One of the hardest things I found about new motherhood was not the sleepless nights, the mess or the loss of control, it was the empty space. Without the mental occupation of work or study that many women come from, a mental vacuum gets created. The hours spent with children often leave women alone with their thoughts. They are not always pretty, and I'm convinced that this is the space that God brings us to and that he most wants to be present in.
The kitchen bench was where I had this thought battle the most. I've read about kitchen floor prayers too, so I'm not alone! (What is it about the kitchen?) Ever heard of the 'dark night of the soul?' I had 'dark dinner-prep of the soul'. Not quite so poetically evocative ...
The self-talk can go like this: ‘Motherhood is just not me. It's not my “thing”. I must have married the wrong person. I got married at the wrong time. I should still be single. I could have had an incredible career by now. I don't really want to live like this any more. I want to just take this baby and ... ’
In the best scenario, we think: ‘Gosh, this is bad. I need to pray’. So we make a plan. ‘I'll get up early tomorrow to pray. I'll try to grab a ten-minute walk tomorrow to pray.’ But these planned moments never happen due to the uncontrolled environment of family life.
That's why it's essential to adopt a 'grab the prayer' posture. Wherever you are. Whatever you are doing. Sometimes it's in the most unlikely places. While you are in the toilet, while you are changing a lightbulb, while you are trying to get permanent marker off the walls. Colin Buchanan calls them 'arrow prayers'. After a recent patch of disillusionment and faith struggle, I found myself praying while I was brushing my teeth! God doesn't require much. Most of these kinds of prayers are simply 'Oh God! Help!' or 'Oh Lord! You know' or 'Jesus. I really need you'. Often it is just 'Oh Father'.
The Psalms are our permission to be honest with God. Brutally honest. There's nothing that you'll experience as a parent that hasn't already been deeply felt by the writers of the Psalms. Even in your darkest moments. Especially the darkest ones!
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121)
When the Lord strips the normal dependences of your life away, it's because of his deep and personal love for you. He is driving you to the throne room. He's gently reminding us that he is the source of all the help that we need. As the maker of heaven and earth, he is able to provide it. His love has been demonstrated in an active and costly way. He gave up his own Son for us to deal with the darkness of our hearts. This is all that we need as mothers, fathers, singles … as human beings. Paul says:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
Many of us lead busy and distracted lives, which leads us to forget our dire need for God. However, being a parent regularly brings us to a place where we need to cry out to him. That's why having children is such a great blessing! It's not just that they are so cute and cuddly, it's because God is transforming our hearts through the daily, habitual need to keep on loving these little people.
As believing parents, we have too the enormous resource of the body of Christ. God hasn't left us alone but has saved us into a family. The best churches in my opinion are the ones where a new mum, who is utterly depressed, still feels like she can just turn up on a Sunday —and be loved.
An older woman once said to me that even if I came to women's Bible study still in my pyjamas with babies in tow, that would be totally OK. I could have cried with joy hearing that. To be present with other believers is absolutely vital for raising children. One small encouragement from a fellow believer or one little snippet of truth from God's word may be the very thing that gets you through the next week, and potentially even enables you to thrive in it.
These days, my kitchen bench is hotly contested, as teenagers regularly compete over the territory. There's not nearly as much empty space in my brain as there was in the early years of motherhood, and for that I'm grateful. Yet I can see that the lessons learned are only preparation for the next things that come along. And sometimes it's the old lessons that need to be learned all over again. What a gentle and patient God we have.
It's good to know that there will be none of those kinds of kitchen benches in heaven—just the room that he has prepared for us and a great big feast!
Ali Maegraith and her husband Rich have four boys (and one more in heaven). They are currently church planting with European Christian Mission in Berlin, Germany. Ali is a doula (qualified birth attendant) and songwriter.
Shadows of the Cross
In 'Shadows of the Cross', Michael Raiter encourages readers to reflect on the death of the Lord Jesus by exploring how the Old Testament foretold the coming of the death of the Messiah in pictures, poems and prophecies.
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