The Rising Tide of Parenthood

drowning

When one has a baby there is a period of calm and quiet – of sweet, soft noise speckled through hours of sound infant sleep. Even the smell is one of peace – It is the sweet remnant of heaven. Comforted by the stillness that settled into my spirit during the months prior to Lois’ arrival, I cherished these moments. I knew singularly that the moments I spent nursing her, holding her, and rocking her were sacred. They were times of peace saturated with heartfelt prayers for the Spirit’s fruit and guidance in her life.

Fast-forward several months to December: Even as I walk into the café where I am destined to have breakfast with a dear friend – my heart pounds. It isn’t the coffee; I haven’t had any. I wonder if it is the cold, or my blood sugar. Either way, it’s a stark contrast to my desire. A deep irony in the mingling of spirit and physical. The frenetic pace of my December thus far propels me in a flurry and fluster. My heart pounds in revolt of what the season asks of us: slow yourself.

I suppose it was the gaping discrepancy between the tender invitations of the advent season and my own pace that helped draw my attention to the agitation and commotion that had settled inside my heart and head. While motherhood begins in a gestation full of hope and expectation, followed by those gentle moments of peace and heavenly aroma, the grind steadily picks up pace and life quickens as the quotidian begins to call.  There are dishes, laundry, bottles, the feeding of family and child. The necessity of work, the lure of friendships, the burden of countertops filling with dust and disorder all threaten to overwhelm the self.

What began as a refreshing dip in a gentle stream quickly became a fight to keep my feet grounded and my head above the current of daily living.

Most parents get to this point, some sooner rather than later, and a question soon enters our consciousness and nags at our attention: How does one make room for a Savior in all of this? How does a mother or father find pause? How can life be lived, as one intends: inside out and from prayer to action, when what I have always conceived of as prayer has become flitting and elusive?

In the context of a less demanding, pre-baby family life, many of us have the luxury of coming to understand prayer as a quiet and intentional slowing of self to the rhythms of God. Before baby, I had grown accustomed to stilling myself daily for an hour or so just to sit alone with Christ. The bulk of Christian literature, written by men, monks, and others in the pastoral vocation, confirms this idea. Unfortunately, stillness and aloneness are almost impossible for most of us – especially women and men employed in full time domesticity.

Many of us, unable to accommodate our daily rhythm to the concentration, time, and privacy that we believe prayer requires, become disillusioned. Prayer becomes yet another source of inadequacy and guilt. In December, desperate for shelter and quiet, I cried out, asking forgiveness for my poor habits, asking for comfort and restoration. The answer I received was a nourishing reassurance of the Lord’s presence. Rather than demanding more and shaming my absence, G-d simply asked that I forgive myself the changes prayer makes as the tide of children and family rises.

We have to learn to change. To hold on to a prayer life that was or “used to be” is vapor. Our life of prayer, and contemplation – our very relationship with Christ – changes as we enter different seasons. It must change and with those changes comes adjustment and new learning.

“The true masters of parenthood and faith are not those who have figured a way to carve into a day isolation and silent contemplation of holiness. Rather, they are those who manage to find G-d in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self…They treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead they listen for a sign of God’s presence and they open their hearts toward prayer.”

— Kathleen Norris

To the young parents and new professionals learning to juggle child-rearing and earning. To people who feel that life is endless in its repetition or constant in its change, who perhaps bounce between drudgery and excitement with both fervor and fear. When the moment strikes and the daily transforms into routine – allow the mind to simply wander toward grace. When the child naps or the commute gets long, treasure the silence. Stop escaping from reality into Facebook. The mindless flicking through a New Feed is comforting, but there is a deeper silence that can be restoring. I have no long steady time to simply meditate, but Christ doesn’t ask this of me right now. He just asks to be welcomed into the present and routine. These quotidian moments with all of their possibility for absent attention are breeding ground for the type of spiritual awareness that he wants for us. His grace is complete and His power to strengthen still stands while we fold, cook, wash, and mend.

Christ’s word to us is not “try harder,” it is “self-forgiveness.” Take wisdom’s hand, young momma, new daddy. Treasure your rare moments of solitude and hold fast to the occasional silence. Allow your heart to wander toward Christ. These are moments of prayer – the kind of prayer that leads to restoration of peace, patience, and strength. The kind of prayer a young parent needs.

O Come, Emmanuel

candle

“No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud, those who,
because they have everything
look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God – for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel.
God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.”
Oscar Romero

 

  • 3.1 million children will die this year of starvation.
  • There have been 972 deaths in 236 mass shootings since 2012 (Courtesy of Stanford Libraries, Stanford Mass Shooting in America)
  • Due to world wide war and famine, there are 59 million forcibly displaced peoples, half of which are below the age of 18.
  • Since June 2014 ISIS has executed 10,000 men, women, and children – many for simply being gay, disabled, Christian, or hoping for democracy.
  • The United States of America, once a beacon of hope and asylum, has turned its back on refugees, disdains the religious freedom of its minorities, and fears the diversity that once made it great.

O Come, Emmanuel We are truly poor

I have spent the last month trying as best I can to identify, engage and verbalize the unnoticed emotions that have grown in my heart over this past year. I have found fear, hopelessness, and sadness.

And in these tucked away places, I have experienced grace upon grace during Advent. The scriptures have comforted me, saved me, reminded me that what is broken will be mended, and that darkness does not win.

Thankfully, these statistics are not the whole story. God is moving. But just because my stockings are hung with care and my Christmas tree is beautifully lit does not mean that these things are not horrible facts with which we are all still living.

We must take the time to find the black of our deep despair so that when the light comes, we can drink it in like Holy Wine. This is Advent and Christmas. Life and Hope are meant to address the reality of a sadness we have recognized.

During the first part of December, we realize that, no matter how ingrained Dicken’s Carol is in our Christmas sentiment, the December season is not about being better givers, it is about becoming desperate receivers. We are anguished for salvation from the violence, starvation, and hate that makes us weak and frustrates our hope.

What this season demands is difficult. It is easier to deny ourselves an Advent Season.

Unless you are ready to be poor, and helpless, to have a deep desire and to finally feel those things from which we all run – December will be just another season of dissociation. Christmas will come; we will sing praise to a Savior we did not know we needed; we will be disappointed that the 25th did not meet our expectations; the year will turn over, and we will start again. Too many evangelical churches with their rush to fill seats, create and deliver a sentimental mishmash of ecstatic emotions – emotions that almost always fade into the darkness they were created to ignore.

But if you can just have the faith that darkness faced will not be darkness won you will discover that Christ.Will.Come…..and He will win.

God has spoken to my fear about Islam and Israel –

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse…the Sprit of the Lord will rest on Him…The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” – Isaiah 11:1, 6-7

God has spoken to my helplessness about the hungry. Over my inadequate, selfish and insufficient giving, searching, saving, loving — He has whispered:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! … You eat the curds, clothe yourself with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost….

So I myself will search for the sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they are scattered…I will tend them in good pasture…there they will feed in a rich pasture….I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” Ezekiel 34

There is still time to refuse the sentiment, to listen to the deep, to pay attention to the tears, weaknesses, and limitations of your self, the world, and your government. Advent is a time to suffer with meaning, to suffer toward meaning.

And then. And then.

The hope of redemption might break out on Christmas day, and you might worship Him more fully, having had the courage to really know and see that from which He will rescue you.