A friend of mine was recently working on an Intensive Care Ward in a hospital. She told me she was really struck by the human survival instinct: bodies everywhere, usually unable to breathe by themselves, often unable to communicate, often with very little hope of a decent quality of life. But still they fight. And their families fight for them. She made the powerful observation that actually our spiritual lives are more precious than our physical lives and yet we often don’t have that same level of spiritual survival instinct. Do we fight for our spiritual lives with as much passion and determination as those poor Intensive Care patients?
When I was pregnant with our first child, we went to visit some very experienced and wonderful parents to attempt to find out what we were letting ourselves in for. We talked a bit with them about trying to fit in a ‘quiet time’ (daily devotional/bible reading time) once you’re a mum. They said they’d heard a pastor once say that the only people in the church who have an excuse not to do a daily quiet time are mums with young children. Now I know what the pastor means, because it seems to be uniquely hard to fit it in once you have a baby, especially in the early weeks. But at the time I thought it seemed a bit unfair on mums. Surely they need God’s word in their lives every day, just like everyone else in the church. So giving them an excuse not to read their Bible seemed almost to be cheating them out of the chance to be spiritually nourished each day. And usually when I look back on things my pre-motherhood self said about motherhood, I point and laugh and say ‘Ha! Idiot!’ but in this case I think I had a point! But as I’ve got deeper and deeper into sleep-deprived motherhood, I’ve often lost sight of that and fallen back on the excuse: ‘Um… I’ve got a baby.’
So how important is it that we feed on God’s word? Let’s see what God’s word says about it:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me [Moses] to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as longs as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life… These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts… Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:1-2; 6; 8-9.
Here God’s people, freshly free from slavery in Egypt, are being told to remember God’s word. And they won’t easily remember! I think when he says, ‘stick it to your forehead; wallpaper your house with it,’ he is implying that you can’t rely on remembering the last sermon you heard (which was probably three weeks ago).
And Jesus himself quoted this same speech from Moses when he was tempted by Satan in the desert: ‘It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ (Matt 4:4) To Jesus, God’s word was more important than food. Do you believe this too?
I need to remember than amidst the battle against the washing up and the battle against the dirty laundry and the battle against the clock in the morning, there is a much greater battle taking place. Whether I like it or not, every day I’m in a spiritual battle: ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Peter 5:8.
This is easy to see when you think about it. Things that seem innocent or just coincidental ‘just so happen’ to get in the way of time you could be spending with the Lord in prayer or reading the Bible or hearing the gospel preached. Your happy baby starts to scream as soon as the sermon starts. Or the gas man comes when you’re sitting down to read your Bible. Coincidence? I think not. Sometimes these things that get in the way will actually stop you from being fed on God’s word, but let’s keep fighting against that. We must fight for our lives. I hope that your husband or church family will help you to do this too.
Sometimes you have to put yourself first in order to best look after your family. (I don’t mean you need a spa day once a month, sorry!) When I was training to be a teacher I was told, ‘Your most valuable resource is you,’ meaning you need to look after yourself first: you can’t teach very well if you’re in bed with the flu because you’re run down. You can apply the same principle to motherhood. If you’re breastfeeding (and if you’re not!), you need to eat and drink. Even if that means you let the baby cry for five minutes longer while you make some toast and find a clean pint glass, then do it. It goes against your instincts, but it’s the right way around. You’re no good to your children if you can’t function. Sometimes putting them first means, practically, putting yourself first.
If this is true with physical care and nutrition, how much more so with spiritual vitality. You can’t pastor your kids if you’re running on empty yourself. They need to see that you really believe that you need and love the Lord Jesus before they can believe that they need him too. By God’s grace he saves kids despite our flaws, so please don’t feel condemned, but I am trying to encourage you (and myself) that by carving out time to spend with God, we are actually doing a wonderful thing for our kids. Even if it means parking them in front of the TV for fifteen minutes so you can read your Bible. Oh yes! Remember that Jesus always took time out to spend with the Father, despite all the people who were desperately dependent on him: ‘… crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:15-16)
You might be thinking, ‘Yes I know all this, but how do I do it?’ This varies depending on who you are and what your situation is. It might be that you could listen to talks at home, or that you and a friend can check up on each other, or you could get up earlier (no, really!) to start the day with the Bible. One mother-of-many told me once that she has three time slots in the day in which to do her Quiet Time, and if she misses the first one she’ll do it the second, etc. Giving yourself three chances a day seems realistic to me. I could list a dozen ideas, but I think the main thing is this: believe it matters. Believe what God says about his Word – that we need to feed on it every day. We need to remember it! And pray for God’s help – by his Spirit he can give us more faith that His word is what we need, more than coffee and a crumpet. Recruit babysitters, or early-morning-texters, or crèche helpers – whatever it takes. Fight for your life.