When caring for a baby it often becomes difficult to focus completely on God. When exhaustion sets in and the baby is crying, prayer and meditation tend to take a backseat. When nap time dictates your daily routine, going to the weekly women’s Bible study is often the first thing taken off the calendar. When mother and author Julia Roller’s first son was born, like all new moms, her world was changed in more ways than she ever could have imagined. Perhaps most surprisingly, she found herself unprepared for the impact motherhood would have on her spiritual life. In her new book Mom Seeks God: Practicing Grace in the Chaos (Abingdon Press/April 1, 2014/ISBN: 9781426771026/$15.99), Roller inspires other mothers by sharing about her struggles as a new mom and how she was able to reconnect with God by reintroducing spiritual discipline into her newly changed life.
Q: How did the birth of your first son change your perspective on God and your spiritual life?
Today I would say that motherhood has brought me closer to God, that the love you feel for your child is such a concrete reminder of the love God has for us, but I didn’t feel that way in those first few weeks and months of motherhood.
Before I had Ben, I truly thought of myself as a pretty good person. Sure, I knew I needed forgiveness for numerous little sins, but when it came to the big things, I thought I had things fairly well-covered. Ha! Then I had a wonderful, beautiful little baby and he never slept and he wasn’t gaining weight. I couldn’t seem to do anything right, and I felt so alone and so depressed. I came face-to-face with my own sinfulness and selfishness in a way I never had before, yet I no longer felt like I had access to those ways of meeting God that had come so easily in my pre-motherhood life. I didn’t react to this challenge the way I would have hoped, either, with patience and calm and bringing it all to God. Instead I couldn’t think about anything more than getting things back to the way they had been, and then I felt a continual sense of shame about feeling that way. I felt far from God. I felt unworthy, and I didn’t seem to know how to get back in touch with God.
I knew I had to change something, so I embarked on this journey of trying to figure out how to meet God in my new life as a mother.
Q: Was there one particular mothering moment that made you realize your spiritual relationship with God was suffering?
Four weeks after I had Ben we realized he wasn’t gaining weight; he was actually dropping weight. I still have trouble looking at pictures of him from that time; his little face was just skeletal. I started on a difficult and time-consuming nursing and pumping regimen. What I remember most from that time period was sitting on the couch trying to pump while Ben sat in his swing or infant seat and just wailed because I wasn’t holding him. Most of the time, we wailed together. I was so exhausted and felt like such a failure for not even being able to feed my own baby. We had just moved to a new town the year before, and I didn’t know any other moms, plus my husband was working long hours. I felt so alone, and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight. I felt so ashamed of these feelings that I didn’t feel like I could bring them before God. As a result, I started to grow more and more disconnected from God.
That was a terribly dark period for me, and it came to an end, thankfully. I realized a lot of my depression had been connected to a medicine I’d been prescribed to increase my milk supply. But I’d already begun this pattern of not coming before God with my immediate concerns, and I found, sadly, that it’s easy to get out of the habit of prayer. A year and a half or so later, when I was writing a daily devotional about spiritual practices, I started to realize how few spiritual practices I had left in my life. I didn’t have any consistent time of prayer, I was no longer in a Bible study group, and I certainly wasn’t studying the Bible on my own. I wanted to have a relationship with God that my son could emulate, and I just didn’t.
Q: What makes your book different from the other books out there offering encouragement for women overwhelmed with the busyness of family and motherhood?
I love to read other women’s stories. I find so much hope in knowing I’m not alone in my struggles. This is my story, but what I hope this book also provides are some helpful, practical steps to connect with God even when you feel as though you have no more time or energy to do so. One of the things my book offers is a framework based on spiritual disciplines. I’d been writing about the spiritual disciplines for years by the time I had a child. So I had a lot of “head knowledge” about why I should be engaging in these practices, but with the life-changes necessitated by motherhood, I was really struggling to incorporate these practices into my life.
Each chapter of the book describes my effort to practice one spiritual discipline in particular: prayer, study and service are a few examples. And I’ve summarized what I learned about each at the end of the chapters in what I call in the book “non-expert tips,” because I felt as though I was starting at the beginning again with trying to fit these spiritual practices in my new life as a mom of a small child. So I think it’s very easy to read the book one discipline at a time, and it makes it easy to read with a group too.
Q: You have worked with Richard J. Foster who is best known for his book Celebration of Discipline, and his ministry. How did practicing those same disciplines he talks about prepare you for motherhood?
You know, I tried so hard to prepare myself for motherhood, but I don’t think anything can quite get you ready for it! And that’s true in both challenging and rewarding ways. But yes, Richard’s books, mainly Celebration and Prayer, had changed my life, and I had been trying to practice spiritual disciplines for some time before having a baby. Initially that made things harder because I couldn’t practice them in the same way after becoming a mom — I didn’t seem to have time for prayer and study, and silence was just a fantasy.
Eventually, I began to see motherhood itself as a spiritual discipline, and this idea helped me enormously: to see motherhood as a role designed by God, one teaching me about God and helping me to become more like Jesus. That made so much sense to me.
Q: For those in the audience who may not be familiar with what you mean by “spiritual disciplines,” please share what they are and how they apply to our Christian walk.
Spiritual disciplines are just those practices Jesus showed us to help us stay connected to God and become more like Jesus. The idea is that once we become Christians, we are not done. We are to progress along the road of becoming more like Jesus, and there are many things we can do, things Jesus himself did and Christians throughout the centuries have done, to help us along the way. The disciplines I focused on in my book were prayer, fellowship, submission, study, simplicity, silence, fasting, worship, service and celebration, but there are many more.