Soul Care for Exhausted Young Mothers
We get a steady stream of questions from mothers of young kids, like this one from a listener named Beth. “Dear Pastor John, my husband and I are new parents to a two-month-old son. Caring for him has been joyful and exhausting. I can barely concentrate on anything I used to but need the Lord more than ever to sustain me. What counsel do you give to new mothers on continuing their walk with God?”
I am not a mother, never have been, but I lived with one for 47 years. I still live with one, and I watched her be a young mother with five children: four of them born into the family, one carried into the family at eight weeks. And I do try to read my Bible with an eye to what is helpful for moms and dads and everybody else. So, here are a few pieces of counsel from experience and from the word. And they may not be the most important, but they are off my prayerful front burner.
Never lose sight, Beth, never lose sight of the fact that your walk with God is as essential for the good of your child as is your milk or the formula that you may be giving him. Children do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). If you lose your communion with God, you will lose not only a source of strength for the sake of parenting, but you will lose the very thing you want most to impart to this child.
And you want him to know God more than you want him to live. You want him to taste and see that God will be sufficient to meet all of his needs, including his needs for his own parenting. And if you lose God while parenting, the very thing you want to give him most you have lost. So, that is how important it is for you to fight for whatever it takes to maintain a sweet, growing, satisfying walk with your God.
Don’t let this little boy become a little emperor. I see far too many parents who are dominated by their children: out of control on airplanes, out of control in restaurants, out of control in the mall. All the trouble that these parents have spared themselves at home by not disciplining comes back on their own heads in public.
“Fight for whatever it takes to maintain a sweet, growing, satisfying walk with your God.”
It will come back with a vengeance on their children’s heads later in life. Children are designed, intended by God to be submissive and to be obedient to their parents. They are not intended to dominate the house, dominate relationships, dominate when company comes over. And it is important for them to learn this early, because if they think they are the center of the world, it will be hard to break them of this destructive illusion later on.
Practically, that means that the child doesn’t so rule your schedule that you don’t have time for what you need to do for your own soul. He does not need your ever-present attention. You can show him lavish attention and provide him with all the affection and touch he needs without training him that you have to respond every time he has a peep in his crib.
God loves us lavishly, and as part of that love he makes sure we know we are not the center of the universe. That is what love does. Let your child become secure not in your ever-present hovering, but in the certainty that you always return in love.
Worship Without Ceasing
Turn all your practical mothering into worship. Make the food, change the diapers, push the stroller, “whatever you do, whether you eat or drink” — or play peek-a-boo with your baby — “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). And that means, I think, practically, as you are doing it, all these things, hundreds of them:
- Depend upon the sustaining, empowering, guiding grace of God.
- Give thanks for all the blessings of this child and your strength to care for it.
- Be amazed at the miracle that he is and what he is becoming, and turn your amazement into praise.
- When you become irritable, confess it: the worship of confession. Confess it and honor God with your confession and your reception of his promised forgiveness. And constantly pray, pray, pray, pray for whatever you need. That is how you make your days an act of worship. And then there may not be in your mind such a huge gulf between tending to your child and tending to your soul.
The Role of Church
Stay in church and be involved with other people. Beware of withdrawing into solitude with the child. You need other people. The Bible makes that plain, especially in 1 Corinthians 12. And that need doesn’t go away just because children come into the house. So, strap that baby on and be out and doing with other people — especially be in worship and be in fellowship around God’s word.
I can remember 44 years ago with our first child born in Germany. As soon as we brought that chubby little beached whale home and tried to learn how to be parents, as soon as we got him home, we went straight to our Friday night small group meeting which we did every Friday night while we are in Germany.
“God loves us lavishly, and as part of that love he makes sure we know we are not the center of the universe.”
It was our lifeline, because our church life wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be. But we had a small group. So, we would get there early in the evening. The baby would have already eaten or we would feed him there while everybody else was eating. Then, when it was time to study and pray, we would lay him down, tummy down, on a double bed, put a pillow on four sides of him, pat his bottom, walk out of the room, and leave him there for the next three hours.
And then, we would take the bus home — we had no car in Germany — and put him to bed at home at 11:00, and he never woke up between 7 o’clock in the morning usually or, if he was very young, yes, he would have to wake up and eat for a while. So, don’t let the baby slow you down. Do what you need to do for your own souls.
Share Diaper Changes
Negotiate with your husband to take turns in getting up in the middle of the night. He should know you need sleep as much as he does. God’s ideal for child-rearing is two parents. There is a reason for that. So, tell your husband that I said he should help you. Make room in your schedule not only for rest, but also for reading.
And that leads me to the last thing I want to say. Read Bible-saturated books. And the most Bible-saturated book is the Bible. But read others as well, maybe audiobooks while you are working. And the reason is this: The book of Proverbs begins, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). Your responsibility is to pour glorious, wonderful teaching about God and his ways and his world into the mind of this little child. So, don’t fail the child by failing to read and grow in what you need to teach him about God and about life.
So, I pray that the Lord will give you the strength and the wisdom that you need to take up this, perhaps, greatest-of-all tasks: raising this child in the nurture and discipline of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).