‘Maybe I can give it a go’, I said to my husband. ‘You could’, he said ‘but you’d need to be realistic’. …
So went the conversation just after I was invited to write this blog.
What did he mean, ‘realistic’, I thought? Realistic with my time because he’s nearing the essay deadlines of his first year as an ordinand and therefore won’t have time to look after our son whilst I write??
Realistic with the fact I still suffer with the mind fog they call baby brain (despite recent sleep training meaning finally our son sleeps through now) and so won’t have the mental capacity to produce it??
No, he explains, realistic with what it’s been like… because it can be tempting to write something that portrays and encourages more of what we think following Jesus should look like rather than what it has really been like. Apparently, one of his lecturers has done a whole PhD on following Jesus in early motherhood because she herself had found it so challenging.
Well, after passionately explaining to him that I did not need him to tell me to be real, especially when I have absolutely no idea what this encouraging, ‘should look like this’ Jesus-following mother experiences so couldn’t rose-tint it if I tried, I calmed down to realise he gets it too – in summary – it’s been hard.
The lack of time, the presence of baby brain, the constant demand on my every resource by this fully trusting, totally dependant, wonderful little human being, has meant that my spiritual life looks a little different these days….
I can pretty much count on my hands the number of times I’ve written in my weekly prayer journal this last year.
I go to church maybe once every four weeks when morning naptime doesn’t need to begin/continue/end during the service time.
‘I don’t do evenings’ became a new mantra, so home group has been a thing of the past and every time I get a chance to read any scripture I often find the words just dancing on the page, my tired mind drifting off to what snacks I should get ready for when little one awakes.
So as with everything else in life when a baby arrives, the ways in which I seek His face have changed.
It wasn’t a gradual change; it was from the moment I first held our son in my arms. Nothing had prepared me for the flood of emotion that filled my whole being and then spilled out in uncontrollable sobbing. And with the solid forty hours of being awake, during which I gave birth, so appeared the hallucination-inducing exhaustion that all but very few (extremely lucky) new parents can relate to.
Then with the pouring out of my entire self into this helpless, fragile, tiny person, I found all I longed for was to lie down and be held. Often my husband was too depleted himself to fulfil my emotional craving, and so this pushed me to look to God in new ways. I remember lying there in bed, having just laid down little one after the standard 40min feed-20 min cuddle cycle, and I was just imagining God holding me.
It brought a rest and relief.
And so began a new way of being with Him.
I have come to learn to just sit with Jesus a lot more (not literal sitting obviously because if little one is awake I’m clambering around after him trying to keep him off the bookshelves, and if he’s asleep I’m doing one of a hundred part finished tasks around the home, mostly praying he doesn’t wake up unhappy and need the boob to fall back asleep (as is the case now, as I type precariously on my phone, holding it in my left hand, my writing hand pinned under the little snoozer).
As for any new mum, many an hour has been spent holding a sleeping baby. I found in those times, especially during the night, I could feel crushed with love so deep for my son, whilst at the same time calling to mind all those children out there who don’t have a mother to hold them, or even worse, only have people around them who abuse.
And so these times have turned into a sort of intercession time, typically with very few actual words, spoken or even thought – I rest in the knowledge that God still knows what I mean, even if all I have to offer is an emotion.
I’ve become more of what they call a ‘sunbather’ when it comes to my prayer life, basking in His omnipotence.
Whereas before I kept lists of things I was praying for and went through them regularly, praying out loud in actual sentences, now it’s more of a becoming aware of the Lord, His presence, provision and faithfulness. Of being overwhelmingly thankful for this miracle I get to nurture, of acknowledging His hand in every detail as He goes before me, and of choosing over and over to let go of that continual, nagging, sometimes overwhelming flood of conflicting needs I’m trying to meet, and decisions I’m trying to make…. (Oh God he’s woken early from his nap which means he’ll need his next nap right when we’re meant to be meeting for that play date I’ve already put off five times before because of his napping/colds, we could not go but what if he refused to nap again anyway and then it’s another afternoon at home trying to stop him getting in the laundry basket/washing machine/oven, surely it’s better he sees other children? Or we could go out in the pram so he can nap if he wants to, but what if he has a meltdown and I can’t carry him and the shopping and push the pram all the way back? I do need to buy groceries…Is he crying because he’s too hot/too cold/is teething/has wind/has an itchy clothes label I have no hope of finding or just because mummy can’t understand that he wants to be held by the light switch all day so it can be turned on and off a zillion times more??? …. Don’t even get me started on the actual tough days… Oh God.) I often find myself just raising a hand in a blanket statement of ‘I give it to you Lord’ (said hand mentally raised rather than literally, depending on exhaustion levels).
And it’s quite shocking to me that I am ok with this. I am ok with what my previous self would have considered a very incomprehensive prayer life. Because…God knows. And it’s the same with serving Him and building His Kingdom. These things don’t need to include leading a home group, singing on worship team and volunteering at anti-slave trafficking events, not in this season. In this season, they look more like giving a listening ear to the harassed mum at the toddler group, asking the Lord to bring her peace, choosing to encourage my husband when all I want to do is complain (fail at that a lot), and not being afraid to open up life and share with others – something that’s so challenging when feeling vulnerable and out of control, as is so often the case these days.
One thing that has helped bring some focus during this hazy time, and genuinely helped me navigate through, is the book ‘Soul Food for Mums’ by Lucinda van der Hart and Anna France-Williams. A thoughtful mummy friend of mine bought this for me and it has weekly devotions – one for each week of the first year of motherhood. I haven’t been able to keep on track with each week, often reading three in one sitting when I get the chance, but that hasn’t mattered. Looking back, I can see how it’s given me the words and tools to work through issues in relationships and identity – the two biggest personal challenges I have found this season of life to bring.
Relationships are hard when half your brain is focused on your son straining to grab the hot drink on the windowsill and the other half is asleep! Communication breaks down, or in my case often becomes loud, snappy and frankly downright sweary as I fire off remarks and replies fuelled with the heightened emotion that has become the hallmark for this year.
And long gone is the feedback I’d get from colleagues and managers on how I’ve completed my recent project. Instead, the new, all-consuming, never-ending project of keeping a little human alive and ‘not crying’ has very little feedback at all. It’s easy to lose myself in a swirl of self-criticism and the feeling of failure.
But this book, written by mums who’ve been there before, has brought a framework for reflecting on, confessing and growing through these challenges. A journey I am very much still on, but at least I am clear on which direction to head in.
Along with this book, the messages of understanding, wise mummy friends of mine and their responses to my many SOS prayer requests, have pointed me back to centre; back to who I am in Him and the person, wife and mother He calls me to be, and equips me to be – if I let Him.
I am so grateful to them all and it’s my prayer that, even whilst feeling I have nothing much to offer, God might still somehow use me to encourage other mums, as I can now stand with them and say ‘me too’.
Reading through this blog, I think I’ll amend that summary ‘it’s been hard’….‘it’s been evolving’ as my life has changed and continues to do so. And I thank Jesus He is leading me through as He promises to do, helping me adapt.