Soul Care for the New Mom
I remember spending so many hours scrolling through Pinterest when my daughter was first born, reading countless amounts of "mommy blogs" and pinning every possible article for new moms. The ones with titles containing words like, "routine," "schedule," "balance," and "self care" always caught my eye the fastest. Like a lot of women just stepping into motherhood, I wanted to know all the things and do all the things that might ensure the most amazing, idealistic first year of motherhood possible. I thought, like many moms do, that if I could just learn how to balance it all -- caring for the baby, loving on my husband, maintaining the house, and finding time for myself -- I would be well on my way to being that thriving woman who has it all together. Is that not what most of us secretly aspire to be?
And yet even after learning the "right" things to do and incorporating them into my daily life, I still felt unfulfilled and off-balanced. I became a skilled multi-tasker, I found a good rhythm for my life with a newborn baby, and I was even consistently showered and well-rested. But despite all of these things, my soul was hungry for more and I just couldn't seem to figure out how to consistently connect to the Lord in this new season of life.
I would try to have my usual "quiet time" with God only to be interrupted by my daughter's needs. I would have a list of things I knew I needed to pray about, but all I could muster most days were the words, "Jesus, help me!" I would attend church, expecting to be engaged and encouraged, but instead found it to be more of a juggling act for my husband and I as we took turns shushing and holding the baby until one of us inevitably had to take her and leave.
Even though I was pursuing the Lord in the best way I knew how, doing all of the things that I remember "working" for me before I became a mom, there were many days when my heart still felt a million miles away from God. I didn't understand what was happening. How could one little, innocent baby have this large of an impact on my walk with the Lord?
I know now that there was one thing I didn't have the slightest clue about when it came to my relationship with him -- how to allow him to just pursue me. I didn't realize that by his perfect grace and love he would simply meet me where I'm at.
This is when I began to learn the difference between self care and soul care. Much of self care is about what we do for ourselves, the things that we strive for and hope will fill us. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had put my relationship with Jesus on my checklist as nothing more than an activity to fit in and check off with the others. It's no wonder my soul felt dry!
Because soul care, unlike self care, is about receiving what Jesus already freely offers us. And this is the key to the abundant life that actually does fill us.
When I finally began understanding the difference between the two, not only was my faith altered, but so was my outlook and approach towards day-to-day motherhood. I went from despising my lack of control over my day to being able to gladly surrender it. I went from not really seeing God's hand in my life as a stay-at-home mom to being astounded at just how faithfully he shows up. I went from depleted to restored and found that it is possible to have my soul filled by his tender, loving care every single day. And that there is not one ounce of perfection or performance expected of me in order to attain it. This is freedom in Christ! This is the Gospel.
It is now one of my greatest passions to encourage other new moms to let the Lord pursue and care for their souls, as well. I so deeply desire for more women in this beautiful, brutal season of caring for little ones to experience just how accessible and personal God really is. This is not something hyper-spiritual or elusive or a hidden secret that only a select few get to know.
This is an invitation extended to all of us, even us new mamas who can't quite get it all together, every single day.
For me, accepting this invitation began when I was finally forced to put away my Bible, journal, and mile-long prayer list and reconsider what I thought was necessary for God to want to be a part of my life. I quit trying to have that ideal "quiet time." I stopped making mental notes of all the spiritual practices and disciplines I needed to work on. I even took a break from attending church.
Now please don't miss this very important point I want to make. All of the aforementioned things are GOOD things and they can and do help us connect with the Lord on a daily basis. BUT they cannot define our relationship with Jesus or our identity in him. It's true that he often uses these things to speak to our hearts and help fill our souls with his love and truth, but without an understanding of the freedom found in the pure and simple Gospel these things can become an idol or crutch that we unhealthily lean on far too much. How easy it is for the enemy to twist these things into sources of guilt and shame! Just as Paul warns new believers in his letter to the Galatians to steer clear of any attempts to be saved or justified by their works, we, too, must be careful of what we are putting our hope in.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).
The question we must ask ourselves is this: are the things I'm doing to get closer to God first and foremost rooted in faith and freedom? Or are they reflections of my fear and yearning for control and perfection?
If you ask yourself this question and realize you're not happy with the answer, I encourage you to try this: Ask the Lord to help you take the "stuff" out of the equation and to just simply see him. Put away your Bible reading plan if it's too much to keep up with; meditate on a single verse for the week instead, declaring his truth over yourself day after day. Take a break from the journaling; let the words you would normally fill your pages with become your personal conversations with God. Sing songs of praise over your little one as you rock them to sleep, whispering "it is well with my soul" even as they put up a fight. Take a stroll around the park, taking in the nature around you as a reminder of the Creator's beauty and might. Look for evidences of the Lord in your everyday routine, trusting that the Holy Spirit resides in you and "he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12).
When you stop trying to prove how good you are, your soul will finally have a chance to be reminded of the goodness of the Lord. And mama, he is so, so good.
Don't let the distractions of day-to-day motherhood blind you to his sweet presence all around. Believe instead that those so-called distractions can actually lead you right back to him and show you new ways to live out the freedom of the Gospel.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11, emphasis added).
Now that my baby has become a toddler, I'm beginning to enjoy more freedom again. I can finally sit at the kitchen table with my Bible without being torn away mid-sentence by hunger cries. Praying aloud as I drive her and I each morning is no longer interrupted as she happily sits in her car seat with a book. I'm able to push the stroller around the track to the beat of my worship playlist without having to stop at every bench to nurse. We're regularly attending church and no longer missing half of the service (thanks, Mom and Dad, for becoming our weekly babysitters!). I actually have time now to be inspired and to create, and I don't miss the Holy Spirit's prompting as much as I most likely did when I had to be wholly tuned in to my baby's needs.
Yes, having the ability to enjoy all of these things again is great. And yet what makes them so much more enjoyable and fruitful is finally having an understanding of the Lord's grace. I now know what my role is when it comes to the care of my soul, and it's not for me to work, work, work at finding the Lord, but rather to expectantly wait and trust that the Lord is finding me. With or without the perfect "balance" or routine, I am sensitive to his leading and receptive to his voice. For the first time in a long time, I actually believe that he wants to speak to me. And the same is true for you.
No matter how close or how far you are to that ideal mom you hoped to be, the Lord sees you and values you and says, "I am pursuing her." His daughter. His beloved. Would you just take a second to really digest that? The King of the Universe sees you knee deep in the trenches of motherhood and wants to walk with you through it, mess and all. He's not waiting on you to reach a certain level of spiritual discipline or to cross off all the items on your "good Christian" checklist because he's already right there beside you. He wants to care for your soul right where you're at.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
When you're able to get past the lie that you have to do all the right things to hear from God, it all of a sudden becomes so obvious. His love is screamed so loudly. It was, after all, displayed for all to see through his suffered and crucified Son. The most powerful picture of outstretched arms. He did this for you and for me. Not so that we'd spend the rest of our lives trying to earn his gift of salvation or somehow measure up, but so that we "may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him (Psalm 62:1).