“Today I went into my laundry room, shut the door, filled three buckets of water, and lined them up against the door to keep it shut,” my friend said as soon as she picked up the phone, knowing it was me. “What in the world happened?” I asked with some alarm. “Oh, nothing really,” my friend replied, “it’s just that sometimes Mommy really needs a Time Out and there are never enough locks on the door.”
No doubt, few people can know the desperation and longing for solitude like mothers of young children. We go from being our own people, on our own schedules, doing our own thing and dreaming about the joys and beauty of motherhood, only to find that day after day, hour after hour, year after year without any time to ourselves, the reality of raising children can leave us feeling ragged, weary, and sometimes forgotten. What we fail to realize is that very often, the first one who neglected to take care of us, was ourselves!
There are valuable lessons for everyone, though, found in the spirituality of motherhood. For us onlookers, it is obvious that in order to be effective in what she does, the mother must always be sure to take some time away—in whatever form she can find it. Jesus demonstrates this so well throughout his ministry. In order to heal others he must separate himself from the crowds and pray. Matthew tells us that Jesus withdrew “in a boat to a deserted place by himself” after hearing of the murder of John the Baptist, but the crowds follow him and gather on the shore. After taking his time away, he returns to shore and is able to perform a miracle—the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-23). And Luke tells us after Jesus cleansed a leper “many crowds would gather” to hear him and be cured of their diseases, “but he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” (Luke 5:16)
What is going on here? We may wonder. Why doesn’t he just heal them all at once? While that is a question best answered by God in your own quiet time of solitude, I can share that, for me, it has become obvious that silence and solitude are the food and fuel for my soul. The more I let my soul rest in silence “away from the crowds” with God, the more I am filled with patience and compassion for others. For years, I was mistaken in my thinking that as a young mother my life of sacrifice and service to my children and family was, while a wonderful blessing, also my “cross to bear.” I neglected to see that making time (because it is up to us to create the schedule, after all) to be alone in silence with God was not, in fact, my “cross to bear” but rather, the God-given “daily bread” of my human journey. Many of us mistakenly view our service to others in this same way, in whatever way we serve. We think the service itself is the “cross,” but I think that’s because we neglect to fuel up for the journey! In its proper order, we soon come to realize that our service to others is not the cross we bear, but rather, the fruit we share that ripens through our time spent “laboring” in silence and solitude. What kind of labor is that? You may wonder. Sitting around and doing nothing? I’d love to do that if I had the time! (I invite you again to take that very question to God. I would love to hear what you discover!)
Perhaps, like me, you have avoided silence and solitude for such a long time because somewhere in your depths you already know what you will discover. It is the same thing that Jacob discovered when he was left alone and “a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Gen 32:24) But, there is hope for all of us in Jacob’s story, too. For at the end of the struggle we realize it was never God’s demand for Jacob to hold on, but rather Jacob’s refusing to let go of God, that resulted in his being blessed. (Gen 32: 26-28)