Society places many expectations on us as mothers to make time for ourselves, for our own interests, pursuits, and leisure. Popular psychology calls it, “Me Time,” and there are many slick prophets of doom out there warning of Mommy burnout if we don’t make sure we take time out for ourselves. Most Christian women realize that the Lord can get them through if a sick child gets in the way of Mom’s making it out to coffee with friends. But there is a milder form that some Christians proclaim, and that has been spiritualized in such a way as to make me, at least, feel guilty. We are told that our priorities go something like this: God first, our husbands second, our children third, and on down the line. Since God and our husbands both come before our children, the logic goes, it’s crucial to find times when our children cannot be allowed to interrupt our times of personal refreshing with God or marital refreshing with our husbands. Otherwise, we are admonished, we will fall apart as women of God, our marriages will disintegrate, and we will not be able to raise our children well. The problem is that children do not always conform to our schedules. We can’t schedule squabbles or dirty diapers, the agony of teething, a cut lip, or a bad dream. Even as we strive to make time for the seemingly most important priorities of the Lord and our husbands, our children’s needs can and will crop up and interrupt us just when we think we need the time the most. And then how should we respond? It’s easy to feel like you’re having to “choose” between two priorities. Since few of us would really leave our children standing there bleeding, priority number three tends to win out, often leading to frustration and even worry over whether our “top priority” needs can safely be put on hold, or if we’re sabotaging our chances at a godly home if we don’t somehow find a way to put our children off until later.
A major battleground for me on this issue was the matter of “quiet times,” which at times have seemed to be the foundation of modern Christianity, judging by the way some people talk. I’m sure you’ve all heard the guidelines: first thing in the morning (preferably at the crack of dawn), in absolute solitude, you commit your day to the Lord in prayer and intercede for your family, friends, loved ones, various missionaries, the nation, and the world. And then you’re supposed to spend a good chunk of time reading God’s Word, journaling various insights, doing word searches with your concordance, consulting commentaries here and there. And then, when you’re done, you are guaranteed a better, more smoothly running, and God-honoring day. It sounds really heavenly.
Right after my second child was born, though, as heavenly as it sounded, in reality it seemed completely impossible. I had to rush in the mornings just to get dressed before he needed to nurse, and then my oldest needed help with her clothes, and we both needed breakfast, and the laundry had to be started or it wouldn’t be done in time for me to finish folding it before it was time to make dinner. It was the middle of the morning before I could sit down for devotions, and then it wasn’t a private, personal encounter with the Lord, it was trying to manage a two-year-old and an infant while I prayed and read a couple of chapters out loud and tried to think of ways to apply them to my two-year-old’s life. And still, every Bible study book I read was hounding me on the importance of a personal quiet time first thing in the morning. So I felt guilty, guilty, guilty.
Finally, as my baby got older and our schedule started to change, I stared being able to get up early enough to have a few minutes between getting dressed and waking him up for breakfast. Ah, finally, I was going to have a quiet time! The first morning it was sweet indeed, and I did feel better as I began the day. The next morning, though, just as I began reading my Bible, who should come pitter patting down the hall but my precious, little daughter, crying because she had not been able to find me. Inside I was screaming. I was so frustrated. Why couldn’t God give me a little uninterrupted time with Himself? How could I possibly be a patient mommy all day if I didn’t have my quiet time?! I pulled my daughter up onto my lap, praying miserably, begging to know what God was doing. She asked me what I had been doing. I explained that I was having my devotions. She wanted to know what I was reading and asked me to read it out loud to her, and as I read, she asked me questions, and we got to talk about the passage.
It was then that I came to the heretical conclusion that I do not have to have a private, personal quiet time every day first thing in the morning. Nowhere is this directly commanded in Scripture, and if I had hung on tenaciously and excluded my daughter from “my time” with the Lord, I would have missed this opportunity to share the Lord with her.
Serving God as a mother is about putting myself aside. It’s about sublimating my own needs, even my needs for private time with my husband or the Lord on some pre-determined schedule I’ve put in place. I’m not saying that we should never have time alone with God or our husbands, only that we need to be willing to put our own needs on hold if the Lord has some other ministry in mind for us at that moment.
One of the principles I’ve taken much to heart is that we as parents should model our behavior on that of Christ. And Jesus never put His need for time alone with the Father ahead of His service to those to whom the Father had sent Him to minister. In Matthew 14 we read, starting at verse 13 (read 13 and 14). Jesus has just heard of the death of his cousin, the one who had baptized Him, the one who seemed to come the closest to understanding Who He was and what He had come to do. If anybody was deserving of alone time with God to pray and sort through His feelings, it was Jesus. But what actually happened? The multitudes found Him. Did He send them away because this was “His time”? No, it says that “he was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” Instead of the alone time he had planned, he wound up ministering. His disciples seemed to think a little ministry was ok, but hoped to get rid of the crowd when it got late, but Jesus went the extra mile and miraculously fed the multitudes before he finally got a chance to pray alone. As Matthew 20:28 says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.”
And God asks nothing less of us. Mark 8:34 says, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” We should not worry that we will shrivel up and die if we make ourselves available for whatever the Lord sends our way rather than holding on tenaciously to “our time.” Reading on to the next verse we get a precious promise, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”And as Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” And I think that Proverbs 19:17 also may apply “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” The Lord will meet our true needs. When we have pity on our children and sacrifice ourselves the Lord will pay us again. He will water us, make our souls fat, and enable us to find life itself.
Editor’s Note: After posting this, a friend of mine pointed out that some mothers with colicky babies can become so stressed that they are nearing their breaking point, and must get away from the situation to regroup. This is important. If you are afraid that you are going to hurt one of your children, it’s time for a breather. This is not “me time.” It’s “protecting your children time.” Definitely talk to your husband and get some help in this situation.