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 the desire of my heart. 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 G-d. 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.
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.