A dear friend of mine describes the early years with babies and small children as “the parched desert of early parenting”. It’s a rich, beautiful time, to be sure, but those are also years where reading The Jesus Storybook Bible may be as close as a parent gets to a devotional.
When getting up before the kids is impossible and bedtime signals the expiry of self-discipline, many of us find ourselves clinging to illustrations and words about a “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love”. They’re all we have that just about convince us of the prayers we say over the tiny people we’re tucking in. This isn’t a post about improving your quiet time routine.
The idea of finding ourselves in the wilderness (and the wilderness has many ways of finding us - the baby haze is just one of them) denotes a stripping away of the familiar and safe. We may feel disoriented, anxious and alone. We may grieve a time when we didn’t feel this way. And we may discover that God is still here.
God is here when the things we thought we needed in order to assure God’s presence are stripped away. Laid bare, we may discover that we no longer have the time and energy to put up with religious nonsense.
That can propel us to make decisions that are a bit radical. Maybe we decide that we’re no longer happy to remain silent in the face of injustice when it calls itself love. We might accept that we don’t “do” small talk anymore when what we really want is to communally connect with a God willing to touch every part of us and to put us in touch with every part of ourselves.
When I became a mother, I spent a long time beating myself up for not reading the Bible more, praying more, going to small group more and generally serving the church more. The truth was, I was tired and my baby needed me so much, and I needed to melt into that for a while. I thought the doubts that were starting to surface were because I wasn’t doing the things I “should” rather than because a major life change was gifting me the space to question. I regarded doubt with alarm. She was an unwelcome visitor, best banished with repentance.
Gradually, I began to realise that I was afraid of asking too many questions of The Church because of the way I imagined God. The God I saw didn’t have time for my uncertainty. He was impatient, authoritarian and, above all, emotionally distant. I knew what we read and sang about Him but I couldn’t shake this image. However many times I heard that He loved me, it couldn’t touch me.
Then, in the parched desert of early parenting, something in me cracked and allowed love to rush in. Surely God was a mother nursing me at Her breast, allowing me to latch on in ways lay Her vulnerable, that brought me close enough that we could feel each other’s hearts, skin to skin. If I loved my children by listening to them, surely She did the same. Feeling nurtured by God, and therefore newly safe with God, made me realise that the questions were there because I needed to have better conversations about God.
So many of us find this in the desert, whatever takes us out there. We reach a point where we’re no longer satisfied with exhortations to forgive that go ahead of acknowledging trauma. We lose patience with talk of God’s healing in communities that aren’t equipped or interested in spending time with suffering. The idea of prayer feels shaky without the tools for discovering where the noise is and for taking apart our addictive reliance on people, roles and possessions.
In short, we yearn for conversations about God that go deeper and wider - to together touch something real. And that’s because God is so willing. The Divine heart is pressed against our battered little hearts, explaining gently but firmly that if that’s what we want, we’ll only get there if our conversations include everyone.
This blog was written by Adele Jarrett-Kerr. Adele and her family attend All Saints, she is a writer, home educator, breastfeeding counsellor, feminist, and Christian. Her frequently updated blog is a great source of support to families thinking about home-schooling, and also a place where ideas are shared for simply encouraging family well-being. You may also like to take a look at soulfarm.co.uk which is Adele and Lawrence's community supported farm that helps growers and the community work in partnership to develop sustainable local agriculture.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.