When I was a young mom, I had several mentors in my life that were around 15 years or more older than me and in the later stages of parenting. To me, they radiated spirituality after years of practicing their faith, and they seemed so composed when I compared myself to them and the craziness I felt both internally and externally while parenting small children. I actually thought they were saint-like at times, and I wanted to be just like them.
Looking back, I realize that most of what I admired about those ladies was just that they were in a different stage of life than I was, and they were reaping the benefits of having been faithful to their husbands, families, and God for a lot longer than I had. What I coveted was something you could only have after years of being on that journey and experiencing life. I was never going to have the steadiness of a 38-50 year old woman at the age of 22.
When we talk about developing our personal spirituality, it’s imperative that we recognize it is, in fact, personal. The journey a woman takes to understand God, herself, and her place in the world may have similar components, but it will be as unique as the whole person God created her to be.
Therefore, while having mentors and spiritual leaders is an important element of your own spiritual growth, the focus of the journey needs to be on where God is taking you, not where he has taken others. However, there is value in hearing how others have experienced God so that we can know it’s possible and learn the many ways He communicates to His people.
I share below the story of my journey to connect with God while raising my kids. It is an example, not an instruction manual.
The Most Important Time of the Day for Spiritual Growth
I am not a morning person. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I stayed up late to get control of my household chores and finally have time to myself while they were sleeping. This made mornings even worse for me, and I stayed in bed till the absolute last second, sometimes allowing my groggy kids into bed with me for snuggles so I could enjoy a few more minutes of downtime before my feet hit the floor. As a mom of five, once the day got started, it was off to the races.
Those ladies I admired had older kids, different temperaments than mine, and different routines. I felt like they all got up at 5 AM ready to read their Bibles, pray for the world’s ills, and write in their devotional journals. I tried a million times to make that a reality for myself, but 5 AM and me never really meshed.
I learned an important lesson from an unlikely source in those days: a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of a monastery and is most well known for his ability (and the small book by a similar name) to practice the presence of God at all times. Since his primary responsibility was washing dishes, he learned to discipline his mind to focus on God and pray for others while he worked, turning a chore of drudgery into an opportunity to worship.
A line in the book that struck me was,
“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
Since my days as a stay-at-home-mom were filled with tasks related to caring for others and keeping our household running smoothly, those words resonated with me. If Brother Lawrence could pray without ceasing in the 1600s while doing mountains of dishes by hand, a monotonous and dirty job, I could pray while vacuuming, folding laundry, and changing diapers in a modern home with modern technology.
That message created a small habit for me that continued for years, one I even find myself doing today as an empty nester when I fold my husband’s clothes or make a pot of soup for my visiting children and their partners. I pray while I work. I ask God to give me empathy for the people I’m serving. I reflect on the many ways He has served me, and I’m grateful. I repent for being selfish, impatient, or resentful in my relationship with that family member.
“I will do all things for the love of God.” – Brother Lawrence
The subtle shift that happened when I turned ordinary and sometimes mundane tasks into opportunities to focus on God and others was incredible. I didn’t realize then that I was practicing a form of mindfulness, learning to be fully in the moment with all of my senses, and it taught me to appreciate even the smallest moments of my life. Focusing on God and others while I worked turned my obligations into opportunities, and it became hard to resent the opportunity to pray for and bless others when I recognized that’s what I was doing.
The Little Changes Are Catalysts for Big Changes
I always want the big rewards in life, and I sometimes forget that there are thousands of small, everyday choices to be made for every big reward. Learning to bring God into those little everyday moments, choosing to focus on him rather than indulging in feeling sorry for myself over the mountains of laundry and neverending kitchen chores, made it easier to bring him into other areas of my life.
Because I was praying for my kids more often, it was natural to need more answers from God, and I began seeking them out in the Bible. Because the Bible is kind of hard to understand sometimes, I made more time for study and went regularly to classes at my church. Because classes are usually more lecture than discussion, I joined small groups where I could talk about what I was learning and ask questions. I even traded out some of my entertainment down-time to read books recommended by my spiritual mentors and journal about what I was learning.
Those actions varied depending on the season of life we were in as a family. When my ability to commit to things outside my home was limited because of a new baby or lack of transportation, I invited women to gather in my home once a week. Bible studies with babies playing in the center of a circle of women were a common feature of my life for years. When the kids were sick or I was simply exhausted, I stayed home more often and made sure to connect with friends and mentors on the phone.
As my children grew older, I joined studies outside the home and made time for weekend retreats at least once a year. Whatever the season, I found it was possible to create space for spiritual growth both privately and corporately, but it looked so different depending on the time of year, my energy levels, our family finances, and the availability of my husband. I found that if I just gave myself the freedom to discover what made me feel connected with God, and allowed space in my life to grow closer to Him, it was a source of joy in my life, not guilt or shame.
God Can Teach You to Be a Mother
It seems a little scandalous, but the more I learned about God, the more I saw Him acting with both traditionally fatherly and motherly characteristics. I noticed how many times He related to the human race as children, and since I was neck-deep in full-time parenting, I began to understand His love for the world in a very practical way.
Parenting offers a unique opportunity to glimpse the heart of God for His people. My children, humans that they are, sinned. They sinned against others, against me, and against themselves. They caused me grief, and I feared for their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. I was compelled, neurotically at times, to defend their safety and attempt to protect them from the evil in the world and the evil in their own hearts. I tried, and I failed. At times, I gave them what they needed, yet they wanted something else. I loved them, and they still felt unloved. I accepted them, but they experienced rejection.
Those things happened in a million ways throughout their journey from infants to teenagers, and they continue to happen even though my kids are all adults now. I am an imperfect parent to imperfect children, and when I consider the responsibility given to me by God alongside the reality that I cannot perform it perfectly, I feel crushed.
The crushing reality of parenting has driven me to seek God in a way that nothing else in my life has. Whether it’s praying for the right words to communicate during a sibling squabble or the patience to encourage a brand new reader, God showed up for me a million times in the day-to-day routine of mothering. He helped me soothe broken hearts, celebrate wonderful accomplishments, and cherish the unique people he entrusted me with. His Word, His community of believers, and His Spirit have also comforted me, urged me forward, and brought me peace.
When I felt I had nothing left to give, He was there. As I live now in the new adventure of parenting adult children, staring down grandparenthood, He is there. Cultivating that relationship, learning and growing and allowing Him to change me through motherhood, has been a source of life for me. It can be the same for you. It will look a little different from my journey, but I fully trust that He will support, challenge, and sustain you as well.
This is part three of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom