How can you hold on to the spiritual disciplines that feed your faithfulness when your hands are more than full? How do you freely confess your failure to treasure Christ while not giving yourself a free pass to disconnect from him? What steps can you implement that will encourage you to follow Jesus in this very challenging season? To answer these questions, I am drawing from the wisdom of others who have loved Jesus better and longer than I have.
One seasoned Christian mom told me that she always felt like she was either “passing or failing” when it came to spiritual disciplines during her years of child-raising and working two jobs. She would agree with me that we need to eliminate those two words from our vocabulary. Many of us teeter to one side or the other: guilt for not being as faithful as we’d like to be or giving ourselves a free pass because this is just where we are in life. I’d like to offer Paul’s encouragement here. We’re not perfect, and we won’t be this side of heaven. But that shouldn’t discourage us from pressing on in perseverance. Instead, let’s “[forget] what lies behind and [strain] forward to what lies ahead,” and let’s “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).
Spiritual maturity recognizes the need to persevere in spite of past failings. Whatever yesterday looked like, start over fresh tomorrow. Jesus isn’t standing with his arms crossed and a disapproving glare. He loves you, and he paid the penalty for your sins on the cross. When you make time with him a priority, you will be more and more certain of his love for you, even on the days you can’t seem to show up. You’ll see your sin more readily, you’ll grasp his grace more acutely, you’ll remember his promises to sanctify you, and you’ll know with certainty that one day you’ll be with him forever, when nothing will deter or distract you from his glory.
Make a Plan, Be Flexible
Committing to spiritual disciplines may look different during busy seasons, but you can still hold on to God’s word, prayer, and the church. Make your plan. You’ll have to be flexible with children or family members who need you, but you can plan for more regularity if you choose to get up a little earlier or spend the last half hour before bed with the Lord. Denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus might look like sacrificing an extra hour of sleep or turning off Netflix an hour earlier than usual. Your faithfulness to Christ will you cost you something. Oh, but the benefits are eternal and beyond comparison! Drawing near to God through his word and through prayer will transcend and transform your busy day like nothing else. When you’re facing a mountain of laundry, your mind will be filled with God’s promises. When the nap schedule is interrupted for the fifth time today, you’ll remember the warnings against sin and guard yourself from anger. When your elderly parents ask the same questions again and again, you’ll have comforting words of Scripture ready to offer them.
Scripture memorization is another helpful tool to further engage with the Bible. You can use note cards or an app like Verses or The Bible Memory App to work through a passage of Scripture, memorizing one phrase at a time. As you read, work through the study questions I mentioned in the last chapter. What does this verse teach me about God? About man? How does it make me think about Jesus? What can I apply from this verse to my life? This is a simple way to saturate your heart with the truths of God’s word. One trick we use in our home is to print out a text for memorization, slide it upside down into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, and then tape the bag (seal side down) to the wall of the shower. Every time you’re in the shower, you can work on memorization.
One other technological gift to utilize when you’re feeling desperate for time with the Lord is to listen to the Bible through an audio app. Exposure to the word can and should happen in many forms. To really meditate on a passage, listen to it several times. This will also aid in memorization. One mother of grown sons recommends singing the scriptures to your children.1 Not only will you be singing the powerful words of the Lord over your children, which can aid you in praying for them, but you’ll also be memorizing Scripture with them as you sing. Seeds Family Worship and the New City Catechism songs are two great resources for singing God’s truth with and for your children. These might also be helpful tools to use with your older parents who get confused and can’t read or study the word anymore.
You’re probably already praying a lot of emergency prayers throughout your busiest days, and that’s a good thing! We can’t persevere through hectic work and family schedules without the Lord’s help. But during these especially difficult days, your soul will benefit from regular, intentional prayer. Seek windows of time when you can really speak to the Lord and praise him for sustaining you, when you can plead for his help in avoiding the sins of grumbling and complaining, when you can ask him to produce patience in your life. You’ll find peace that transcends even the hardest days when you obey the Lord by praying to him.
Make Time for the Lord
When you can, strive for a time that’s dedicated solely to the Lord. There is no substitute for laying open the word of God and tethering yourself to Christ through it. Though fatigue is an expected companion to the years of caring for others, try to give your most alert moments to Christ. John Piper says there are many things you can do tired, but studying God’s word is exponentially harder when you’re sleepy (and you’ll be more likely to quit). He encourages us to move the things we can do tired (grocery shopping, folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) to the edges of our day and giving our most focused time to Christ.2
For some, this will mean opening your Bible during naptime instead of attacking the laundry mountain on your bed. Others will need to push entertainment to the periphery of life in favor of a half hour to read and pray before turning out the light. Most of us will need to sacrifice a little physical rest for true spiritual rest. No moment will be wasted. Even if we are interrupted during the hour we planned for solitude with Christ, we can adapt so we don’t lose our time in God’s word and prayer. Give yourself permission to enjoy a hectic, interrupted, unquiet “quiet time.”
Maybe you’ll set your children up with a quiet show while you read and pray. Maybe you’ll read Scripture and pray during your lunch hour at work. Maybe you’ll read the Bible on your phone while you’re feeding the baby or sitting in the waiting room at your parent’s medical appointment. Maybe you’ll pray through your prayer list as you walk or jog through your neighborhood. Your ordinary faithfulness to Jesus, even when your hands are abundantly full, will point others to the one who holds you in his hands. As you care for your growing children, you’ll be growing, too. As you serve your parents or aging relatives, you’ll be served with the nourishment of truth and God’s presence.
Lean on the Church
You’re not on your own here, friend. God has given you the church to help you navigate these beautifully challenging seasons. Lean on your church family for support. Make them aware of any needs you have. This might look like asking someone to watch your children for an afternoon every other week so you can pray and read your Bible for a longer time. Or perhaps it’s taking advantage of the nursery volunteers so that you can enjoy an uninterrupted hour during the worship service. The church is also a good place to ask for accountability, especially if you lean toward giving yourself that “I’m too busy to pray” pass. Have a friend text you each week to see how you’re doing with Bible reading so that you can remember to continue to taste of his goodness.
The Lord loves you, he is working toward your spiritual growth, and he is not done sanctifying you.
Relying on the church for help means you have to show up. One of my fellow church members often tells the story of her grandmother’s approach to church attendance while raising a child with chronic illness. “You need to attend church today because you don’t know how sick you’ll be next week.” I love the urgency of this advice! This grandmother encouraged attendance when it was challenging because it could be unavoidable to miss later.
Rather than fitting in church when you can, build your family’s schedule around the church schedule. Or, come in spite of the schedule! Come with your fussy babies and your cranky kids. Come with a spit-up splattered shirt and a purse full of snacks. Come with your grief that your elderly mother can’t remember your name. Come when you’re burned out from an extra-long work week. Come whether you’ve read the Bible this week or not. Come whether you’ve slept much this week or not. Just come.
It is tempting to give up after a succession of days without reading Scripture or praying. Know that God’s mercy abounds every morning, and his grace covers you. Tomorrow is a new day with brand-new mercies. The Lord loves you, he is working toward your spiritual growth, and he is not done sanctifying you. It doesn’t matter so much how yesterday looked. Come to him, and he will give you the rest you really need.
- Karen Govier, Google form submission to author, February 18, 2019.
- John Piper, “I’m Tired and Busy—How Do I Make Time for the Bible?,” Desiring God website, January 7, 2019, https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/im-tired-and -busy-how-do-i-make-time-for-the-bible.
This article is adapted from Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World* by Glenna Marshall.
Do your kids try to avoid family worship? Do they find excuses not to be there? Do they obviously dread it and groan when you reach for the Bible?
When you take your vacation time, how do you reflect your priorities and honor the Lord?
Don’t let perfection become the enemy of progress. Keep a regular time of family worship and encourage your kids to explore the Bible together with you.