long days of small things

In order to find God it is perhaps not always necessary to leave the creatures behind…The world is crowded with Him…
The real labor is to remember, to attend.
In fact, to come awake.  Still more, to remain awake.
C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

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Yesterday I woke up to the laughter and squall of children in the room next to mine.  The day began in the rush and hurry of need and hungry tummies.  I normally try to get up before the children, but I had been struggling with sleeplessness and a bout of anxiety in the middle of the night and slept fitfully.  My plans for the morning were interrupted by an unexpected trip to the doctors office to check on one child who woke up with pink eye in both eyes, then running to pick up a prescription and grab a few groceries before heading home.  It was afternoon before I breathed a breath of prayer to God and realized I had completely missed my time with Him in the morning.  My soul instantly cringed–how could it have been nearly all day before I even remembered God?  Then came the familiar rush of guilt with a dose of self-hatred to boot.  All this soul amnesia.  I shake my head as I wash the dishes.

Last November I retreated away to a hermitage a few hours from here.  I went alone for the weekend, Brandon had offered to keep the kiddos.  Motherhood and the constant presence of people all looking to me with their pressing needs–it can wear an introvert out.  It can wear any person out, I’m sure!  We need to pay attention to our souls, we must take small breaks, place spaces in our calendars, slip away when we can to refuel.  We need silence, we need reflection, we need sleep and solitude.  That weekend was glorious.  The cabin was perfectly cozy at the very tip top of a mountain.  I kept my journal open and wrote endlessly, read the scriptures and studied, read other books, knitted without interruption, went for walks in the woods, cooked simple meals, rested, worshipped, prayed.  It took me almost the whole weekend to really relax and unwind, and I realized how tightly wound motherhood had made me, along with the added role of care taking for phoebe.  All of the worry and strain, the financial burden, the roller coaster of her improvement and decline.  I needed that time away, so I could reenter the fray with renewed energy and focus and love.  I needed time to seek God in the quiet, as I used to in my days before children.  I needed uninterrupted time alone with Him to hear from Him.

If only we could have these times whenever we need them.  If only we could guarantee some respite, rest, and silence throughout the year, then we could seek God as we desire to, as we think we should.  And I do believe times of refreshing will come, pockets of rest.

However, when we would flee difficulties in motherhood, most of the time God would have us press in.  Where we would avoid and escape, He has us pick back up, day and night.  Motherhood is so constant, endless, around the clock, with needs that can simply swallow us whole.  Our souls can cry out–

“Oh, that I had wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee away and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”
(Psalm 55:6-8)

We think we will find relief in escape, in a break–a sometimes we do.  But is it good for us to set our eyes on the next break on the horizon and survive until then hanging on by our toenails?  Beyond that–can we only find God in our escapes, our breaks, in the quiet place of refuge?

Or could He possibly have treasures for us right in the maelstrom of motherhood, right in the trenches of it?  Must we wait for Him on the sidelines of life–sidelined by little people and their needs–or can we have Him right here to the full in a way we never expected or anticipated before?

Could pressing in and finding Him in the weary work–could this possibly be the point?  The thing He wants us to learn, the muscle He wants to strengthen?  Of course its far easier to find Him in the quiet place of refuge.  But if we can’t find that quiet place of refuge, do we wave the white flag of defeat and turn our hearts off to God until we can have a moment alone?  Or can we find a way to God in the very mundane, simple, undervalued work/tasks of motherhood?

Could the tasks turn out to be a path to God?

What if the very practice of mothering and doing the work of motherhood–washing the dishes, feeding the hungry mouths, wiping the bottoms, folding the laundry, teaching, admonishing, disciplining, training, guiding–could these things possibly be a spiritual discipline of sorts, leading us to know God, experience Him, enjoy Him in a way we never could or would choose otherwise?  Could there be treasures here for us–right here in this season–that we’ll miss if we shut down and vow to hold on until the crazy ride is over?

What if God is not only found in the lofty theological ivory towers, the seminary classroom, the pew, the sanctuary, the prayer closet, the monastery–but here, scrubbing the floor around a toilet.
Here, chopping onions and carrots.
Here, holding a feverish child.
Here, in the pickup lane at school.
Here, singing a hymn over a sleepless child.
Here, organizing shelves, stacking piles.
Here, in the rush-hour traffic home from work.
Here, in the weary waking hours.

What if we could find God in the ordinary work of motherhood rather than trying to fit our old habits and disciplines into this new rhythm–which for most of us feels cramped, incompatible, impossible.

Is it possible in this season of little ones to be both a good mother and to keep close company with God?

This is what is addressed in Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.  This book exceeded my expectations.  I was a bit afraid it would be another moany-groany book about motherhood without being terribly helpful.  Instead, it was honest.  Real.  Insightful.  Provocative.  Thoughtful.  Helpful.  It addressed our great hunger for God, our desire to know Him, our frustration with all the things that seem to work against us and keep us from Him.  She ends each chapter with a practice, tangible things to anchor us to God throughout the day.  Things like our breath:

“Inhale deeply and realize you are breathing in God’s unfailing love.  Exhale and release into his unceasing presence.  Suddenly, breathing–your easiest daily accomplishment–is an act of worship, meditation, and prayer.” (McNiel, p. 12)

Without adding a burden of more tasks to our schedule, McNiel helps us to find God in each of the tasks we already perform daily, and do them as unto the Lord.  Like walking, eating and drinking, cooking, household tasks, sleepless nights, pregnancy, diapers, breastfeeding, to name a few.

McNiel commiserates without sounding whiney, encourages and exhorts without loading on a heavy burden of guilt.  She feels like a true companion in this journey of motherhood, someone who understands its complexities and enjoys them, glory, grit and all, because of the way they point us to God.

I devoured this book, crying over sections of it, marking up nearly every page, returning to it over and over, savoring it.  It is one I will need to reread more than a few times, I believe.

If you are a mother afraid you might be missing out on some great spiritual life because of your busy role as mother–maybe this book is for you.  If you ever feel a bit like you can’t breathe under the pressing weight of this season, a bit like you can’t breathe–Maybe this is one to ask for for Mother’s Day?

*

Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
Affiliate links included in this post.

 

 

 

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