Happily Even After
Christmas and Chaos
by Josh Noem
A friend of mine recently adopted two young children just before his wife gave birth to a daughter. With a very sudden family of three young kids, his life has been turned upside down.
He asked me how Stacey and I stay connected to God in the chaos of family life with small children. My first response was that I’m not sure I do all that well at maintaining a healthy spiritual life in the midst of a busy family life.
Then again, family life is not monastic life—our lives are not supposed to be suffused with silence and meditative prayer and work. It is great when that comes, but our vocation is different. It calls us to enter into diapers and runny noses and “did not, did too” screaming matches and basketball practice and giggles over knock-knock jokes. The trick, as the question implies, is how to stay connected to God in all that noise.
It does help to let go of the false expectation that a spiritual life means secluded silent prayer. That kind of prayer never hurts, to be sure, but a spiritual life, at its root, is simply the awareness that God is present in all the parts of our day, and the decision to respond to that presence. It is not about escaping the commotion to commune with an abstract, removed Spirit; it is about engaging the Spirit that is in and around us at every moment within that commotion.
To do my best at answering the question, then, I’d say that what keeps me connected to God in the chaos of family life is Stacey. She is the one that connects me to God and grounds my spirituality because she grounds me as a person. She calls me outside of myself. She asks me to grow. Loving her is a never-ending opportunity to lose myself in service and to find myself in generosity. I, in turn, get to witness her sacrificing herself for me and being reborn every day.
The rhythm of this life with her can be described as a spirituality because it is a way to live my life that grounds me in God’s presence. It is a way to go about the work of the day—doing dishes, folding laundry, running to the post office—with a wider frame of reference, which makes family life coherent. I find that I still need nourishment in my spiritual life—I can’t depend on the “big picture” to keep me growing, but it does prevent me from slipping.
An intentional habit of prayer can be transformative. And while an intentional habit of anything besides eating and sleeping is near impossible with a house full of small children, I’m at my best when I seize the occasional moments when I can sit and reflect substantially. When days are busy, I can survive on the “crumbs of the day” as a spiritual guide once described it to me—those brief moments during the day that present themselves as prayer, such as a hearty laugh at the dinner table or the quiet of a foggy early morning.
Either way—whether it is five or ten minutes when I can read something reflective, or if it is a passing moment on the way to school—I find that God provides what I need, even the opportunities to reach towards God in prayer. A spirituality of family life, and perhaps of any life, has to be about responsiveness just as much as it is about initiation. When my desire and hard work to chisel out a prayer life blinds me to the fact that God is giving me what I need, especially when it comes to prayer, then I’m missing the point.
What an amazing gift it is that God can be found in these parts of life! It all begins with the Incarnation, which we celebrate this week with this high feast of Christmas. It is so much more than Jesus’ birthday—it is the celebration of God’s decisive move to join our story as humans. In the celebration of Christmas in our home, I’ll be giving thanks for God’s decisive move to join our story as a family.
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