04. How to Experience More of God's Presence in Your Life as a Mom
And why you'll find me sitting on the floor of my closet most mornings at 5:30 AM
This summer, my family traveled to the Oregon coast for a five-night vacation. It was the first time our kids had played on the beach, at least that they remembered, and a blessed time of rest for us all.
One day, we packed up our gluten-free snacks and sweatshirts and pulled out from our vacation rental driveway in Lincoln City almost in time to arrive for the opening of the Oregon Aquarium in Newport.
As we passed through the village of Depoe Bay, my husband slowed with traffic as we noticed dozens of tourists in various stages of pulling off the road, parking, and staring out into the water.
A shaggy black dog tugged at its leash and put its paws on the sea wall as if it too was watching.
Having never been there before, we couldn’t resist stopping to see what was detouring all these tourists from their busy itineraries. Even in the digital age, we humans apparently still have a tribal connection that silently pulls us together and orients us in the same direction.
What we saw in the ocean below was the evidence of whales. Although we learned from the faded signs our look around town revealed that Depoe Bay is the “Whale Watching Capital of Oregon,” but we never saw a whole whale.
It was more of a spout of water jetting up, movement somewhere near the surface of the waves, and every once in a while a flipper or part of a whale’s back sliding through the water.
But it was enough to have a hundred jaded travelers standing in awe on the side of the road with binoculars half raised to their eyes, mouths agape at the vastness of it as frantic little whale-watching vessels raced across the bay to try to catch a peek.
And that is kind of what it’s like to have a relationship with God.
You never quite see the whole picture, but enough is revealed (or at least recognized in retrospect) to hold you over until the next time.
A flash of grace and unexpected blessing.
A prayer answered.
A sprinkling of strength where you had none.
A seemingly glacial, yet miraculous progression toward healing.
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” — 1 Corinthians 13:12
It’s like when you get out of the shower and the bathroom mirror is all fogged up. Everything is reflected through a mist, with blocks of color and vague shapes but not many details.
But if you take a towel and wipe away some of the steam, you begin to see things more clearly. It may take a few tries as the moisture condenses onto the surface, again and again, erasing the clarity you gained until the cloud finally lifts and you get a much sharper picture.
It’s still just a reflection, an image. It isn’t a real, warm, flesh and blood being you can hug and talk to and play Go Fish with. But you now have a better understanding of what that person would be like to hang out with.
Experiencing the presence of God might seem like something that should be “spiritual,” a feeling and therefore it should come naturally or automatically. And those serendipitous encounters with God ARE something that I want to grow more present and open to as well.
While I would like this practice to be more spontaneous, more Spirit-led, it’s equally important to actively build my faith by scheduling opportunities to get a fuller picture of who He is, who He says that I am, and to be with Him.
To pull off the road on the way to Get-the-Kids-Out-the-Door-to-School-on-Time-Ville and Put-the-Babies-in-Bed-and-Get-Them-to-Stay-There-Burg and strain my eyes toward what God wants to show me that day. And with a framework in place, those chance encounters with God are happening more and more, too.
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I guess I’ll embrace it! Because putting time on my calendar to spend experiencing the presence of God even (and especially) in this intense and demanding season of mothering has brought refreshing to my parched and cracked soul I didn’t remember was possible.
Truly, we need to schedule anything important, especially activities of eternal significance. Yet those are often the things that I let slide because I’m “too busy” crossing other “important” things off my list.
Connecting with my husband (I mean like even making eye contact and saying two words to each other some days), playing with my kids, and, of course, spending time with God so easily go by the wayside without pre-planning.
Plus, my faith is so quickly derailed by how I’m feeling emotionally, the behavior of my kids, the behavior of my husband, my hormones, how many hours I’ve been on hold with the insurance company, how many marketing emails I still need to write before Black Friday, or whether I’m fighting a cold. Which is why I have to plan these pauses to tune back into the presence of God with intentionality.
(Side note: I have long loathed the Christian-jargon word “Intentional.” For a decade, I’ve always cringed and rolled my eyes whenever any of our church friends would use it. But, maybe, just maybe that was an indicator of my lack of maturity and need to be more, well intentional in my spiritual life. Because I really can’t think of any other appropriate word for what needs to happen here.)
So, here are a few ways I’m building “intentional” time with God into my daily routine, even as a busy mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, SEO, copywriter, financial coach, and blogger, so I don’t come to the end of this life and find I’ve completely missed the point.
And this is almost entirely selfish. I need some time to be in my own grown-up brain space and be nourished spiritually before my kids pile on top of me and poke holes in my sanity, yelling, “Mommy, where are you? I’m hungry.” They wake up at 6, so 5:30 it is.
Step 1. Sit on the Floor of My Closet (Find Stillness and Silence)
Most mornings, I wake up to the soft glow of my phone and its tinkling alarm at 5:30 am, willing myself to roll toward it, to push myself up to sit on the edge of the bed and turn it off before it wakes my husband (if he hasn’t already outdone me by heading off to the gym at 5 AM).
I creep toward the bathroom, listening for the sounds of my sleeping household: a rustling of the covers, the clanking of the puppy’s kennel as he rolls over in his sleep.
I hide my eyes as I flick on the warm light of the closet, hear the beep of the scale as I tap it on with my toe, and eventually settle my sitz bones onto the hard floor as I sit cross-legged, the weight of my Bible, journals, and planner on my lap.
So many of the great moms of faith I’ve known and heard about have held a practice of huddling in their prayer closets much earlier than this, praying their kids out of the darkest sin and sometimes into the ministry, from huts in India to ranchers in California.
But for me, this is simply the only place I can safely go without also waking my sensitive sleepers down the hall.
And this is almost entirely selfish.
I need some time to be in my own grown-up brain space and be nourished spiritually before my kids pile on top of me and poke holes in my sanity, yelling, “Mommy, where are you? I’m hungry.” They wake up at 6, so 5:30 it is.
And it turns out that I’m usually a better human and mom when I’m not attacked by the sharp little elbows and demands of my favorite people the very first thing after I wake up.
So there I am, at 5:30 am sitting on the floor of my closet because there is nowhere else I can go that won’t unsettle the feather-like balance of my household at that hour. Now what?
I’ve realized that I’ve inadvertently begun following the virtuous cycle of Philippians 4:4-8. One practice feeds the next and the next for greater peace and joy. I do these in any order that feels right that day, but I’ll list them in the order that they occur in the scripture.
Step 2. Rejoice!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” — Philippians 4:4-5
I doubt my so-called gentleness is evident to anyone, but as my quiet time has developed, I find myself writing almost exclusively two types of prayers. The first is gratitude as I remember all the ways I can rejoice and experience that the Lord is near.
So now, I fill the left-hand pages with gratitude. I scrawl “Thank you for…” at the top and add anything, big or small that I’m grateful for.
The glimpse of a spiritual awakening from my 11-year-old as he realized Christmas as he’s understood it feels a little meaningless and empty. “You open all the presents and this thing you’ve been waiting for is just…over.”
Or the pure joy on my 9-year-old’s face as she grabbed her friends’ hands, raised them high, and took a bow when her school musical came to a close.
And as I write, I try to re-experience that beautiful, wonderful thing or person or moment in my body. Let the warm, tingly feelings of love and grace soak. So next time someone spills their hot chocolate all over the computer, maybe, just maybe I won’t forget and think that my entire life is doomed to constant drudgery and failure as I am so apt to do.
My morning time brings me back to the beauty and blessedness of my life. Then I move onto…
Step 3. Put Prayer in Place of Anxiety
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6-7
The pages on the right-hand side of my journal are headed with “Please help…” each followed by a long list of supplications to God.
Please help my children to know you, please help the insurance pick up the dang phone in less than the anticipated 57 minutes, please help that prescription to get refilled before we run out, please help me finish the Black Friday copy in time despite the sick child and the snow day and the school that gets canceled because too many of the staff are out sick. Help me not lose my mind when my child spills said hot chocolate on the computer. Please help because, Lord, you are truly our only hope.
And by the time I’m done pouring out my fears to God, I feel my breathing slow, my clenched muscles relax, remembering it’s not all on my shoulders to keep the world spinning. (Shocking I know!)
Then I leave a little space under each request so I can come back later and write down what the answer was.
And do you know what?
Almost every prayer gets answered; every situation gets resolved.
Which tells me this: either I worry way too much about too many things (true) or we have a great big God who loves us and is working out everything for our good (also true).
And this helps when I’m waiting on prayers that seem to take way too long to be answered. To remember that no matter what, all will be well. I can trust He’s working it all out for our good.
But then there’s a third type of prayer that’s been developing where I leave time to just sit and listen with a pen in my hand.
Most of what I write here comes from those prayer times because, if you know me well, my posts contain way more wisdom than I possess on my own. And it’s dazzling to see what God shows me in those moments of stillness and silence.
Step 4. Focus My Thoughts on What Is True
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
As I sit, I will spend some time meditating on scripture, by which I mean, reading, rereading, reviewing the context of the passage, and looking up other related verses, and word meanings. Most often, this is one verse or a very short passage of scripture.
After my pastor had been bragging on his mom from the pulpit (who is no doubt saintly) for always keeping a prayer journal and for reading her Bible as a busy mom, she reminded him, “When I had four little kids at home as a working mom, most often it was one verse and a prayer of ‘Lord help!’”
I thought, “I can do one verse.”
But isn’t it like our fast-paced, achiever culture to come up with something like the “Bible in a Year” plan to make us feel overwhelmed and inadequate, so we give up before New Year’s is even over?
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with reading the Bible in a year if it feels manageable and helpful to you. But I’m giving you permission right now to read one verse and check reading your bible off your list for the day.
It still counts.
And I’ve benefited more by absorbing the nuances of a slow verse-by-verse study than by trying to gulp the whole 1,254 pages too quickly.
And listening to an audio version?
That counts too.
Don’t be afraid to find what works for you in this season. Do anything, but don’t give up and say you don’t have time as I have too often done.
In the back of my planner, I keep a list (it’s about three pages long by now) of my favorite thoughts that I review in the morning (if by some miracle the children are still sleeping at this point). Many are paraphrases of scripture or simply elevated thoughts I aspire to be true of myself and my outlook as I go about my day.
They help me dwell on what is noble and lovely because I so very easily lose sight of those things, and it helps me to take every thought captive if I have some healthy replacements to substitute in the moment.
Here are a couple of my current favorites:
Everything is falling into place
God will fulfill his purpose in me
I have enough time for everything God has for me to do
Finally, if those babies are really snoozing, I’ll review my one or two, or five eternal goals that keep me oriented toward what’s important in my life as I start my day.
Somewhere along the way, (often at 5:45 but most definitely by 6) one kid slides open the pocket door between the closet and bathroom and curls up on my lap, (which would be cute if it didn’t make my ankle bones dig into the floor under their weight). So I shoo them off to sit next to me and read quietly as I finish up.
And it depends on the morning whether I can see the beauty of modeling this practice for my children…or if I’m just annoyed at being interrupted, but I do my best.
Then it’s off to the races as we dive into our morning routine.
It’s no wonder that God called David a man after His own heart, despite his shortcomings. In Psalm 27, David writes that no matter what fears and trials may besiege him, his ONE desire was to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life. To be there living out his days with his creator, gazing upon the beauty of God with shouts of joy.
And my morning times with God are giving me a taste of what it’s like to do just that. It’s become my favorite time of day, a privilege I hunger for, early morning wake-up and all.
We set out to visit the creatures at the aquarium that day on the coast, but seeing even a flipper here waving up above the water and the corner of a tail there flicking toward the sun ended up being our most stunning encounter with creation.
At one point, my husband asked while looking out over the sea cliff, “What if you jumped?”
“You would surely die,” I assured my children in my warning Mom Voice while resisting the urge to dig my elbow into his ribs as my eye traced the crumbling concrete wall separating us from the rocks below and all manner of potential peril in a flash.
But what if it wasn’t death that waited at the bottom at all?
What if, instead of hovering timidly on the edge of your faith, you went all in and it brought you life?
What if you slowed, pulled off the highway you’re racing down, toward the destination you thought you were headed for, and waited for God to reveal one piece of his goodness, a tiny corner of his love until a fuller picture starts to develop?
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