashing down against my forearms, I bang open the door with my hip, weave the toddler under one arm and lift the baby carrier over the preschooler’s head. Somehow, we all stumble through before it closes on any small fingers or toes.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have done it. I have walked through a door.
Later that day I read an article about a Christian teacher I deeply admire. The writer described this hero-of-the-faith as so spiritually enlightened, he radiated peace just by walking through the door.
This stops me in my tracks. It testifies mightily against me, against the fruit of my life in this season. I’m not quite the picture of enlightenment. If radiating peace (with or without a door) is the measure of spiritual success, I’m certain I’ll never arrive.
A few months before my door-opening heroics, I stole away into adult world for a weekend to attend a Christian conference. In the hot, crowded room the speaker drove his point home with passion: If we have a genuine commitment to knowing God, we must spend at least an hour each day in silence and solitude.
There I was, ground to a halt once again. About to birth my third child in five years (the soon-to-be daughter in the infant carrier), I hadn’t slept through the night or gone to the bathroom by myself anytime in recent memory. My physical body housed a tiny tenant; I was literally inseparable from this beloved person I nurtured. This simple suggestion of solitude—one I would have recommended myself in a different season—stole my breath away.
I didn’t hear anything else at the conference, because these words reverberated through my ears and soul for weeks, drowning out everything else.
The list of spiritual disciplines no longer feasible to me as a mother grows longer with each new child. Silence and solitude? Never, ever, day or night. Prayer? Harder than you’d think, after years of sleep deprivation. Fasting? Not while pregnant or breastfeeding. Service? Well, my kids definitely left their mark that time we “helped” at community painting day. Worship? There were years I didn’t attend a worship service without a toddler bouncing on my back.
No one tries to exclude mothers from the “spiritual life,” but it happens regardless. I hear laments rising up in the hearts of mothers, mourning the losses that this season of nurturing unexpectedly brings: the impossibility of pursuing something soul-creative, something life-giving. There’s no time, space, energy, or money. We’ll have to wait until the children are older. Right now I just can’t.
And yet. Underneath my unwashed hair and sleepy eyes, the truth is undeniable: These days have been made out of miracles. Uniquely and utterly female miracles. Pregnancy, newborn days, and nurturing growing children have taken me to places where only women and mothers can go. These fundamental experiences are inescapably feminine, not experienced by all women but by only women. If our daily experiences are so entirely singular, why shouldn’t our spiritual disciplines be uniquely suited to us as well?
So now, almost a decade into the most grueling journey of selfless giving and sacrifice I can imagine, my spirit is fighting back. There must be another path.
Children are consuming. They leave us with nothing left to give ourselves or anyone else. But this is the perfect training ground for our spirits, the very setting many disciplines are designed to produce. Our demanding, beloved children are what we create, they are our spiritual path. What if we looked through new eyes and discovered that into our life stages our Creator placed impressions of himself, reflections of his strength and beauty, a spiritual path laid out just for us?
What else is so enlightening, so character-sharpening, so weakness-illuminating, and so virtue-defining as the nonstop practice of self-sacrifice and surrender that defines motherhood? If a deep, rich spiritual life requires personal time and space, most people throughout history—hard workers living in crowded homes, striving to care for their families and just barely getting by—are simply out of luck.
Though we mamas may appear half crazed and sleep-deprived our souls are being taught and sharpened and purified. I’m sure of it. We’re not able to sit and ponder this, or even be aware of it most of the time. But soul refining is the work of struggle, sacrifice, discomfort, and perseverance. My three whirling dervishes take me to the end of myself on a daily basis, and I’m certain my soul will emerge stronger for it.
Maybe Mommy Boot Camp cultivates a soul even better than spending these years in constant meditation.
Friend, whatever form motherhood takes for you—conception or adoption; stay-at-home, work-from-home, or work-outside-the-home; going it alone or surrounded by support—yours is a journey of deep spiritual value. The spiritual life is not only for those with the freedom to sit quietly and meditate, but also for those of us who are called away to continue giving deeply of ourselves.
Adapted from Long Days of Small Things by Catherine McNiel. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
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