What are the spiritual practices that nourish you and help you stay connected with God? There are so many that, if you’re like me, you’ve probably practiced a variety of them over the years with some of them waxing and waning. Common practices include praying, meditating, studying the Bible individually or in community, journaling, reading, going to church, reciting scriptural passages or rote prayers, etc.
And they are just that—practices. They are meant to be consistently and steadily done to yield spiritual growth and transformation, in the same way consistent physical exercise yields bodily health and strength. The benefits would be meager or even zilch if they were only done sporadically.
Not only have I been an avid seeker and practitioner of daily spiritual practices, I’ve also, for much of my adult life, been in the habit of attending week-long retreats in monasteries or convents. These sojourns rarely sounded fun to my friends and family members, but I can think of nothing more restful and rejuvenating. To leave behind the business of my day-to-day responsibilities and revel in God’s sweet and loving presence is more indulgent to me than a tropical vacation in a five-star hotel.
When time is short
Not surprisingly, becoming a mother not only interfered with my ability to take several day-long retreats (let alone week-long ones) in solitude, it has also interfered my regular spiritual practices that were as routine as my morning cup of coffee—which, by the way, has also been interfered with.
Those who have parented young children are all too familiar with why this is the case. For those who aren’t as familiar, let me lay it out as simply as possible: Children are the biggest time-sucks God has ever created. They’re blessings, no doubt, but big time-suck blessings.
And we’re not even talking about what happened to parents’ already limited time after the pandemic started, when every single support system that enabled parents to juggle children, careers, and personal lives was stripped away: schools, grandparents, playgrounds, amusement parks, libraries, and most importantly, community. Never mind finding a couple minutes to pray by myself; I had to use that precious slot of time to shower!
During this most chaotic period of my life, I felt further away from God than I had ever felt before, and that compelled me to think of the most meaningful spiritual encounters I have had in previous years. I wanted to see if I could reconstruct them, somehow, in the midst of my spiritual wasteland.
After cataloguing these experiences on a notepad, I was disconcerted to notice that everything listed was when I was by myself, for an extended period of time—a challenging treasure for any parent of young children to find.
Spiritual practices for parents
Despondent, I accepted this new reality and carried on for a while. Then, one day, I made a surprising discovery. I was leading a small group at my church through an exercise akin to St. Ignatius’ daily Examen and invited the individuals to bring to mind moments of their lives when they sensed that the sacred was present. I participated as well, and all the memories that bubbled forth were ones with my children, doing an activity I found mind-numbingly dull at the time, like putting one block on top of another or saying “vroom!” as I rolled a Hot Wheel over the carpet. During the reflection time, though, I realized those were my new moments of connection with God.
God was still with me! God was still meeting me and nourishing me and telling me that God loved me—it was just taking a different form than the one I was used to, by myself in the mountains somewhere. This profound realization dispelled my belief that I was less spiritual than I was before I had children, when I had the liberty to spend hours with God in solitude.
This, I now see, is what is meant when theologians and ministers refer to the sacramentality of everyday life—that one no longer needs to retreat to find God (although, it is lovely when individuals can find the time to do that). God reveals God’s very presence through the most trivial and humdrum moments of our day: while peeling potatoes, responding to emails, and yes, even putting one block on top of another with a toddler. I suspect Jesus had this in mind when he said, “Let the children come to me.” For him, children were no less significant or holy than the venerable religious leaders of his day.
Over one year has passed since the pandemic officially started and society (as well as my family) seems to be returning somewhat to pre-pandemic normalcy. I’ve begun carving out a little time for my daily centering prayer practices in the morning once again, but I go easy on myself when I’m too tired or frantic. Occasionally, my son will rise a bit sooner than expected and interrupt me mid-prayer. Instead of getting frustrated, I envelop him into my lap and keep praying, ever more grateful for him in my life.
Dear reader, no matter where you are in your life, parenting young children and struggling to find the time to nourish your spiritual lives, unaffiliated with any religious or faith traditions but wanting to connect with God, or maintaining a robust spiritual life and wanting to learn more about other spiritual practices to add on, let me say this, as one who deeply believes in the power of regular spiritual practices but has gone through different seasons with more and less time to actually do those practices:
- God is with you no matter how much time or little time you’re able to carve out for God.
- If you can spare the time, however, I most recommend two practices. First, find some sort of spiritual community to meet with regularly. Our communities can support and nurture us when we don’t have the energy or motivation to feed our souls. Second, choose one practice to do by yourself regularly. You can start small, just be as consistent as you can. My favorites are centering prayer, the daily Examen, and the Lectio Divina Bible study. And, hey, there may be times when your little one interrupts. When that happens, you can swoop him into your arms and thank God for this other most buoyant spiritual practice in your life.
The Rev. Lydia Sohn is an United Methodist ordained elder within the California Pacific Conference. She left her full-time church appointment at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to blog, write a book, and be a stay-at-home mom for her two young kids. Follow along at www.revlydia.com.