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.
Sometimes, I forget that we’re expecting. I suspect this is because my belly isn’t growing. I feel no kicks from within. I’ve never had a moment of morning sickness. Yet, we wait with great anticipation for the day that (Lord willing) my phone rings with the news.
A birth mom has selected you.
These words, they pierce my soul even as I type this post. When I ponder the immense, brave choice that birth moms make . . . the choice to place their very own child in the arms of another woman . . . to walk the earth knowing that this woman is called Mommy, instead of her . . . my heart is rent. The complexity of this endeavor we call adoption is never lost on me.
I think this is partly why I was so hesitant to let a few sweet friends from church throw us a baby shower. No birth mother has selected us. (If she had, the typical course would mean we have 6-8 weeks to prepare for the baby’s arrival.) The word imposter floated through my mind on a regular basis. How could I sit in a chair, smiling sweetly, and open gift after gift, when I am not expecting?
Except that I am expecting. It just looks different, and there isn’t a known due date on this sort of expecting. I can promise you that the joyful idea of our future child is very much alive and growing in my heart. I am definitely expecting to someday hold a baby in my arms. I completely believe that the Lord is working our adoption such that the growth in my heart, and our child’s growth in his/her birth mom’s tummy, will coincide in an overwhelming tidal wave of love (and grief, but that’s for another post).
So, it is in this reluctant place–uncomfortable with the idea of a baby shower–I sat until we attended a day-long training required by our adoption agency. In our ideal scenario, we would have plenty of time to prepare, and we would need not be in a rush. But then . . . they invited two adoptive families to join our gathering and to tell their adoption stories. We were surprised to learn that emergency placements are not uncommon. In both cases, the adoptive parents were contacted while the birth mom was in labor. They were told they could be matched one day and placed the next.
Obviously, this changed our perspective–and my willingness to entertain the thought of a shower! Suddenly, being at least a little prepared sounded pretty good. Let me tell you, I am so glad that I said yes when asked if we would like one, and it has not one bit to do with receiving gifts.
It confirmed for me that we have a supportive community around us, one that values life and agrees, in one way or another, that we are expecting. In a sense, they are expecting with us! It touched my heart to read the cards and to know how many people are praying not just for us, but for the newborn the Lord sees fit to place in our home. We are now surrounded by all things baby, and we are one giant leap closer to being ready to care for a little one.
I feel like our shower was a warm, preemptive hug for our future babe. Our friends and family, like us, are already falling in love with the idea of this child. We are ever-grateful for such a show of generosity and kindness.
Soli Deo gloria,
The first day of school. Not too long ago, it felt really far away. When we took the last sip of last year’s cup, we had fourteen beautiful weeks to fill with fun and exciting things. At the start, feasting on the bountiful buffet we call “Summer” tasted some kind of amazing. But, you know what?
Fourteen weeks is too much summer for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy sleeping in and having the freedom to see the new Jason Bourne movie with my husband at a moment’s notice. I appreciate the fact that I can have spontaneous coffee dates with friends. I definitely bask in the abundant time to read! What I don’t enjoy is my besetting sin that our friend “Summer” likes to point out: I am lazy.
I’ve noticed that this laziness is totally in my head. Rather, it’s totally in my heart. My heart decided to carve itself a little idol out of ease and comfort. Do you know how idols react when threatened with extinction? In my case, this idol knows it will have trouble surviving once the school year starts and every minute of my day is planned. And it is raging against the machine, I tell you.
My flesh is screaming at me to avoid the work I need to do and to enjoy a little more entertainment, instead. It cries, “It’s summer! You have time to watch Netflix! Another episode of Gilmore Girls won’t hurt . . .” Generally, this is true. I do have time to watch Netflix. And one more episode probably won’t hurt. But when one turns into a handful (and an entire afternoon), it’s time to evaluate some things.
In my mind, I know factually that the way to slay an idol is with the Word of God. So I turned there to see what it says about slothfulness. (Irony: For their final composition of last year, I had my students write a chreia/maxim essay on Proverbs 6:6. Perhaps I should have read them more closely.) Let’s start with that verse in context.
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8 she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
I probably don’t even need to comment on this, because the application is not veiled, even a little bit. This tiny ant doesn’t need a master to direct her. She does what she needs to do, when she needs to do it. There is reward in her diligence. I feel a little pinch in my conscience.
Next: Speaking of an “excellent wife,” King Lemuel says that
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Proverbs 31:27)
I think this one hurts the most, in terms of conviction. My laziness has definitely caused the ways of my household to be neglected because, not surprisingly, I have been eating that bread of idleness. It tastes delicious, doesn’t it, that bread? At least at first. You feel so rested, until you feel exhausted from doing nothing. (That’s a weird conundrum to me. It’s like laziness has an actual, physical weight to it.) You feel so entertained, until you’re bored because your brain has been stagnant for hours on end. If you turn over that bread that looks baked to golden perfection, you’ll find mold growing on the other side. (Yuck.) Let’s agree not to snack on that loaf.
I could carry on with additional passages to prove my point, but I’m already sufficiently convicted and feeling like I need some hope. This idol of ease and comfort is hard to slay. I know, because, so far, I’ve only been able to slay it temporarily. Then, a break from school comes, and it rears its ugly little head again. (Hint: That means it wasn’t actually slain, but lacked prominence.) My favorite apostle, Paul, writes to the Corinthians,
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
It is in Christ that I can conquer this sin of slothfulness. Will there be a battle? Of course. Paul understood this well.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)
Again, it is Christ that delivers our flesh from sinning. Thanks be to God, indeed! Check out this measure of grace:
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:13-14)
I am not alone in this battle in two ways. One, I’m not the only person in the world battling laziness. It is common. Two, we can call on the Spirit, the Helper sent by Jesus, to escape temptation and flee idolatry. In Christ, we are enabled to resist sin. Amazing! Will we stumble sometimes? (I may as well ask, “Are we human?”)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
We can conquer sin, and we need not carry around a suitcase full of guilt on the occasion we stumble. A few years ago, I heard R.C. Sproul talk about a refusal to believe that God has forgiven you for a particular sin. I was extremely convicted by this quote:
If the Lord says that we have been forgiven in Jesus our Savior, we have no right to question Him. In fact, it is a sin to doubt God’s promises, including His promise to forgive.
I return to this entire devotional from time to time, especially if I am wrestling a particularly strong sin. Since the forgiveness of God isn’t necessarily a tangible thing, it can be challenging to move forward in the belief that I am, in fact, forgiven. But I am, definitively, and I need to move beyond my pity party and get on with the business of bringing deserved glory to the Lord!
(To be clear: I’m not advocating “grace abuse” here. We certainly can’t live frivolously in all areas of life and presume upon God’s grace. The Spirit empowers us to obey the law that is written on our hearts . . . not ignore it, all the while letting our hearts be hardened.)
To close, I’d like to leave you with this quote by John Piper. I think it is a good counter to what laziness really is: a belief that my satisfaction in the here and now is greater than what we’ll have in eternity with the Lord, and the willingness to ignore godly pursuits to achieve it.
Fight for us, O God, that we not drift numb and blind and foolish into vain and empty excitements. Life is too short, too precious, too painful to waste on worldly bubbles that burst. Heaven is too great, hell is too horrible, eternity is too long that we should putter around on the porch of eternity.
Soli Deo gloria,
P.S. — I’m instituting a “no Gilmore Girls” policy until the new episodes come out in November . . .step one in my Lazy Bum Recovery Program. 🙂