Since I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I’ve been extra wary of even small threads of mysticism that find their way into the fabric of a book dedicated to teaching others how to live the Christian life. One might suspect, then, that I wouldn’t readily choose to review a book endorsed by her . . . but I did. By the end of this review, I think you’ll understand why I’m glad I read Long Days of Small Things by Catherine McNiel.
Perhaps my main reason for selecting this book to review is the subtitle, “Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.” For better or for worse, as I stand on the precipice (hopefully) of my own foray into parenting, I wanted to know what she meant by this. The spiritual disciplines of Scripture reading and meditation, prayer, worship, service, fasting . . . these are familiar to me. I wondered how the author would nestle motherhood into this list of soul-sanctifiers. I found my answer on p. 4: “Pursuing a deep spiritual life is simply not possible in this season [of motherhood], at least not in the ways we were taught. It seems the spiritual quest is one place where mothers, at least, cannot go.”
Turns out, she didn’t intend for motherhood to fit in that list of traditional disciplines of the Christian life. ” . . . my responsibilities [as a mother] rarely allow me to take a shower, much less sharpen spiritual practice. Silence and solitude? Never, ever, day or night. Prayer? Harder than you’d think after years of sleep deprivation” (p. 4). McNiel makes a few references to things she heard from the pulpit, things like to “have a genuine commitment to knowing God, we must spend at least an hour each day in silence and solitude” (p. 4). Were these pages typed in response to legalism, or to a standard she felt she couldn’t meet? In the first chapter alone, I took away three things:
- The author seems to view herself as a victim.
- She is willingly replacing the traditional disciplines with something else (to be determined at that point in my reading).
- I didn’t suspect that I would finish this book.
I made it to p. 25 before giving up the ship. Here is why.
- On p. 11, the author recommends emptying the mind as a good way to practice redemption. First of all, I don’t even have a category for how these two things are connected. Second of all, Scripture never tells us to empty our minds; it tells us to fill it with the Word and meditations on it.
- Many times in the first chapter, the author suggests that you do physical things to connect with God. An example: Be aware of your steps, the way your feet connect with the ground, the movement of your muscles in each step. Scripture says that God speaks to us, connects with us, through His Word, not the muscles contracting in our legs.
- This quote: “If, in becoming human, God somehow blessed the very act of being human, isn’t it possible that in all these daily acts of living he left a sacred residue as well?” (p. 25). What?
I’ll be honest; at this point, I began skimming. Quickly, and mostly the “application” sections. The mystical qualities of each chapter’s introductory text made little sense to me, and seemed tenuous and threadbare. I chose to skip those paragraphs.
I think, ultimately, the author had small, but valuable, jewels of truth buried in the pages of this book. But you have to dig, and the two tools you need to unearth them are discernment and a solid grasp on what God requires of those who follow Him.
- We should slow down and live intentionally. I agree, but I think McNiel and I believe that intentional living serves different purposes. Best I can tell, the author prescribes intentional living for the purpose of being present in every moment, and that being the end, in and of itself. I would take that a step further; we must be present in the moment, such that we can discern how best to glorify God in any given situation. On p. 32, she urges, “Keep your mind on the task.” But the task is empty, not life-giving. In these moments of folding laundry and sweeping floors, can the mind not settle on the Lord in prayer? turn over verses of Scripture that have been buried in one’s heart?
- We should use challenging circumstances as opportunities to grow. Again, I agree. But it should be remembered that the author asserts substituting things like driving, cooking, working, and sleeping for the traditional spiritual disciplines, as motherhood (according to her) does not afford one the time to pursue them. I am uncomfortable with this. If circumstances do not cause us to lean harder on the Lord and call out to Him in prayer, then are we not walking in our own strength?
- We should remember our position as image-bearers of the Creator God. Yes and amen. But each time I encountered this concept in the book, it felt like a sweater that doesn’t fit correctly. I could be misunderstanding the words on the page, but it seems that the author’s reason to do this is to look at oneself for the miracle that one is. Yes, each human being is a miraculous creation of God! But creation should point to the Creator, right? And in seeing the Creator, one should desire to know if she, as an image-bearer, is reflecting His character properly to the world (turning to Scripture, of course, to know the depth and breadth of His character, such as a human on the earth can do).
I could go on, but I think the point is made. I am glad I read this book, because now I know not to recommend it to other women. The small bits of truth are not plentiful or readily available enough for consumption.
Soli Deo gloria,
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House.