Read Time: 5 minutes

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow Together

If you’re together for any length of time, walking through a season of grief with your partner is inevitable. Depending on the nature of your partner’s relationship with the deceased, the season could involve weeks, months, or years of working through the loss. In some ways, we are forever altered when someone we love dies, and time simply changes the way we grieve instead of eliminating it altogether.

Comfort vs. Correction

Every person expresses grief uniquely, and, unless you’re a psychologist or professional counselor, it’s difficult to gauge just what to do or say when your spouse is grieving. Thankfully, it’s more important for the person who is grieving to be able to express themselves verbally than it is for you to offer advice.

A helpful theory when considering what to say to your grieving spouse is the Ring Theory. It positions the person who is experiencing the loss at the center of concentric circles and demonstrates the idea that the grieving person gets to express themselves freely (or “dump out”) to everyone they are in a relationship with.

The circles grow larger as they move out from the person who experienced the loss, and represent how close a person is to the griever. The theory suggests that people recognize which circle they belong in and encourages them to direct their attention to comforting those in the circle just inside theirs.

For example, the circle just outside the griever is their immediate family, and the outermost circle is the general public.

As the person closest to your grieving spouse, you have a wonderful yet difficult opportunity to be a safe place for their broken heart. They should be able to express themselves freely with you, unloading all of their pain, fear, and shattered dreams. This difficult season can deepen your relationship, strengthen your faith, and expand your ability to be intimate and vulnerable with one another.

However, according to the Ring Theory, things could go in a different direction if you begin to offer advice, correction, or criticism to your partner for the way they grieve or process their feelings.

If you begin “dumping” on them instead of listening, you force them into a caretaking role.

It’s also unfair and even cruel to criticize someone for the way they grieve, the feelings they are expressing, and their level of despair. Even if you don’t understand why your partner is (or is not)  so sad; cries so much (or too little), or isn’t handling grief the way you do, they are not the person to share those concerns with. Finding your own outlet with a trusted friend or counselor will free you up to stick to comforting your spouse which is really what they need most from you.

Peace vs. Perfection

When my husband and I had been married for 10 years, I experienced the loss of my father to suicide. The moments and days that immediately followed my father’s death are a blur to me. We had five children aged 5 – 15 years-old, and our family’s grief was crushing.

It’s been 15 years since my dad died, and I have reflected many times on the ways my husband has cared for and comforted me in my ever-changing grieving process.

I’m not sure either of us could recount how many times he has held me while I cried, listened to me process my feelings, or seen a shadow fall over me when something triggers a memory.

My grief has been messy, imperfect, and confusing.

It has caused angry outbursts, crippling anxiety, and disconnected numbness. It has made me cling to my husband at times and coldly push him away at others.

Thankfully, he is a devoted partner who has been willing to walk alongside me in my search for peace. He’s given me the freedom and space to explore my grief at the graveside, the counseling office, and in solitude while also being steadfast in his commitment to being with me when I need him.

It was only in the last few years that my husband finally communicated to me how my dad’s death affected him, how he lost someone he loved and respected too. I was stunned that I never considered that my husband lost a father-in-law, his children’s grandpa, a buddy…a friend.

My grief had consumed my ability to see his pain, and he never demanded that I stop being so selfish and comfort him.

Sacrifice vs. Satisfaction

The example my husband demonstrates in the way he has cared for me in my grief prioritized my needs over his. I don’t know that he made an active choice to follow the example of Christ, but he did every time he sacrificed himself to care for me. He sacrificed his need to be validated, his need to be comforted, his need to express his opinions and feelings so that he could comfort me.

Instead of demanding that I satisfy his needs when I was so broken, he chose to take them to God in prayer and left them largely unsatisfied in the human realm until he was able to find healthy places to work them out.

As I reflect on the sacrifices my husband has made for me, I feel incredibly loved and protected. As I mentioned, grief is messy and imperfect, but as we have moved through it, our marriage has been strengthened and refined by our commitment to each other despite our pain.

That messy imperfection created something beautiful in our relationship, something that has nourished and sustained us through many other marital challenges.

Hope vs. Certainty

In the last 25 years of our marriage, we have been to many funerals, and we will likely experience many more. It never gets easier to grieve or to love someone who is grieving. Grief is scary and unpredictable. When you love someone, it’s terrifying to consider all you have to lose and how life can change courses in the blink of an eye.

However, it helps to understand that comforting someone in their grief is an act of sacrificial love, most clearly demonstrated by the love of Jesus Christ. We can trust that if we prioritize the needs of our grieving spouse, God will be faithful in meeting our needs. He promises that in the most popular scripture read at funerals:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.

Psalms 23:4

We walk through the valley whenever we confront death in this life, and it is a tremendous blessing to have a spouse that will walk alongside you when you’re grieving. We should all aim to be a partner who understands the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, one who can earnestly pray the words of St. Francis who said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.”

Growing in our understanding of this kind of love can draw us closer to God and our grieving partners. It will never be easy to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but there is beautiful comfort in walking it with someone we love.

Read Time: 6 minutes

When looking for advice on handling marital conflict, sometimes the answer is in the simplest place. It may be a single line of scripture,

[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. – Ephesians 4:32

…or a question from your 4-year-old, “Mommy, why are you being mean to Daddy?”

Rarely are the everyday conflicts in relationships too complicated for a few simple principles that have been laid out in God’s word or in the prayers of the Church. Trouble comes when we don’t resolve these issues and instead pile them up and allow them to become resentments that fester for years.

The Prayer of St. Francis

One of the most beautiful prayers of the Church is the Prayer of St. Francis.

It’s a call to think outwardly about one’s effect on the world and a plea for God’s strength to put the needs of others above our own. St. Francis’s prayer can be applied to every interpersonal relationship we have along with one’s role as a neighbor, Church member, and global citizen. It is especially poignant for married couples.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…

When your marriage reaches a place of conflict, and it will, you will have to consciously decide whether you are going to ignore it or resolve it. The Prayer of St. Francis suggests that God can actually use you as a tool, an instrument, to repair it. Like a hammer on a shelf or a piano alone in the corner of a room, an instrument must receive action from outside itself in order to fulfill its purpose. That St. Francis chose to ask God to make him an instrument is significant, and its implication for us during times of conflict can bring a sigh of relief.

The first line of the prayer positions God in the action seat and the one praying as the implement of His will. If we are the instrument, then He is the one who does the hard work; we simply yield to His will. This takes the pressure off us to fix the problem by ourselves, and it reminds us that we have a Helper who will guide us toward His will for our relationships.

What is His will?

It’s described in detail in the following lines:

where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

Is it really that bad?

If you’re not currently experiencing marital or relational conflict, it may seem extreme to apply the words hatreddespair, and darkness to your relationship, but all those who have walked in a marriage for some time know how quickly emotions can shift and a loving relationship can get messy.

This section of the prayer can help us when we’re not feeling loving, when we’re not experiencing the giddy, warm, and lighthearted joy of our relationship with our partners. It reminds us that we need to sow, or actively work at, love…even when we don’t feel it.

It also helps us examine what the root of the conflict may be. Are we hurt by our partner? Are we having a hard time trusting them? Are we anxious about the relationship? Do we feel depressed, or are we discontent with our circumstances?  All of these questions are variations of injury, doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness, and all of them can be healed with forgiveness, faith, hope, light, and joy.

How do we do that?

Conflict resolution in relationships isn’t one-sided, and it takes action from both parties to move forward in a healthy relationship. It’s possible to cultivate this together and make it part of your relationship’s culture. It’s also incredibly likely that you will eventually face something that causes a conflict beyond your ability to resolve without outside help from a mentor, counselor, or clergy member. That’s simply a reality of life and not a sign that your relationship isn’t strong or good.

Working through conflict on a regular basis will help you identify the times when you do need outside help. You’ll develop a pattern of resolving issues when they arise, and you’ll build an understanding of yourselves as a couple along with your strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Forgiving one another, having faith in each other, being hopeful that you can get through things, shedding light on your problems instead of hiding them, and choosing joy are all active measures that St. Francis’s prayer indicates that God can help us apply to our conflicts. Meditating on each line of this prayer when we’re in conflict will position us to receive God’s grace in these areas.

How does God do that?

The ways God moves and changes us when we pray are still a mystery, but the next section of St. Francis’s prayer sheds some light on how He works in us:

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

There is an aspect of all humans that is totally focused on themselves as the primary and most significant part of every story. In conflicts, we will automatically see our own perspective as most important, our own hurt as the most significant. We will demand that others validate our perceptions and apologize in a way that connects with our sense of justice.

However, this section of the Prayer of St. Francis flips the script on our need to be seen and heard. It asks us to consider others as more in need than ourselves, as more deserving of consolation, understanding, and love, and it tells us that if we give to them first, and pardon them for their sins against us (which may actually feel like a part of our selfish nature is dying), that we will experience new life. All it requires is that we initiate the process and allow God to help us fulfill it.

Before we begin to bristle at the lack of fairness this may imply (I mean, why do we have to act first, and how do we know our partner is going to reciprocate?), we need to remember that as human beings we are both the offender and the offended, the one who injures and the one who is hurt. We are the one who misunderstands others, and we are the one who feels misunderstood. We are in conflict because we cause conflict. We are not innocent.

Missing this important aspect of your effect on the world around you will keep you isolated from others in a way that is detrimental to all of your relationships, especially in your marriage. If you cannot see your own need for grace and forgiveness, you will never be able to offer those gifts to others with any amount of authenticity. Knowing your own faults, and understanding God’s grace for you, will inspire you to pray for His grace for others.

What if it doesn’t work?

When you’ve reached a point while praying this prayer that you feel God has moved you to a place of peace, it’s natural to assume your partner will join in and everything will wonderfully resolve. Unfortunately, conflict resolution is hard work, and every conflict is different. You may solve a huge problem quickly in one month while a smaller one grates on your happiness for weeks. Just keep moving forward and persevere. Get outside help if you need it, but take heart, conflict and working through things on a regular basis is part of a healthy relationship.

Carrying the spiritual practices you have during hard times, such as praying the Prayer of St. Francis, into times of peace can preemptively ward off future conflicts. The Prayer of St. Francis keeps our humanity in the forefront, reminding us of our tendency to see ourselves first and foremost in every situation, and it shows us that we need God’s action in our lives to make us people of grace and peace.

Becoming an instrument of God’s peace in the world is a lifelong process, and it’s a worthy pursuit if we truly value the people He has put in our lives. Allowing Him to change us makes us better spouses, parents, friends, and neighbors, and it’s through those relationships that He will spread His love throughout the world.

Are we hurt by our partner? Are we having a hard time trusting them? Are we anxious about the relationship? Do we feel depressed, or are we discontent with our circumstances?

Let us pray…

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

A Prayer for Married Couples

Inspired by the Prayer of St. Francis
By Jessie Wiegand

Lord, help me embody your peace in my marriage;
When I feel numb, warm my heart to my partner.
When I feel wronged, help me reach out with forgiveness.
When anxiety consumes me, give me courage to face reality.
When I’m afraid we’ll never make it, show me that we can persevere.
When I am depressed, open my eyes to your truth.
When I am discontent, assure me that we have all we need.

King of the Universe,
Make my arms a refuge to my partner’s brokenness;
My ears, a haven to their worries and cares,
And my heart, a sanctuary for their hopes and dreams.

Remind me and assure me that
When I act first, You provide safety;
When I reach out, You extend grace.
And it’s when I fully surrender myself that You make me One with my partner.
Amen.

Read Time: < 1 minute

We won’t take up much of your time, but we wanted to share with you three fun things you can do with your spouse right now to really connect with each other (and two of them are free!).

  1. The Five Love Languages Quiz
    If you don’t do anything else on this list, please at least take the time to do this. If you have done it in the past, it’s always good to take this as a refresher (people sometimes do change over time!). It’s free, it’s easy to do and it will certainly help the two of you figure out how to fill each other’s love tanks!
  2. Date Night in a Box — Faith Option
    Add a faith option to your date night in a box subscription. Date night subscription boxes are already fun and engaging, so being able to connect with each other on a deeper level is always an added bonus!
  3. Dear Future Us Love Letters (Saves to your computer or device)
    Write each other a love letter as a time-stamp of what is happening in your relationship right now. Pack them away and set a reminder to open them up from each other in a year. This is such a great activity to do together — we can almost guarantee that you will both be pleasantly surprised at each other’s comments and notes! Feel free to make your own, OR you can download this template that we made for free (just for you!).

These are easy things you can do together as a couple to gain a refreshed sense of connectedness and romance. Who wouldn’t want that for their relationship?

Read Time: 4 minutes

If there’s something in your past you haven’t revealed to your partner, it may seem like it’s not that important. Especially if you’ve made it from dating to engagement or even marriage without telling them. However, keeping secrets, even little ones, can erode the foundation of an otherwise strong relationship.

Why Does It Matter?

Healthy relationships are built on mutual trust. That means that each partner has committed themselves to honesty because you cannot build trust without it.

When people get into relationships, they typically begin building trust by being honest in their present dealings with their new partners. As time goes on, they begin sharing past details of their lives, increasing the amount of things they share as trust in the relationship builds.

Being honest about your past and present behavior, thoughts, and experiences is an opportunity for your partner to know you intimately. It gives them a context for knowing who you really are and all the complexities that make up your personality. This intimate knowledge of each other provides the basis for a fun-loving friendship and deeply satisfying physical intimacy.

Where Do You Start?

After trust has been established, sharing your most personal thoughts and experiences should come over time. As your relationship develops, there will be many opportunities to let your partner know more about you. Taking advantage of these opportunities, either in the moment or soon after, will establish a pattern of openness that will benefit your relationship in the future.

If you haven’t grown up in a family that had good communication skills, this may be challenging for you. You may feel that your past is irrelevant to your present relationship or that your thoughts and feelings are better kept to yourself. If that’s the case, consider the quality of the relationships you’ve seen that were devoid of openness and honesty.  Are you comfortable repeating those patterns and experiencing similar consequences?

Many people can point to a couple who’ve been together for years, but they don’t have a relationship marked by joy and camaraderie. The couple stays together, but they don’t seem to enjoy each other or derive a lot of pleasure out of their marriage. Deciding not to divorce or living separate lives may keep you celebrating wedding anniversaries, but if you want something more than that in your relationship, growing in openness and honesty will be essential.

If you’d like to pursue a relationship with your partner that has a deeper level of sharing, it’s not impossible to expand the way you were taught to communicate. It will take effort on your part, but you can grow in this area if you’re willing to try.

What About the Bad Stuff?

It’s always easier to share your successes and the fun parts of your history than it is to talk about your losses, grief, and failures. Part of the reason we choose our partners is because they see us as special and amazing, and they chose us out of a sea of potential mates.

It’s scary to think of tarnishing their view of us by letting them know the less-than-wonderful things we’ve thought or done. That’s why secrecy is so appealing; the risk of losing our partner’s favor is more threatening than the perceived value of being open and honest.

However, the problem with secrecy is that it doesn’t stay in one area of our lives. As multi-dimensional and complex beings, small habits in one area of our life tend to flow over into other parts of our lives. Tightly-guarded secrets create a defensive layer in our personality. To protect them, we must keep our partner away from that part of ourselves.

What About the Really Bad Stuff?

When we allow ourselves to keep secrets from our partners, we’re essentially saying that they don’t have access to our whole selves. They can only know, love, and commit to part of us. Even if we consider the secret “small” in relation to our whole selves, we are still holding something back.

One of the problems with this is that secrets usually resurface multiple times in our lives. We can’t forget because they are a part of us, a part of our story. When we’re confronted by them through a memory or a trigger, we react in a multitude of ways that affect our emotions and behaviors which in turn affects our partners.

Who you are affects your partner, and if you are committed to them and the health of your relationship, they deserve to know the truth.

The reality is that all people have thoughts, behaviors, and experiences that they regret or feel ashamed of. Some of us have been victims, and some of us have been perpetrators. Some have been both. We’ve all been mean, selfish, hateful, and immoral. Coming to terms with those parts of ourselves individually is difficult; confessing them to the people we love makes us feel incredibly vulnerable. If this feels like more than you can handle on your own, seek out a trusted counselor, mentor, or minister.

The Amazing Thing About Grace

If you’re willing to be honest and open, you will have to confront your own vulnerability. When you share your secrets with your partner, there will be a period of time when you can’t control their reaction. To move forward, you’ll have to accept their feelings and allow them space to process. Surrendering to this instead of trying to manage it will also build trust. Additionally, it sets a precedent for them to come to you with their own secrets, understanding that this is part of a healthy relationship.

A loving partner will listen while you share. They may ask questions as they process, and they may get emotional for a variety of reasons. These are all normal responses. Depending on how long they have known you, it may take time for them to synthesize this new information about you into their frame of reference.

This can be uncomfortable, but experiencing deeper levels of connection with your partner is worth it. If you’re sharing something that you regret or feel ashamed of, especially something from your past that no longer represents who you are presently, being honest about it may help you move on. When people love one another, they are able to accept and forgive imperfections, failures, and bad behaviors. Receiving forgiveness helps us forgive ourselves.

What to Hold Back


Having an open and honest relationship doesn’t mean having to tell your partner every single thing you think and feel. As complex creatures, there is a place for private thoughts and feelings. We all have places where we are processing the world, our faith, and our mortality in solitude, and that’s okay.

You’ll know a secret is worth sharing if something about keeping it creates a wall between you and your partner. Deciding what to share isn’t as important as making sure there isn’t anything you’re intentionally hiding. Your partner should be privy to important facts about your life, thoughts, and feelings, and the freedom you’ll experience from being honest is worth the effort it takes to openly communicate.

Read Time: 3 minutes

You have an engaged couple who wants to get married at your church. Wonderful!

As a pastor, you have lots of experience talking with people in various stages of life. However, this engaged couple does NOT have much experience talking with clergy. They likely have things on their mind that they don’t know how to bring up with you.

So how do you put them more at ease?

You can take the lead in handling topics they may not feel comfortable about introducing into the discussion. That takes the burden off of them. The more relaxed they feel, the more fruitful your marriage prep discussions will be.

Here are three things engaged couples want to know, but tend not to ask about.

1. Marriage Prep Resources to Help Them

There are so many resources out there geared to couples preparing for marriage. But you typically don’t look for something until you need it. So your engaged couple may not be aware of all the great stuff out there for their benefit.

You may notice a specific aspect of their relationship that could be helped by a resource you know about. You can point them in the right direction by compiling a few resources you know and trust, and you can give them a copy of or a link to them at your next meeting. It’s as simple as saying, “Here, you might find this useful.” That way, they don’t have to ask for “help.”

You may be surprised at how many couples really do look into your suggestions!

The Marriage Group offers plenty of resources for engaged couples like relationship-building tools, Marriage Boosters videos, and our Ultimate Guide to Pre-Cana and Wedding Ceremony Planning eBooks.

2. Natural Family Planning 101

NFP is one of those topics that many folks, couples and clergy alike, feel awkward introducing into the conversation. That makes it hard for couples to understand what it is and why it’s so important.

Many couples have heard of NFP but don’t know much about it. Or they may be open to learning about it, but they just need someone to take the initiative to put the right information into their hands.

As with other marriage prep resources, you can have NFP resources on hand for couples to look at on their own. That allows them to fully absorb it without the uncomfortable feeling of an in-person conversation.

You can point them to your diocese’s NFP resources and classes, older couples in the parish that could help, or online resources. Additionally, The Marriage Group’s “NFP Life” video course is a simple, accessible way for couples to learn about NFP and how to integrate it into their future marriage.

3. What They Can and Can’t Do At Their Wedding

Planning a Catholic wedding involves a lot of details, from the music to the readings to the photographer — and oh yes, all the decorations.

Your church probably has policies established for all these things. But that doesn’t mean your engaged couple knows them very well.

They might assume they can do things your parish policy doesn’t actually allow. Or they might wonder whether they’re allowed to do something, but they’re afraid to ask and hear you say “no.”

By communicating your church’s policies clearly and kindly up front, you can save them – and yourself – a lot of unnecessary stress, especially from having to tell them “no” later on (heaven forbid, on the wedding day!).

One Last Thing

As a pastor or ministry leader, you have a privileged role in preparing people for marriage. You may not see it in the moment, but your interactions with an engaged couple can make a long-term impact on their married lives, their family, and even the future of your parish. If that weighs on you as a heavy responsibility, we are here to help!

God bless you in your ministry.

Read Time: 2 minutes

What phrases do you need to hear from your spouse?

This video excerpt is from our Pre-Cana segment: Communication and Conflict Resolution. In that segment, Jay and Laura discuss the four phrases that each man needs to hear from their wife, and each wife needs to hear from their husband (based on surveying several couples).

For those of you who haven’t completed our Pre-Cana program yet, don’t worry, this won’t spoil anything for you. In fact, it’s important to begin discussing right away what you both need to hear from each other in order to truly become a more unified couple.

For those of you who already have completed our Pre-Cana program, this is always a great reminder on becoming more and and more intentional with speaking into each other’s lives as your marriage grows.

As I watched this segment again myself, I found it very empowering to go through the exercise of determining what I and my beautiful bride need to hear from each other. We usually have our time of uninterrupted conversation after we put the kiddos to bed. We sat at our dinner table, played cards, and talked about this very topic.

This video isn’t intended to be the “be-all, end-all” regarding this topic. It is intended to help be a launching point for conversation between the two of you. You may have different answers than they indicate. In fact, I’d venture to say that all of us need to hear “I believe in you” and “I cherish you.” So, make it your own! God has put a special thumbprint on your relationship — uniquely beautiful to your story together.

So your homework?

I encourage you and your companion to do exactly as I did with my wife — schedule an intentional, uninterrupted moment with each other to discuss the phrases that the two of you need to hear from each other. Once you establish those phrases, then you start saying those phrases to each other — simple as that!

It may seem awkward at first, but if your heart is in the right place as you say them, you don’t have to worry about coming across as disingenuous. Have faith that your beloved has your best interest in mind, and wouldn’t, in a million years, take advantage or disparage your vulnerability.

When you operate out of a genuine heart, this exercise becomes a beautiful thread within the tapestry of your life together.

Read Time: 6 minutes

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.

But…God.

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

Read Time: 3 minutes

Whenever mothers think about rest it can lead to guilt. The demands of motherhood are constant. Babies, toddlers, even teenagers can’t set their needs aside to give their moms a break. Mothers know they need rest, but how in the world are they supposed to get it and not feel bad about it when they do?

Setting Realistic Expectations for Rest

If the only understanding of rest is an entire day spent on a quiet beach or a three-hour nap uninterrupted by a baby’s cries or a sibling squabble, it will stay elusive and impossible to attain. The demands of modern life leave little room for down time no matter what your profession, and some of us end up packing more busyness into our time off than we experience during a typical work week.

Since time away from responsibility is hard to come by, and it’s easy to fill available time with errands and other work-like duties, realistic forms of rest need to be prioritized as necessary parts of our daily rhythms. The fact that humans have divided time into hours, hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years provides a natural structure to incorporate rest into our lives. It’s reasonable for a mother to find space in each day, month, and year to recover from her busy life and take some time for herself, but she has to initiate, implement, and fight for those moments.

Making Rest a Priority

Daily moments of rest may be as simple as five minutes of prayer before getting out of bed in the morning, a bath after dinner while dad watches the kids, or an hour reading when the kids are in bed for the night. Even when daily moments of rest become part of a family’s routine, it is still important to schedule time out once a week, once per month, and once per year for longer increments of rest. Moms will benefit tremendously from an evening out with friends, an overnight stay at a family member’s house, or a weekend retreat once a year.

Mothers can initiate those moments by communicating their importance to their husbands and then making them part of the family’s normal routine. Fathers who care about the wellbeing of their wives and children should recognize the value in giving mom a few moments of rest on a daily basis along with longer breaks throughout the year. When parents model healthy attitudes about rest and work, kids benefit from more refreshed caregivers, and they learn to respect the spiritual value of Sabbath rest.

On a personal note:

As a homeschooling mother of five, I had a hard time finding people I could leave my kids with and not be stressed out the entire time I was gone. I really only left my kids with my husband, mother, and in-laws until they were old enough to stay with a couple of very trusted teenage babysitters. My ticket to time away was a very supportive husband, and our date nights were based on grandma availability more than anything else.

I cannot overestimate the value of the encouragement my husband gave me to take time for myself.

Whether it was overseeing after dinner chores so I could escape to the bathroom for a bubble bath or hanging out with the kids in the evening so I could go to a homeschool support group meeting and stay out late with my friends, he made sure I had time to do things independently.

That support allowed me to be a very busy homeschooling mother for almost 20 years while still cultivating my own hobbies and friendships. It also kept our relationship strong and enabled me to return the favor and encourage him to take time for himself as well.

Our time away from each other gave us the space we needed to enjoy other relationships and experiences that enriched our lives and gave us fun things to talk about when we were together.

Don’t Feel Guilty Having Fun 

Once you recognize your need for rest and create space for it in your life, take a deep breath and enjoy it. Parenting is a consuming job, and it’s a large part of your identity, but it’s not all you are.

Mothers are still people with their own desires, hobbies, talents, and dreams. When you have time to yourself, explore things you’re passionate about. Learn new things, practice your gifts, and develop yourself. Mothers who are active in their personal growth provide a wellspring of information, creativity, and inspiration to their children.

It’s tempting to want to bring your children and family along with you to experience the things you love, but having those moments to yourself and then sharing the story with your family has its benefits as well. Your ability to set time aside for yourself demonstrates valuable lessons to your kids.

This is part two of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom

Read Time: 3 minutes

Juggling the duties of stay-at-home-motherhood can be overwhelming at times, but there are many ways moms can find refuge to rest their minds, recover from busyness, and develop their personal spirituality.

Moms face a lot of judgment and criticism, and most of it comes from their own inner voices. 

  • Your kids aren’t going to develop properly if you do this!
  • You’re failing at the most important job you will ever do!
  • Your kids are going to be maimed for life because of you!
  • They’ll never get into college…never have healthy relationships…never have friends…and on, and on, and on…

The pressure of caring for the emotional, social, and physical needs of children can be crushing at times. There will never be a job that you will want to do so well, yet feel as if you’re failing so frequently.

Because stay-at-home mothering doesn’t garner the same kinds of positive reinforcement as a career outside of the home (you made good tips, your boss says, “Well done!”, you get Employee of the Month, etc.), it’s easy to slip into listening to your own negative mantras and forget that you have control over your thought life.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your own negative or critical thoughts, it’s important to isolate them and begin hearing what you’re really saying to yourself. Write down the thoughts that frequently cross your mind. Write down the thoughts that discourage you. Write down the thoughts that send fear coursing through your body, and write down the ones that make you cry.

Once you have your negative thoughts in front of you, expose them for what they truly are. Say them out loud to yourself and your husband. Journal or talk about the emotions they are rooted in. Do they stem from fear, insecurity, anger, unbelief? Be honest and brave as you reveal these things.

We will only be able to surrender our negative thoughts to God when we have exposed and identified them.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4b-5), and those words still have power today if we believe them and put them to practical use.

Examine each one of your negative thoughts and their root emotion, and meditate on how God’s word speaks about that issue.

Are you afraid your child will be developmentally stunted by your failure to read them a bedtime story last night when you were too tired to keep your eyes open?

Let the truth of God’s mercy and grace comfort you by seeing the bigger picture of the ways you did meet your child’s needs that day. Be at peace knowing that your rest is as important as your child’s reading skills and that caring for your own needs is not a failure.

Did you lose your temper repeatedly and feel guilty for lashing out at your kids with anger and impatience?

Let God show you where your life is out of balance and why you lacked the self control needed to react differently. Ask for his forgiveness and direction for making the changes needed to handle your frustration in a healthier way.

Address each thought in prayer and by journaling or talking about it with your husband. Search for scriptures, songs, or meditations that speak peace, hope, faith, and love into those places previously dominated by negative emotions.

On a personal note:

When my 5 children were all young, infant to 10 years old, I struggled with anxiety frequently.

As a homeschooling mom, I felt responsible for every aspect of my kids’ social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being – it was a lot of pressure.

To counteract the negative thoughts I often felt overwhelmed by, I started carrying a small, spiral-bound pack of notecards with me everywhere I went.

The notecards were full of scriptures that reminded me of God’s love for me, his provision for His people, and the hope He provides in difficult times. Those notecards were my lifeline – a very concrete way to stop the negative thoughts and focus on God and His truth.

Taking every thought captive is a lifelong process. At times, it will seem as if the practice yields no positive results, but I urge you to persevere. The discipline of isolating these thoughts, being honest with yourself about their roots, and intentionally surrendering them to God will change you over time. The change will be subtle at first; but, through practice, you will find your burden lifting and your faith shining light on the dark places in your mind.

This is part one of our three-part series: Maintaining Sanity and Developing Personal Spirituality as a Stay at Home Mom