Motherhood as a spiritual discipline

Our The Year of Small Things perfectly encapsulates the discord between spiritual disciplines and parenthood. For instance: that time our families tried praying with a live candle. Also, the time we had zero energy left to form words, let alone prayers. See also: the time Sarah’s husband remarked that his spiritual life was more Daniel Tiger than the prophet Daniel … on and on.

So we’re thrilled that we got to be in conversation with our Redbud Writers Guild colleague, Catherine McNiel. Catherine’s written a book that speaks to the desire for God in our current realities, and reminds us that God meets us in that everyday chaos. So, so good. Read on and listen to the podcast interview:
 
Download this episode (right click and save).

Catherine, tell us about yourself!

Thank you! I’m a mom with three kids (and a few part-time jobs). I love to read and garden. I love to study theology and ancient cultures. I’m always trying to learn something new. I enjoy getting to know my neighbors and learning how different people see the world. I love to explore how theology impacts our real, physical lives…and how our real lives impact theology. I’m enamored by the creation of new life but find that working in the garden is less exhausting than pregnancy. ☺

Now, introduce us to your book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.

How do you do that in Long Days of Small Things?

In each chapter I tell stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and the tasks that fill them. I look at spiritual tools that already hide there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and consider how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so many disciplines every moment of the day.

Why did you decide to write Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious, demanding children took me all the way to the end of my rope…and left me there indefinitely! My life changed in every way, yet I heard only the same spiritual prescriptions I’d always heard: spend quiet time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord. As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. But as I looked at the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I was convinced that there was no better “boot camp” for my soul. Each day we mothers create, we nurture. Each day we are pushed to the end of ourselves and must surrender, sacrifice, and persevere. Each day we serve, pouring ourselves out. We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?

There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality. Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day!

I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and being to drink.

 

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Catherine McNiel is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017). Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden. Connect with her at Catherinemcniel.com.

Year of Small Things: 10 things to know

Year of Small Things: 10 things to know

Where did the idea for The Year of Small Things come from?

As Sarah tells in more detail in The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, when she and Tom transitioned from a “new monastic” community in the inner city (a Christian household that included homeless guests) to a suburban parsonage, they struggled to translate their former “radical” practices into their new not-so-radical setting.  

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Mapping out the Year of Small Things

Mapping out the Year of Small Things

Early summer, two years ago:

I (Sarah) pitched an idea to our two families: what if we all took some of the “radical” Christian practices touted by folks like Shane Claiborne and his community The Simple Way and spent a year growing into them? Can downward mobility for Jesus actually happen with debt and diapers and dishes–in suburbia?

Here’s what this looks like on the ground:

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Let’s change the world! But first, naps

Let’s change the world! But first, naps

We had found our church; we had met Tom and Sarah and a slew of other friendly folks there.

But it took us a while to get from acquaintances to deeper friendships.

See, The Year of Small Things’s backbone was a relationship between our two families that went beyond a friendship based on mutual interests. After months of figuring out what to even name this relationship, we settled on “covenantal friendship.”  Covenantal because we actually ratified a document between our families. The piece of paper bound us to uphold, support, and challenge each other. Covenantal is serious business.

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How to find your people (Hint: at church)

How to find your people (Hint: at church)

Dave and I didn’t have a lifelong mission statement, unlike some other people.

We married and had three kids in rapid succession. Since 2008, our lifelong ambition has been to hide the frozen yogurt from the kids.

On the spectrum of radical faith — with Jesus on one end and a bag of marshmallows on the other — Tom and Sarah have been edging ever closer to Jesus since before they were Tom and Sarah. On the other hand, Dave and I simply lived in a succession of beige-walled apartments and one cute single-family house, from Toledo to Lansing by way of Wisconsin.

We spent weeks at our newspaper jobs; weekends doing laundry and watching TV. We have never been arrested for demonstrating outside the Capitol. We haven’t had anyone stay at our house longer than a week or so.

Well, except our children. Do they count?  

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