Posted by: Ed | May 9, 2008

Solitude & Mom’s & Dia de las madres

Mother’s day is this weekend. I’m finishing up the message which is a special stand alone mother’s day message. I’ve never done one of these before & feel more than a little uncomfortable. I think the weekend will be great – we are doing a big child dedication thing & there’s some cool stuff in the service. But I feel a little strange doing the mother’s day message having never been a mother and not really being that warm, homey kind of guy that is good at sentiment. I do love my mom… don’t get me wrong… but I’d appreciate any pray on my behalf. Something along the line of “God, have mercy” would be great! 

But this post is about something I observed when we were the parents of little ones. It’s mostly something I saw in my wife.  If you check the last post on Solitude, you will notice a great comment by my friend Tara. She happens to be the mother of 2 beautiful little kids. Her comment / question was as follows: 

This was a great post Ed.  Thanks for bringing us into your personal retreat time.  This kind of stuff really kept me centered back in the day…….and then I had kids.  Any suggestions for a mom of little ones who can’t get away alone like this?  Or maybe this might come up this weekend :)

I TOTALLY appreciate this. Although there are tons of demands on my time, just like there are on yours, it’s NOTHING like the demands the small kids put on moms. If spirituality means lots of uninterrupted times on a regular basis, then it seems to me that moms are doomed to some  kind of 2nd level spiritual life till the kids get less demanding. 

I ran across a great article on this in Christianity Today a while back called Disorderly Disciplines in which a mom who had been used to nourishing her soul on extended times of solitude, silence, lectio divina, talks about the shock to her spiritual system it was to have twins. 

I’m going to copy the 1st couple of paragraphs because I’m pretty sure pasting the whole thing would violate some copyright law. Go to their website & check out the rest. [click here ]

May the Lord Bless & Strengthen all you moms of little time consuming, attention & energy demanding, future world changing, followers of Jesus. And for those that go to journey, I pray that the message would encourage you this week. Enjoy the article:

Disorderly Disciplines
When I entered motherhood, my traditional spiritual life became impossible.

A lifelong evangelical, I once believed that daily quiet time dialed the only number God answers. In urban ministry as a young adult, I came to see the active life of service as another spiritual practice. My current church, a postmodern “emergent” congregation, encourages ancient Christian spiritual disciplines such as contemplative prayer and lectio divina. My faith has been enriched through these diverse practices, but they have never replaced my quiet times with God.

 

Becoming a mother, however, ruined my ability to be disciplined about spirituality. As I write this, my twins are two months old, and my initial sense of life with children is that everything is going to be rearranged, including the way I seek intimacy with God.

Spiritual disciplines that have been important to me are no longer possible, at least not in these early months of my babies’ lives. I could only walk a labyrinth if its paths were wide enough for my double stroller. Anything approaching silence or solitude puts me to much-needed sleep. Pilgrimage? Only if I could bring along a pack-n-play, diaper bag, and washing machine. Even church gatherings have been crossed off the family calendar, because our boys were born prematurely and must avoid crowds for a while.

Many of the spiritual disciplines were developed by monastics who valued regularity and solitude; words like order and rule describe them. Family life, while no less holy than monastic life, makes consistent order impossible. The wild rhythm of parenting persuades me that monastic life cannot provide the only model for spiritual discipline. In fact, some seasons of life may be better suited to spiritualundiscipline. In contrast to the stability of monasticism, motherhood offers a catch-as-catch-can spirituality. I’m doing just that, and I’m catching more than I thought possible.

Spiritual Indulgence

Though breastfeeding will never be considered a standard spiritual practice, it’s the most disciplined thing I’ve ever done. The boys have been taking their meals every three hours, around the clock, for nine weeks. That’s about a thousand feedings so far. In these early weeks of my boys’ lives, I don’t meet with friends for prayer, read devotional books, or enjoy quiet times. Breastfeeding is my daily office, giving structure to my spiritual life.

This spirituality is not ascetic. Many say that spirituality is about denying the flesh, but nursing moms like me indulge it. Along with my babies, I like the softness of blankets and bodies. I sniff my boys’ scents and stroke their backs while they nurse. I encourage them to stuff themselves and become plump. I, too, eat as much as I please, packing in calories to maintain my milk supply. In an attempt to deny himself and seek God, the desert father Simon the Stylite lived on a small platform high in the sky for decades, reputedly subsisting on water and grass. In contrast to this asceticism, my boys and I revel in the comforts of life: milk, warmth, sleep, and touch. Feeding babies is a reminder to indulge the senses, to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

Though his spiritual practice was unusual and mine is mundane, both Simon the Stylite and I observe self-denial, a virtue that is just one side of a coin. Motherhood requires a daily denial of good things I once considered essential: adequate sleep, uninterrupted reading time, and leisurely meals, to name just a few. Desert fathers spoke of crushing sin through rigorous self-denial. But for women raised to be caretakers, self-denial can be all too easy and even harmful. Social and family expectations often result in women negating the self before they’ve even formed a self. Over time, such warped self-denial leads to jealousy, anger, and manipulation as women assert their squished selves in any which way.

Though babies require me to practice self-denial, I also insist on self-care. Asking for help every day—and at this point, I can’t make it through even eight hours solo—is at least as difficult as self-denial. I’m beginning to see it as a spiritual practice. Like many evangelical girls, I was raised for domestic labor, raised to be a cheerful giver and never a taker. In the colicky evening hours, however, when two babies are crying at the same time and I’m beginning to cry myself, I just can’t do it all. Asking for help, both when I’m at my wit’s end and when I just want a break, preserves my health and strengthens my community. It draws my husband into the inner circle of baby care, a sanctum from which dads too often are excluded. It brings friends and family members into my babies’ lives in meaningful ways. And it allows me to snatch some sleep—and occasionally even a walk or a shower. Self-care is the inverse of asceticism, but it may be a feminine counterpoint to pride-crushing self-denial. When done for the right reasons, both self-denial and self-care are sanctifying.

Women’s Work

The spiritual value of women’s work has been given little credence in Western Christianity. As in ancient Greece, men are still often seen as more capable of sustained philosophical and theological reflection, while women are tied to earth in the messy physical work of childbearing and raising. In Breathing Space, Lutheran pastor Heidi Neumark describes her friend’s first interview with a church committee. Members of the committee were concerned that the woman’s mothering would get in the way of her pastoring. The candidate’s reproductive giftedness was cast in competitive terms against her spiritual giftedness, and the church wanted only the spiritual goods. 

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Responses

  1. Thanks again for the article Ed. Great job last night Ed. I know moms will be encouraged tomorrow!

  2. Thanks for that, I can’t wait to hear the message tomorrow!

  3. great article! addresses one of my many squables with evangelical christianity I’ve had at times. i love the way the article recognizes the difficulty of practicing the ‘normal’ encouraged evangelical spirituality while being a mother and that motherhood in it self can be a sacred, spiritual act.

  4. Very good article! An the message yesterday was great.


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