My 8-year-old daughter recently started horseback riding lessons. One afternoon I walked behind on her trail ride. Earlier that morning, I’d lost my patience with the kids while getting ready for school, and the guilt lingered. I worried about how much time I spend on my phone rather than looking my kids in the eyes. But as I walked, I took in the setting sun, my daughter learning something new and the sound of grass beneath our feet, and I could almost hear God whisper: This is your life. This is beauty. Open your eyes and see the beauty of motherhood before you.
These moments of grace are present underneath every diaper changed, meal cooked and tantrum. But sometimes it can be hard to see them.
The days of parenting small children are long. As parents we’re pulled in myriad directions with work, school, extracurricular activities, family and church commitments, and volunteer opportunities. We get sick. A relationship fractures. Our kids are bullied. We can’t sleep. That symptom won’t go away. Our child won’t talk to us.
There are moments of grace present underneath every diaper changed, meal cooked and tantrum. But sometimes it can be hard to see them.
Parenting is hard work and full of doubts, but there’s also joy and wonder laced throughout our days. We hear our babies’ first words and watch them take their first steps. Small hands wrap around our necks in an embrace. A neighbor drops off a meal. The church lifts you in prayer. A friend texts, “You’re doing great.” A game of Uno brings delight for the family. We share books on the couch. Hope and heartache mingle throughout our days, but something else persists: God’s grace.
If you’re in the thick of raising young children and feeling the challenges of the days, here are a few spiritual practices to help you remember God is with you.
- Return to your breath. Parenting is exhausting and very physical. In the early years our bodies do so much (carrying our children, nursing them, feeding them, playing with them, up and down with the car seats, long nights awake with a sick or fussy baby). During the long nights, take a breath. When tempers flare, take a breath. When worry takes over your mind, take a breath. Sometimes the holiest prayer we can offer is a deep breath or sigh.
- Return to Scripture. The days are filled with words from others: our children’s needs, cries and tantrums; phone calls for work, school and volunteering. When other voices become too loud, turning to Scripture can help us center ourselves in God’s love and grace. When you want to remember the beauty of creation, remember these words: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). When you need to trust that your body is good, repeat, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well” (Psalm 139:14). When you need to turn to God for comfort, recite, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).
- Return to taking one step at a time. When the world feels out of our control, or we’re waiting for that call from the doctor’s office, or we’re afraid to send our children to school, taking one step at a time roots us in the here and now. Walking allows us to be present to our neighbors and the community where we live. We can walk outside our front door, one foot in front of the other, and see the world before us with wonder. Coming back to one step invites us to feel the ground beneath us and know we are held by our Creator.
- Return to the present moment. There’s always something to do, somewhere to be or someone to call. Yet our children demand our presence in the here and now. They invite us to see the beauty that’s before us. When we walk as a family, my children teach me to delight in new flowers blooming or in various birdsong. On the floor, playing a game or coloring, they direct me to the gifts of play and creativity. Take time today to be fully present, use all your senses to experience the moments before you, and give thanks to God.
- Return to community. We’re not meant to parent alone. The truth is, we need one another. If you’re feeling alone in your parenting, remember that you are surrounded by a community of other parents also doing the best they can. Remember the congregation where baptismal promises were spoken. Reach out with a text sharing your frustrations or write a note to another parent encouraging them. Make a meal to share with a family welcoming a child into their home. On those days you can’t pray or are unsure of how to take the next step, go to church and let others pray and sing for you.
The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years (Church Publishing, 2023) by Kimberly Knowle-Zeller and Erin Strybis is available now.