The Ordinary Liturgy of Life

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“Let us remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is “daily” life. We can each of us only call the present time our own.  Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so He prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.
~Gregory of Nyssa

I so desperately want my life to be meaningful. Mothering often happens in the hidden places, and so sometimes I can feel unseen. I know that God knows me intimately and knows the number of hairs on my head. And yet, it’s so easy to lose sight of the truth that He is with me, really with me.

It’s just that His voice is sometimes drowned out by, well, the sounds of my younger two children fighting in the background, yet again, over a toy. I want to ignore it, to stare out my window, or to sit down and lose myself in an engaging book. Why can’t they just be kind, be sweet? Their gradually escalating argument only fueled my desire to throw my own fit. And then my head continues to turn to the sink full of dishes, and just beyond, to the baskets of laundry overflowing.

We can’t escape the daily life— the changing of diapers, the feeding of ourselves and our families, the dishes and the laundry. No matter what our stage of life, the menial and mundane will always be with us.

How will I respond to these tasks set before me? My children turn to observe me. There are moments where I sit down and cry and others where I choose to shift my perspective.

Just as I engage (or try to!) in the liturgy of morning or evening prayer, can I also choose to see the menial and mundane parts of life as moments He wants to engage us?

The menial and mundane tasks of life are opportunities to turn our hearts and mind toward the Lord. 

Folding piece after piece of my children’s laundry, an ancient breath prayer comes to mind.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” It is sometimes shortened as, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.” Known as the “Jesus Prayer”, Christians would repeat this prayer or other simple prayers to the rhythm of their breath.

When engaging in the mundane is difficult, these prayers can ground me in the midst of the daily struggle, the chaos.  These simple prayers can invite the Holy Spirit in when my temptation is to let my mind wander to how much I dislike a mundane task or how I’m struggling to find the meaning in serving my family. Joy can be replaced by feelings of apathy or despair. By repeatedly praying breath prayers, these phrases can become rooted in my heart. I’m in the midst of learning to make this a more natural practice.

Here are some other breath prayer ideas:

Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

Holy Wisdom, Guide me.

Jesus, let me feel your love.

O Lord, Show me your way.

Abba Father, I Am Yours. 

In the book, The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris, she says, “When humans try to do everything at once and for all and be through with it, we court acedia, self-destruction, and death. Such power is reserved for God, who alone can turn what is “already done” into something that is ongoing and ever present. It is a quotidian mystery.”

What if there is a kind of spirituality vitality that would help us see menial tasks as holy work? I’m daily asking the Lord to help me to see His work through His eyes.

Join me, as I seek to dwell with God in the the midst of the mundane.

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My Favorite Books…on Parenting

Packiam-23I’ve been thinking recently about how grateful I am for a wonderful mother and for other women who have discipled and poured into me over the years. I was recently at an event where I ran into one of these women who is now in her seventies. She took me under her wing over ten years ago when I was newly in ministry and then a new mother. I’ll never forget the core lesson she taught me: Discipleship is all about training and educating. 

Isn’t parenting at its core about discipleship? It’s really about relationship just as the Biblical narrative is about God’s relationship with us. More than correcting the behavior, discipleship is about helping our kids to walk on God’s path for life. Many books tell you what you should do because we yearn for a model or paradigm to follow. We wish someone could tell us what to do so everything will turn out well for our children. It’s much easier to follow a rule book than to trust God.

In poring over parenting books for many years, these are some of the ones that I’ve found most helpful with the goal of creating a loving, nurturing, grace-filled home. We’re far from having mastered the messages in these books– as anyone who knows us or our children can attest!– but many of these themes are ones we return to over and over again. Oh…and of course, the list is not exhaustive…and there are probably some I’m forgetting…but this should be a good start:

How to Really Love Your Child – D. Ross Campbell

Grace-Based Parenting – Tim Kimmel

The Mission of Motherhood – Sally Clarkson

Heartfelt Discipline – Clay Clarkson

Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in Your Kids – Scott Turansky

Motivate Your Child:  A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told – Scott Turansky

The Five Love Languages of Children – Gary D. Chapman

How Nurture Shapes Your Child’s Future

IMG_2257Of course you love your children. Isn’t that why you take them to fun places, let them choose activities or sports, give them the best education you know of and buy them lovely clothes? All of us love our kids but sometime our best intentions fail to translate to our children’s’ minds and hearts. I’m continually asking myself as a mom, Do my kids perceive the love I am trying to communicate?

Recently— in the late hours of the night— I have been reading over some research by Dr Stella Chess & Dr Alexander Thomas on the effects of nurture in the life of the child. In this study, they conclude that a child’s choices and adult outcome is largely determined by a combination of the home environment and personal traits of that specific child. It’s true: some children are more difficult to parent than others. Chess and Thomas describe nine temperaments observable in a newborn nursery that tend to stay with them as they grow, though these characteristics can change in the home environment. But the best news from the study is that the atmosphere a nurturing mother provides often contributes to a well-adapted child. Even in situations where mothers had difficult babies or toddlers, nurture was a huge factor in determining how the child ultimately adapted in society.

I’ll be honest: our children have been easier to nurture in some seasons, and more difficult in others. A couple of our kids were very difficult babies and it took digging into the depths of my heart and lots of prayer to give them all the nurturing they needed. And one of my more difficult babies is now a toddler. Her long bouts of crying as a baby have turned into lots of wonderful verbal and physical energy. (I would add that she also barely sleeps these days which equals one tired mama. I thought these days were over, but I guess I was wrong!) One of our children was an easy babies but now her quietness is challenging to interpret. I’m now asking the Lord for daily patience as I ask question after question to my sweet, quiet daughter who I long to know deeply.

If we hope to maintain continual relationship with our kids throughout their life, a bond of true unconditional love must be present.  Without it, whatever activities, programs, discipline, ideas, relationships we present will likely not be received with openness.

Every child is different so finding a way to the heart of each child is a non-formulaic unique process. My oldest craves quality time. She cannot wait for the next opportunity to sit alone with me and just talk about all that is going on in her heart or to read a book together and discuss it. A listening ear and an empathetic spirit are what she needs most from me. And my five year old son will share his heart over activities he loves, like building legos, or during a pre-bedtime back scratching routine. Even if there is little conversation between us, connecting with him through the things he loves fills up his little heart. Discipline seems less necessary when I give him the individual time he needs. All of our kids crave individual time and as you might imagine can be challenging to achieve with four.

Each family has their own unique puzzle with unique personalities. Ask the Lord to show you how to connect with each of your children. I believe He will be faithful to meet you in your struggle, in your questions, and in the ever-changing seasons of a child’s heart. Ask Him to help you sense how to love your children well as you continue to build the relational foundation that will last your entire life.

After all, we will never stop being parents. Love well.