Giving Space To Desire
I recently had my second baby and have found myself suddenly in the ‘full time mom of young children’ club. With my first, I was still working and my husband did more of the care. But once Number 2 arrived, I was with the kids all day, a more typical arrangement but one that was new to me. I encountered the reality that certain aspects of my life were on hold, if only for a little while. My work life was mostly on hold. My evening social life (what is that again?) was on hold.
As I was beginning to emerge from the sleep-deprived fog of the first weeks with a newborn and settle into more of a rhythm, I had a moment of clarity where I realized I was feeling like my relationship with God was on hold. I knew that wasn’t the case, really, nor are there any circumstances that can prevent us from relationship with God as He is with us in all things. But I was obviously in a new season of life and my ways of living out my relationship with God weren’t going to work in the same way. I had ‘no time’ and when I did have a spare moment, I was too fried to do much except collapse in front of the TV while holding a sleeping baby.
As I often do when I encounter a situation like this, I looked for a book. I wasn’t interested in a Mom devotional, or any sort of Chicken Soup for my soul. Those have their place but I wanted a book about how spiritual formation works in the context of the unique season of early motherhood. How does the process of being shaped by the Holy Spirit work now? What does it mean for me in my current circumstances that God is with me, empowering me? How do I access that grace? And how do I experience God’s presence in the middle of it all?
When my short search didn’t show what I was looking for (I’m sure there are books out there…I didn’t look hard), I started to think through how I would answer those questions if someone asked me for advice. And I realized I don’t need a book so much as I need to explore and figure out how this works for me right now.
I remember hearing the story of someone who had been in church ministry for a while who had hit a wall. She went to see a spiritual director who recommended that she stop doing things the way she had been…stop praying, stop reading the Bible, etc, in the way she had been. To take a break. As a good evangelical, this sounds like terrible advice: stop reading your Bible? You must be joking! But the point wasn’t to stop completely, only to stop doing things in ways that were no longer life-giving and make room for something new.
I was impacted when I first heard it … it seemed almost scandalous but also very freeing. It is wonderful to be disciplined about the things we do in order to connect with God, in order to grow in our relationship. But what happens if that discipline becomes mixed up with a sense of obligation and even guilt when we don’t do them a certain way? What happens when we do them out of duty and rather than desire to connect with God? What happens when life changes and you don’t have the space to do things in the same way anymore? Or when they stop producing good fruit in our lives? Do we feel the freedom to try a different way?
I have very little flexible time and, when I do, I am a little overwhelmed at the number of things I could be doing. Laundry is never-ending. So are dishes and toys to be put away. It would probably be good to have some quality time with that husband guy. Also, I’m kind of tired, so sleep and/or mindless activities brought to you by Netflix are pretty appealing. And in the mix of all of this, I should probably spend some time with God. I often end up selecting Netflix followed closely by bed. And another day where I haven’t spent any meaningful time with God has gone by. And then comes the guilt …
… ‘I should have had a quiet time instead of watching Netflix’ …
And STOP. Ain’t nobody got time for that. When spending time with God has become one more thing on a to-do list, it’s time to find a new way forward…
A couple months ago, I was listening to a podcast in the shower (it works!) on connection with God or something like that. I don’t actually remember the specifics, but there was something that stirred in me. There it was … underneath the tiredness, the demands of laundry and cooking and cleaning, the demands of potty training, and trying to stay patient with a toddler … a longing for God. To hear his voice. To be near him. Augustine said that God is our homeland … I had (and still have) a longing to be at home in God. What a relief to discover that desire was still there!
This has changed the whole dynamic of spending time with God for me. Rather than feeling vaguely guilty about what I’m not doing, I try to create a little space to let that desire for God to breathe. And when I do the things that help me get in touch with that longing for God rather than worrying about doing the ‘right’ things, or doing things a certain way, it all just seems to flow more easily.
How do I give space for longing? Sometimes it happens on its own while I’m listening to someone speak or reading a book. Listening to a podcast when I’m in the shower has been a helpful practice for me lately. (Bluetooth speakers are a helpful little invention.)
Sometimes I need to create space more intentionally. I’ve found it helpful to come back to Mark 10.51, where Jesus asks a blind man ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I Imagine Jesus asking me that question. I sit with it for a few minutes. I can let it simmer in the background while I go about my day. I’ve often been surprised by what I discover I most want, deep down, when I let this question work on my heart.
Often, when I take the pressure off and give myself a little space, I find that longing for connection with God is there. But what if I don’t seem to desire God right now? Sleep deprivation has a way of drowning out desire for anything except sleep and chocolate. It’s ok … I can be real about where I’m at and give it to God. Even my tiredness can be a place of connecting with God.
And you know what? When I give space for the desire for God to surface, it turns out I do a lot of the ‘right’ things. And I actually want to do them. It becomes more about the relationship than checking something off my to-do list. I might chew on some scripture. I might just have a time of silent prayer (glorious silence!). What I do isn’t so important as long as it’s nurturing the connection that I long for. It was never about ‘doing the right tasks’; it was always about deepening connection with God.
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” -Psalm 51:16-17
By Rebekah Hodder
Rebekah Hodder recently moved back to Madison, WI after spending the past 8 years living in the UK. She and her husband, Andrew, have been involved in mission work for the past 15 years and are currently working with Youth With A Mission in Madison, an international missions organization. Rebekah has recently taken on the leadership of ‘community life’ at Youth With A Mission-Madison, helping to shape the corporate rhythms of this missional community. They have two boys, Sam and Ben.