This summer, I read an amazing book titled In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice by Bonnie Miller-McLemore. Her words were filled with permission and hope as I try to figure out what it looks like to be mom and have some semblance of a spiritual life.
She makes the keen observation that most of her (and my own) spiritual sages she grew up learning from did not have kids or didn’t spend much time with children. She encourages us to take a different lens – one that redeems chaos. Miller-McLemore encouraged me to look at what is life-giving in this season. She encouraged me to not stop working (however we define that word), to invest, but also rest and ponder.
In a culture that tells me “life is over when you have kids,” this book provided me with another voice. Just read this last paragraph:
The first year of parenting is a labyrinth; I don’t know if it made me “a better person in the world.” It is a journey I stumbled through trying to figure out breastfeeding, pureed food, and sleep – both my baby’s and my own. Parenting swells me up with the most love and pride I have ever known and to depths of exhaustion I did not know existed.
But in this journey, a few things have kept me sane and perhaps sharing from an honest place makes us all healthier. I want to share a few practices here with the hope that maybe someone today needs to know they are doing enough – that a spiritual life and parenting are not two different things. God knows, I need to hear that.
The first practice I have fallen into naturally is checking on my son every night when he is sleeping. I don’t have a devotional book. I don’t sit in silence for five minutes a day. But ever since we brought him home from the hospital, I tip-toe into his dark room, comforted by the waves of his noise machine and place my hand on his little back. Call me a creeper, call me paranoid (because sometimes I just want to make sure he is still breathing). However, this ritual has become sacred. A few silent moments when is there is no whining, crying, or even chatting or laughing. A time to ponder, something Miller-McLemore connects to Mary’s “pondering these things in her heart” – to seize those moments and let them be what they are. I found this practice a chance to be still in the midst of a busy life and bask in the miracle (and gratitude) of a sleeping, peaceful child.
The second thing that has kept me sane in the chaos is singing. The lullabies I sing are Taize songs I have learned at contemplative prayer retreats over the past seven years. They are simple phrases and truths repeated over and over again before nap and bedtime to my son, but also to myself. The words cover us like a warm sweater on a cold day. Stanzas like, “Be still and know that I am God,” “The kingdom of God is justice and peace,” and even some Latin sprinkled in there with “Ubi caritas,” carry us to a deeper place of meaning before drifting off. This is our ritual, our sacred prayers, our sanity after the end of another long day.
The final practice I have clung to is cooking. I made all of Thatcher’s baby food and loved it. For some, there are other things, and that is fine! But this is a practice that brought us closer together and didn’t feel like another chore. I felt guilty for a bit about this. The thoughts plagued me, “Will people think I am pretentious?” Especially hearing a shared babysitter tell me a friend asked what Thatcher ate one day when they were having hot dogs, saying, “I bet Thatcher didn’t eat this today.” To which the sitter said, “No, he ate quinoa.” Yep, there it is people. Comparison; following me around with it’s companions guilt and competition.
I don’t care if someone feeds their kids hot dogs! Heck, peanut butter and jelly is one of my greatest discoveries this year, along with letting go of the illusion that I am not a French parent (will post on that revelation soon). But, I do love cooking. It’s in my genes. It’s what has brought my marriage together, and now it is something I share with my child. His favorite toys are kitchen tongs, a lemon press, and a whisk. Some families go camping, others do art; we cook. So I have begun lighting a candle to remind me to be present to the experience of cooking. To breathe in the smells, to delight in the chopping, stirring, and menu planning. This practice grounds me in the real, connects me to the land, the soil, the farmers, to water, and to my family. Not everyone is a romantic about cooking, but we are and leaning into that has saved me in this season.
What I realized in reading In the Midst of Chaos is that I don’t have to change everything to be spiritual again, I just have to show up and be present to what I am already doing. Instead of these three things being chores or things to calm my panic and fears if I don’t do them right, they have become my renewed spiritual practices in a season that at times threatens to swallow me up.
It’s not perfect. But in this grand experiment of trying to practice a more peaceful version of parenting, I am grateful for examples like Miller-McLemore, and for all of my friends who are trying so hard to make sense of this new season. So what makes sense (or made sense) to you in this season of small children? What things to you already do that you are reclaiming?