Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Paying My Devotions in Parts That are New

Last night I had a conversation with a dear sister in Christ about mothering, devotion and family time. I admire this young mother, who has a toddler and a preschooler, for the way she handles her boys. I, of course, am an older mom with older children, but I often watch my friend and wish that we had started the mothering journey at the same time, because I learn so many lessons from watching her with her sons.

We were talking about quiet time. It's hard to have any of that when you have a four year old and a one year old. I get some now because my youngest is six and I can just say, "I need to do some things now, so run along and play," and she generally does.

As we talked, I remembered what it was like when my girls were very young. Around the time Triss was four and Mariel was one, I decided it was important that I have a quiet time every morning. I had been reading Elizabeth George's _Beautiful in God's Eyes_ and I was inspired and motivated by her vision of a woman who met the Proverbs 31 criteria. (That's another post entirely!)

For some reason, forty-five minutes was the amount I thought necessary for a good daily quiet time. Thirty minutes for reading and fifteen minutes for prayer, you know. So, I started getting up a little earlier than the girls to have my time.

Little Triss thought it was great. More time to spend visiting with Mommy! She has never needed a whole lot of sleep, so often she would follow me out to the living room in the morning. And she would talk. And talk. And talk. Sometimes so loudly that baby Mariel woke up and needed to be with people. Urgently. (Mariel has always preferred company to being by herself.) It became a child-training time instead of a mommy quiet time.

So I struggled along for a few years. Sometimes I got my time and sometimes I didn't. I felt guilty for not having a consistent reading and praying time. I felt upset that these precious young blessings and their father did not accomodate me more. (They really did, but I had a very stringent standard of accomodation. As in, either give me all the time I want or it doesn't count as accomodation. Please do not try this at home.) Then I attended a Wholehearted Mother Conference and heard Sally Clarkson speak. She was telling one of her stories about her time at home with her family, and she said, "I sat down with my cup of tea for thirty minutes, or whatever time the Lord allowed me that day..." And my poor mind went, "Oh. It doesn't always have to be forty-five minutes!" Silly me. Of course it doesn't. But that little phrase opened my eyes to the fact that I was the one who had imposed the Forty-Five Minute Rule For Devotions, not the Lord.

So I made allowance for life in the midst of devotions, which eased my mind a little(as well as my family's life).

Then this year, I found Willa's blogs. I "met" Willa through AO yahoo groups a couple of years ago, and greatly appreciated her thoughtful posts and insights. I just discovered a couple of months ago that she has blogs, and added her to my feeds right away. A few weeks ago she linked to an article where the author talks about monastery bells. I do not know a whole lot about monasticism, but it appears we mothers may know a bit about monastic living.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the "monastic bell". All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it's time for that task and time isn't your time, it's God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda.

Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart. For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something. She hears the monastic bell many times during the day and she has to drop things in mid-sentence and respond, not because she wants to, but because it's time for that activity and time isn't her time, but God's time.

Isn't that an amazing thought? Time isn't my time, it's God's time. How about that? (More amazing that it took me this long to realize it!)

As soon as I read that, I realized the meaning of this verse in an old hymn I've sung in church my whole life:

Dear bow'r, I must leave you and bid you adieu
And pay my devotions in parts that are new
For Jesus, my Savior, resides everywhere
And can, in all places, give answer to prayer

Willa writes of "listening to her monastery bells". I like that. We can be instant in season and out of season, taking in our fellowship with the Lord whether constantly helping little ones, or able to sit with a cup of tea and the Bible.

Nowadays, rather than babies in cribs and preschoolers with lots to say, I am more likely to be called by the dishes or the laundry or the vacuum. Or the child with the division problems, or the child with the debate case, or the little kindergartner who hasn't had any attention for an hour. But I have realized that the time isn't mine, it really is God's. It makes more sense for Him to have charge of it, because He knows all things. And I don't. And after all, it is all about Him and not me. Oh, that I could remember this in the midst of the day.

Here is the entire text of the old hymn I quoted above. (This person's bower sounds like a lovely place, but my bower is usually one of our big blue La-z-boy recliners):

To leave my dear friends and from neighbors to part
And go from my home, it afflicts not my heart
Like thoughts of absenting myself for a day
From that blessed retreat where I've chosen to pray

Dear bow'r, where the pine and the poplar have spread
And wove with their branches a roof o'er my head
How oft have I knelt on the evergreen there
And poured out my soul to my Savior in prayer

The early shrill notes of the loved nightingale
That dwelt in my bow'r I observed as my bell
To call me to duty while birds of the air
Sang anthems of praises as I went to prayer

How sweet were the zephyrs perfumed by the pine
The ivy, the balsam and wild eglantine
But sweeter, ah! sweeter, superlative were
The joys I have tasted in answer to prayer

For Jesus, my Savior, oft deigned there to meet
And blessed with His presence my humble retreat
Oft filled me with rapture and blessedness there
Inditing in Heaven's own language my prayer.

Dear bow'r, I must leave you and bid you adieu
And pay my devotions in parts that are new,
For Jesus, my Savior, resides everywhere
And can, in all places, give answer to prayer.

--Author Unknown


gerry said...

thank you for this wonderful was was really nice reading through it...and well as we also have Mothers day coming up in a while now i'd also like you to drop by my blog on Mothers Day Wishes sometime and enjoy all that it's filled up with!!!

Willa said...

Many thoughts for me to ponder in addition to what I originally posted -- thanks so much. Your blog is beautiful -- I've added it to my feed. I like the Redwall names for your and your daughters: ).