My random Lent thought for today:
During Lent we often give attention to ‘classical Christian disciplines’ (fasting, prayer, meditation on Scripture, silence, solitude, almsgiving etc.). My observation is that in Christian history, much of the teaching on these disciplines has been done by celibate monks and nuns, and finds its natural home in that community.
But how does the young mother of a toddler find time for solitude and contemplative prayer? Where is the silence to be found in a home full of young children? If we worry about this too much, we run into the danger of seeing our families as distraction from God. But Jesus said that whoever welcomes a little child in his name welcomes him, so it would seem he did not think noisy, rambunctious children are a distraction.
We need to remember that the purpose of all spiritual disciplines is to help us to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Including our closest neighbour: our spouse or our children. And we need to be realistic about what is possible for us at different stages in our lives. Yes, prayer and Bible reading are important, but they will likely take different forms in homes with small children.
And what does ‘love’ mean? Surely it includes turning away from selfishness and self-centredness and providing practical help and support for others. I have a sneaking suspicion that much so-called ‘spiritual discipline’ can in fact be very self-centred – an endless absorption with what is going on inside ourselves, and seeing other human beings as a distraction from this.
Some people get up in the middle of the night to pray a Night Office. Some people get up in the middle of the night to change a diaper and feed a baby. Both can be spiritual disciplines, if they are transforming us into less selfish, more loving people who are seeking to orient our lives around the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’.