I woke up several times last night to nurse our baby, so my husband prepared us all breakfast. I dressed four people, changed several nappies, wiped tears, negotiated colours of bowls, brushed several sets of teeth, settled a couple of heated disputes, apologised for my frustration and distributed half a dozen hugs and kisses… that’s all before 9am!
As a parent to three kids under four, my brain feels like a mushy-blur many days, but my body has possibly never worked so hard. However, the physicalness of this new season has actually become a means of God’s grace to me; an aspect of my faith that had been previously overlooked. It is a process of refining and making tangible my walk with Jesus like never before. Let me attempt to explain why…
We live in a digitally charged world. Our daily interactions with others often take place via our devices, without ever having to be in the same location. This has brought incredible ﬂexibility and convenience to our world, but it also means so much of our lives and relationships take place in a ‘disembodied’ way. As a family serving overseas, I am incredibly thankful my children are able to see and talk to their grandparents who live elsewhere via Skype. I am also very aware they need friends who act like family nearby: people who eat in our home, and who play and laugh with them in the ﬂesh. And we do too. God’s intended design for us as human beings, is in fact, bodies! We are embodied people. The undeniable thing about early parenting, and caring for small children in general, is that it is so incredibly physical. I don’t think I realised just how so until I endured growing our babies inside my own body, rocking a sick child in my arms till the wee hours of the morning, or wrestling my toddlers into their pyjamas every evening. The bathing, cleaning, cuddling, wiping, washing, lifting or rocking that is required of my body every day is surprisingly demanding. There is no app on my phone or digital device that can replace my physical care and presence with my children. Our relationship must be embodied.
Neuroscience shows us that infant babies enter the world immediately looking for connection to another human being. Their blurry new eyes search desperately for a set of loving eyes looking back at them. The comfort of their caregiver’s embrace is what literally builds and develops their intricate brains and causes them to know and experience that they are loved and valuable. We are made for connection to others, and human bodies are the way God has designed us to live and love in this world. Nothing has taught me to embrace the importance of this like motherhood! Our bodies are not just a side thought, a clothing rack or simply inconsequential, they are the means by which we care and love the people around us. What God has been teaching me in this unlikely season, is the importance of our bodies in our faith journey too.
We have to approach our relationship to God with reality this in mind. For most of my life, growth in my relationship with God was assigned to very specific activities. Quiet Times, Bible reading, listening to sermons and attending church services were the common places I expected God to meet with me. Those activities sometimes flowed out into telling other people about Him, relaying the information and knowledge I was receiving to others. All wonderful aspects of the kingdom. But for the most part, the God-part of my world was relegated to my mind. Relating to God was about right thinking, and right knowing and hopefully, if I got those things correct, then the right behaviour would follow. The participation of my body in my life of faith was always secondary… until recently. As I navigated my relationship to God in this new season of little ones, my old means of walking with Him weren’t always as attainable as they had once been. Many days, simply sleeping felt like an impossibility… and quiet time alone was a thing of the past.
My husband and I continued to attend church services, but between nursing babies and keeping toddlers occupied I regularly missed the sermons or input times completely. I also noticed my peers being rocked by this transition into parenthood and watched many give up on church community altogether. Others shoved their own spiritual needs to the way-side believing ‘it’s all about the child now’. Sometimes, I felt crushed under the expectation to carve out additional times for engaging God in my life the way I used to. But surely in these formative years for my children, there was still hope that I too could be formed? But how could I, when my capacity was already so stretched?
Contrary to this way of thinking, I began to discover the repeated actions of my physical body in this season of parenting were actually extremely shaping, counter-cultural practices that represented the kind of living Jesus demonstrated. Our culture tells us: ‘Take the easy road’; ‘Do the fun thing’; ‘When it’s not building your own happiness – move on’; ‘Avoid that which you cannot control’. Interestingly this is not the heart of God for us – and it’s not the kind of people he is calling us to be or to raise. The long term commitment of parenting builds in us this kind of other-centred character. Even when we struggle and cry out to God in desperation in the wee hours of the night, we stick at it anyway. We somehow persist through our weakest moments – and this is forming us in deeply Christ-like ways. The physical action of care for another is changing us.
“Our bodies are a crucial aspect of our humanity. They are a part of God’s good creation. Our hope as Christians is an embodied hope. What we do with our bodies matter to our souls” (Jones, Dwell)
As my life went through transition, so did my relationship with God. I started to realise that God wasn’t actually wanting to be an extra ‘to-do’ on my list, and He wasn’t only approachable in quiet, or carefully curated musical settings. Jesus is actually no stranger to the demands of the human life, and He is very interested in walking right there in the midst of my chaos. I discovered these formative years for my children, are actually just as formative for me… if I allowed God to meet with me right where I am. In the actions of my body, in my real messy every day life. The kinds of things Jesus did with his life were often simple, embodied actions – eating and walking, fishing and cooking. He touched people’s wounds, collected water with them, washed their feet, prepared them breakfast. I grew to realise I had bought into a lie that God would encounter me someplace “better” or more quiet, or more put-together than my current reality. When in fact, He is Immanuel; God WITH us. God with me, right where I find myself.
“How I spend this ordinary day in Christ, is how I will spend my Christian life” Tish Harrison Warren
I have a God who saw human beings as so important, that he sent Jesus into our world. He walked with people in the midst of their family problems, their hunger and thirst, through weddings and funerals, in celebration and in sorrow. Likewise, He is with me in my sleepless nights, in my breakfast-bowl-colour battles and my cracker and crayon strewn kitchen. I can only conclude that these little moments of life are not insignificant or inconsequential to Him. But even more than that, these little physical acts of sacrifice and service in the hidden space of my own home and family, have the potential to form me to love the things that God loves. I will share more on that in the next post.
What ordinary tasks lay ahead of you this day? How might you become more attentive to Immanuel (God with you) in these actions today? I’ve included 2 suggestions below:
- Take an extra moment to look into your kid’s eyes and study their little faces as you get them into bed tonight. (If your house is anything like mine, bedtime is ‘crazy-hour’ and I’m eager to get them down as soon as humanly possible). Spend some time lingering on their smallness, their smiles, even their uncontrolled emotions. Squeeze their little hand, or run your hands through their hair. Take a moment to look upon the Lord’s creation running around your own home.
- When you lay down in bed tonight, tired and sore, as you close your weary eyes thank the Lord for the gift of rest. The need for regular rest is not a burden we have to bear but a gift he’s given to us – a reminder we are not indispensable, not infinite in our abilities or energy. God has designed us to need sleep. Even when our work remains unfinished, we take rest and trust our lives and our day into His hands, believing His mercy is truly new to us each morning.
To explore this topic more, check out Michaela’s devotional e-book, A Parent’s Invitation to Spiritual Re-formation: How the Practices of Parenting Become Disciplines Leading Us Back to the Ways of Jesus