Admit it. You love your kids, you love your husband, but what you'd really love is a moment of peace and quiet, a little time for yourself. We moms are so busy making sure the needs of our families are met that we often neglect our own needs, especially our spiritual needs. Julie Baker, founder and executive producer of the Time Out for Women conferences and author of the Time Out series of books (Cook), understands our dilemma. For more than six years, she's been speaking with thousands of moms all over the country about their need to take a time out and get in touch with God. We talked with Julie to find out how we parents can give ourselves permission to make time for our own spiritual and emotional needs.
CPT: We've been taught that putting our family before ourselves is what godly women do. Is there anything wrong with that?
Julie: I like what John Maxwell, the pastor, author, and speaker, says about this topic. He says that we often need to say no to the good to say yes to the best. A lot of what fills up our days is just part of the job of being a mom. It's not like we're doing selfish things. We're doing something that feels like it needs to be done, like washing clothes or making lunch. But it's not necessarily the best thing.
To find the best thing, we need to ask ourselves, "Is this choice going to underscore my value system?" Something that's really helped me with that is to look at Christ's example. He often left all the busyness behind and went up on a mountain to pray. Are we doing the same thing? Putting the eternal first doesn't have to be overwhelming. It can be as simple as writing in a journal every morning or spending two or three minutes a day with the Lord.
Obviously, lack of time is the biggest reason we let our spiritual lives slip. How can we make time for God when the needs of our families are so demanding?
Sometimes we're so busy putting out fires and dealing with life's little emergencies that we feel like we have no control over our time. But we do. Obviously, there are things we can't predict. If your child gets sick in the middle of the night and keeps you up, you're going to be tired the next day. But every mom has to ask herself, "Am I accomplishing the things that are genuinely my priorities, the things that support my value system?"
We need to make appointments with God on our calendars. We need to make appointments with ourselves, too, by planning time for exercise or a simple time of calm and quiet. We have to give those appointments the same weight as the other pressing needs or they aren't going to happen. You have to protect that time.
I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I like things picked up and organized around the house. But when I have to choose between a spiritual activity with eternal value, like a quiet time, and a temporal activity, like washing the dishes, I have to decide which one is my real priority. If my priority is my spiritual life, then sometimes I've got to turn my back on the dishes and take time for God.
How much time are we talking about here?
The Bible talks about praying without ceasing. If we continually think of every moment of our thought life as unceasing conversation with God, we can always be in prayer. It can be as easy as, "Oops, God, I forget to tell you but here's another thing that's really bugging me." You can pray anywhere, anytime?whether you're giving the kids a bath or paying bills or driving to work.
As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that we have different seasons as women. When my kids were young, I taught high school English. I was also involved in all kinds of after-school activities. I thought I had to have my kids, my career, everything all at once. It was exhausting! I used to say in tears, "They could cut me in a million pieces and there wouldn't be enough for everybody who wants a piece of me right now." I wish I'd been smart enough to realize I didn't have to live that way. I didn't think I had the right to say no to anything. I think women now are getting a little bit smarter about that.
When you have small children, your time is limited and you're living in survival mode. God knows that. It helps to have a long-range focus. Those survival days don't last forever. Someday the kids will go to school and you'll be able to do things like go to a Bible study without worrying about childcare. That season will come.
We don't always see the impact of ignoring our spiritual lives. How does it affect us as mothers and wives? And how can we convince ourselves, and our families, that it's okay to take time out?
I've compared prayer to a power source. You wouldn't expect your hair dryer to work without being plugged in. You wouldn't expect your car to run without gas. And yet we expect our spiritual lives to somehow run on empty. When we're walking in step with the Holy Spirit, that energizes us and solves a lot of problems before they even become problems. We have more patience for our kids and spouses. We have the emotional strength to deal with the demands of motherhood.
One of my favorite verses is Matthew 11:28, where Jesus says to the disciples, "Come to me and I will give you rest." What happens when you rest? Well, you become physically energized. You become emotionally stronger. Your spirit is fed.
I encourage women to spend five minutes at the beginning of the day with a short devotional like the Time Out books. There's a two-minute reading and a Scripture passage. If you like, do a little journaling or offer a quick prayer. That five minutes will jump start the day. Life is hard enough with God. It's impossible without him.
What about the personal toll?
I've had so many women come to me at our conferences who say, "I focused so much on my family, I don't even know who I am anymore." I direct them right back to prayer and say, "You have to know who you are as a woman before Jesus Christ. And as you pray and study his Word, whatever the dreams and desires in your heart have been, that passion will flicker again."
You do have to put your life on a back burner while your kids are growing up, but you don't have to lose the woman God made you to be.
What are some other ways a mom can nurture her spiritual life?
Fellowship is especially important for women. Jesus had the masses and he had his disciples. Then he had his inner core of Peter, James, and John. Women need a Peter, James, and John. It doesn't matter how big or small the group is, but we all need that accountability, the women who pray for us, who listen to us.
Women are relational. If fellowship is missing, we're going to struggle. Instead, we can actively help each other. If you pray together with that inner core of friends, just think of the strength you'll tap into!
Moms with older kids can reach out to younger moms. They can serve as mentors, share childcare responsibilities, help with shopping, cook meals together. We were not created to be alone on this earth, and these little things can help us bear each other's burdens.
So much of the stress we experience is the result of our nomadic lifestyle. Twenty percent of our population uproots and moves every year. We are moving away from the nuclear family, from familiarity. We're not developing deep roots and deep relationships. In the old days, they'd raise a barn together, and everybody would cook together. They had quilting bees. They baked bread for somebody who moved in. Now we don't even know the needs of our neighbors. Hopefully, the church is a place where we can go to say, "I'm a young mom and I'm really struggling here. Is anybody else in the same boat? Can we help each other?"
What else should moms keep in mind as we start taking time for our own spiritual growth?
I don't think anybody should look at a productive prayer life as being unattainable. It's so simple a child can do it.
I don't need the right words to sit here and talk to you. I just tell you what's in my heart, and that's all God expects us to do: just talk to him and tell him what's in your heart. The exercise of prayer helps us know him and appreciate who he is. As we see him work through our prayer life and change us, we see that that power source is essential.
For more information on the Time Out for Women conferences, call (866) 864-9663 or log on to www.timeoutforwomen.com.
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