Running on spiritual fumes

Is your relationship with Jesus taking a hit because of the demands of parenting?

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I always wanted to be a mom. I was a sought-after babysitter as a teen, and as a young adult, I loved spending time with my nephews and friends’ children. Because I wanted to be a mom, and I loved kids, I just sort of figured I’d rock the whole mommy thing when I had a family of my own. I was wrong.

Around the time my third child began walking, I found myself so overwhelmed and weary that I started to wonder if I was cut out to be a mom at all. With three children 5 and under in the house, the constant demands of caring for young children were getting me down.

Up until that point in my life, I had felt like a competent person. I graduated from Bible college, worked as an editor at a large Christian organization, had friends and enjoyed various extracurricular pursuits. But becoming a mom, while one of the most wonderful things that had ever happened to me, was also the hardest.

Many days involved tantrums and tears…and then there were the children. I was a worn-out mama in need of encouragement and hope. That’s when I realized I was struggling spiritually. I had known and followed the Lord since childhood, but in the midst of the demands of parenthood my relationship with Christ was taking a hit. At a time when I needed Jesus in my life more than ever, I was running on spiritual fumes.

Filling up

Not long ago, I had the rare opportunity to travel on an airplane alone. As I listened to a flight attendant recite the scripted safety information, I heard the familiar instructions for oxygen masks: “Parents, help yourselves before assisting small children.” The wisdom in this instruction is obvious: My child isn’t in the position to help me. And if I pass out, I won’t be able to help either of us.

I think this is also true of my spiritual life. I need to spend time with Jesus in order to have the patience, love and strength I need to help my children. In fact, more was at stake than I even realized. In the midst of changing diapers, sweeping up goldfish crackers and folding endless loads of laundry, God had given me a greater purpose and calling than I saw.

That’s when I took a look at Psalm 127:3-4, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.” God has called my husband and me to raise our children to love and serve him. We get to launch our children out into the world to accomplish things we ourselves never could. That’s a big deal and a sacred task I’m convinced the enemy wants moms and dads to forget.

As I seek to raise my children to love and serve God, I need to put on my own oxygen mask before I can help my kids. Acts 17:28 says, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” Being connected to Jesus daily is the only way I can truly fulfill my calling as a Christian parent.

Finding connection

So how can moms and dads guard against isolation and spiritual depletion during the parenting years? A turning point for me was giving myself grace and just doing something each day to find spiritual connection, even if it was just keeping the worship music on repeat. Here are three other things that helped:

Connect to the true vine. Jesus said that he is the vine, and we are the branches. A healthy Christian abides in Christ and depends on him daily. We abide in Jesus by spending time in his Word and responding to him in prayer.

In the throes of raising young children, I have often felt like I’m in survival mode. Gone are the days of sitting down to study my Bible for an hour uninterrupted. At times, I have felt too overwhelmed to even pick up my Bible, but I still desperately need God’s Word in my life. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” I wouldn’t take a walk outside in the dark without a light, and I shouldn’t navigate this season of my life without the guidance of Scripture.

I had to find new ways to connect with God and get my daily dose of “abiding.” I listened to audio Scripture passages while I was doing housework. I posted encouraging Scriptures around the house to meditate on. I joined a women’s Bible study. I looked for a few moments here and there to utter a few words of prayer. As I found ways to abide in Christ daily, I noticed I was becoming a more patient and loving mom.

Remember his promises. Scripture is chalk full of promises of hope and help. God is with us. He is our helper. We are more than conquerors. Though I was familiar with these promises, in the daily grind of motherhood, I was losing sight of them. Did they even apply to harried, overworked mamas? When I was up most of the night with an infant, could Jesus really give me rest? When I lost my temper with misbehaving children yet again, was I truly more than a conqueror?

I needed to remind myself that God’s promises are firm and never change. My seasons may change, but his character and faithfulness never does. Though the landscape of my life looked radically different than it had before, I could still access God’s promises. And when I did, I found greater peace and joy in the daily grit of motherhood.

Seek support. When my first child was born, I thought I had to be the perfect mom and do it all on my own. More accurately, I thought I could do it all on my own. The truth was, I needed others. Other moms. Other believers. Other women who had been where I was. As an overwhelmed mama, it took extra effort to engage with fellow Christians through small groups and Bible studies. But as I did, I discovered that many people were experiencing the same challenges I was. I wasn’t alone. More than that, we could carry one another’s burdens and encourage each other.

I also needed to learn it was okay to ask for help. During his first two years of life, my oldest son had some significant health issues that landed us in the hospital on several occasions. Though that was a difficult and scary season, God used it to show me that I could depend on fellow believers. Women from our church stepped in, bringing meals, watching my other children and even helping me clean my house. Though it was humbling to be the one needing help, God showed me that it was a beautiful part of his plan for the church—many members of the body working together to support one another and glorify him.

Aiming arrows

Last year, our church proposed a new long-term vision to see our neighborhoods full of families centered on Christ and actively living out the gospel by the year 2030. While each of our ministries is working to support that goal, we realize parents must do the heavy lifting. Our children are arrows, and that makes us warriors. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we point our children to Jesus and show them what it means to love God and others.

Imagine all those arrows flying out into our communities and world, taking the love of Jesus to people who desperately need him. As we abide in Christ, God will enable and empower us to raise the next generation of people who love and serve him.

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is the co-author of "Grit and Grace: Devotions for Warrior Moms." Her husband, Kevin, is a pastor at Bridge Bible Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Bakersfield, California. They have four young children.

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