Today’s guest post is by author and Awana employee Catherine McNiel. As a mom, she knows the joys and sorrows that come with parenting. Her new book, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, is a gift to mothers and just hit shelves this week. If your church desires to serve families, step up to the challenge by investing in the moms God sends your way.
Finding and Feeding Thirsty Mothers at your Church
By Catherine McNiel
Sunday morning, 10:18am.
I weave my way through the crowded sanctuary, crying baby in the sling. I’m earnestly trying to get out of the church service and into the “cry” room before the fussing becomes screaming. His little eyes are closed, but his crumpled face is beet red. With cheeks rubbing frantically against my chest, he’s winding up for a major demonstration. I walk faster.
When you have small children, going anywhere can seem like more trouble than it’s worth. Church is no exception: the same childcare tasks in a less conducive environment. We are visitors at this church today. I long to be present, focused, and engaged but I’ve only lasted three minutes. Finding the room marked “Nursing Mothers Only” I push the door open.
My senses and emotions flood before my mind has a chance to take it in. The setting offers itself immediately as sanctuary. The room is dimly lit, perfect for soothing a child—or a mama’s soul. The furniture is nice, comfortable. All my needs are anticipated: nursing pillows and tissue, a water pitcher and glasses. A silver tray is laid out for Communion, awaiting my participation. Next to it is a plaque that reads, “Mother, what you have given in love has become part of me. I thank God always for you.”
Immediately tears are rolling down my face. I hadn’t known I felt invisible until I felt seen. I hadn’t realized how thankless the ceaseless sacrifices of motherhood felt until someone gently pointed me to their honor and value.
In so many ways, and for so many reasons, mothers can feel unseen or marginalized at church. Joining the church family for an entire worship service or community work day—not to mention regular volunteering—just may not be possible. Evening events are hard to manage when school-night bedtimes come early and babysitting is costly. In seasons when our time and energy are not our own, there can simply be nothing left to give. Moms may deeply thirst for spiritual refreshment and nourishment; may long to invest our own gifts into the community in return—but struggle to find a feasible path given our real responsibilities and limitations.
Yet, considering the rich spiritual value found in the parenting journey, this is a loss not only for parents but also for the church. In caring for our children we plumb unfathomable depths of sacrificial love. We see ourselves in their tantrums and misplaced desires—and find truth. We see God’s own (perfect) patience and discipline towards us as we redirect and love our children (imperfectly) just the same—and grow in wisdom. Mothers in particular journey through profound physical lessons of creation, surrender, the powerful truths of incarnation, and the sacrifice required to give new life. All this work of God occurs within our bodies, within our daily physical tasks. By His grace the Creator gives mothers a view of His truth which the church greatly needs.
Leaders, do you see the moms at your church, or in your ministry? Do you see both their seasons of isolation and the deep value their experience and wisdom hold for the church?
By inviting women’s voices to the table, no matter their season of life, churches afford themselves an opportunity to see the truth of God, His Creation, and His redemptive work in the world from a unique and deeply valuable perspective. Look for ways to engage the mothers in your ministry. Listen to their stories of this miracle season, and check in to see how they are faring. Watch for opportunities to meet them here, to encourage them, and to learn from them. Recognize that their mothering is inherently valuable, but that they are gifted in other ways as well—they may be trained theologians, gourmet chefs, powerful leaders, or talented artists. Welcome Mamas into the church body in a way that acknowledges the many ways God has crafted them, and the unique challenges and fruit of this season.
The morning I ran out of the church sanctuary with a loud, hungry infant, my heart sank. My experiences had taught me that the services required by motherhood meant my spirit must go without—especially at church. Instead, I was offered a respite, a spiritual feast perfectly suited to my season and needs.
My prayer is that weary parents everywhere find their burdens lifted at the feet of Jesus…and at the doorway of their churches.
This post contains content from Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood As a Spiritual Discipline by Catherine McNiel. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.