The Lesson of the Wineskins
Gordon Smith talks about how spiritual disciplines are "cups" to carry and drink the living water of Christ. Thank God that the church has discovered a multitude of "cups" over the centuries. God may even help you discover your own special cup during this time of parenting. Adele Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (InterVarsity Press) lists no less than 62! Here are some "cups" that have been helpful to me and new moms I've known:
- Examen: The discipline of examen helps us recognize where God has been active throughout the day and where we were able either to receive or to ignore His presence. There are various forms and ways of doing the examen. But the quick and dirty way we do it in our family (with kids) is everyone prays three one-sentence prayers beginning with the words "Thank you. . . Sorry. . . and Please."
- Practicing the Presence of God: If Brother Lawrence could learn this discipline over dishes, we can learn this discipline over diapers! After hearing that my favorite thing to do on a spiritual retreat was to take a bubble bath, one of my spiritual directors encouraged me to use soap lather every time I washed my hands or did the dishes to remember the luxury of God's love.
- Confession: Because motherhood unearths and unleashes old and new sin patterns, it is helpful to have a safe person or two with whom we can confess our sins. Apart from sins of anxiety, control, impatience, irritability, rage, unholy speech, and stinginess, I also found myself struggling with feeling overshadowed and left behind in my InterVarsity work. I felt envious toward men, especially those younger than me. It seemed that they could sire children, plunge into ministry, and write books in their spare time; I barely had time to take a shower. In those spaces, having loving, non-judgmental folks who could hear my confession and speak Christ's grace and forgiveness over me brought me to Jesus in a way I couldn't go alone.
- Spiritual Direction: Although finding time, money, and babysitting to see a spiritual director may feel daunting, I have found spiritual direction to be one of the greatest graces God has given me through this time of motherhood. When my life can sound like a noisy gong ("More food! More attention! More chauffeuring!"), having a wise prayerful director who listens well, helps me discern God's movement in my life, and directs my prayer has helped me hear God's whisper in the whirlwind. At times, it's felt like marriage therapy between me and God. Other times I've had forgiveness pronounced over me, or power prayed into me.
- A long obedience in the same direction: God once showed me that growing in relationship with Him was a lot like growing my marriage, with many small positive steps toward building trust and love. My husband and I have grace for one another when we're just too tired to have deep loving conversations and ecstatic lovemaking every night. In marriage, we've found it's helpful to schedule brief check-ins daily and weekly date nights where we can catch up more fully; and if, once or twice a year, someone gives us a weekend away for just the two of us, we experience anew why we chose to marry one another.
If my husband can show grace, God has even abundantly more grace for the vicissitudes of life! My interactions with God have the same rhythms of my marriage -- we touch base throughout the day, but rarely have time for deep, long conversations. Once a week or so, it's helpful to have a deeper conversation -- in my life, usually a time of worship and longer journaling where I try to "be real" with what's going on in my life. Then, at least twice a year, it's a super treat if God and I enjoy a couple days away together at a silent retreat. It's at those times that I generally can both hear God's voice the best and receive his love and centering grace.
When my babies were nursing, it was almost impossible to have those overnight spiritual retreats, but one time, when I was really in bad shape, my loving husband brought the 10-month-old to nurse throughout my weekend at the monastery! It freaked out the monks a little, but he gave me the precious time I needed with Jesus.
Whatever the wineskins or cups God presents you with, remember, the most important piece of our spiritual formation is trusting that God wants to form us even more than we want to be formed. As we lay our lives before him, our messy lives with hormonal bodies and wracked emotions, we are exactly the clay God wants to get His fingers into, in order to shape us into the image of His Son.
Kathy Tuan-MacLean is an area director for InterVarsity's Graduate Student and Faculty Ministry. here, and she contributes to the Cross and Culture blog and to her own blog, Plumbing Demons (where this entry first appeared).She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children. She shared the reason for her faith with us
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