Tag Archive | motherhood

Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline

I survived my kids little years. I not only survived them, I enjoyed them. I had great community, an involved husband and a knowledge that whatever struggles I encountered—and there were many—would be soon past. But not every mom thrives in motherhood, especially with little kids. For those in the midst of the mess, I would like to present to you author and mom Catherine McNiel and her book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

hi-res-book-coverTell us about your book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.

Why did you decide to write Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

 A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious, demanding children took me all the way to the end of my rope…and left me there indefinitely! My life changed in every way, yet I heard only the same spiritual prescriptions I’d always heard: spend quiet time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord. As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. But as I looked at the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I was convinced that there was no better “boot camp” for my soul. Each day we mothers create, we nurture. Each day we are pushed to the end of ourselves and must surrender, sacrifice, and persevere. Each day we serve, pouring ourselves out. We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?

There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality. Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day!

I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and begin to drink.


hi-res-author-photoCatherine McNiel survived her children’s preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on social media: Catherinemcniel.com; Twitter: @catherinemcniel; Facebook: CatherineMcNielWrites

Buy Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline by clicking one of the following links:







When The Womb Runs Dry

9-25-02.2I remember with vivid clarity the day we learned I had miscarried our first child. We were traveling home from Colorado to Florida when I started spotting. After 4 years of infertility, the thought of losing this long-awaited baby was terrifying. When the loss was confirmed, it seemed my tears would never stop.

That was almost 21 years ago.

I have 3 healthy children, 13, 17 and 19. Although we lost 2 more babies in the midst, our quiver is as full as we want it. Yet when the realization hit that I was on the downside of menopause, I cried.

I loved being pregnant. I didn’t suffer the nausea of so many of my friends. Although worried during my second pregnancy that the same thing would happen as the first, it got increasingly easier to relax. Nausea-free pregnancies, problem-free births (well, there were 2 short stays in the NICU for #1 and #3, but all was fine in the end), pain-free nursing (although I had to supplement #2 and #3 because they weren’t gaining enough weight). After our infertility struggle, I felt very blessed.

I was 4 days away from being 35 when I had my first child, and I was almost 41 when I Xmas 04had my 3rd, so another pregnancy really wasn’t in the cards for us. But still, the idea that it would never happen again stirred up feelings I didn’t even know were there. Somehow we think childbearing defines us as women and when we find ourselves unable to do that, our self-image takes a hit.

Now, after 2 years of no more visits from Aunt Flo, I am mostly at peace with the situation, knowing that an infant in the house would really throw us for a loop, but the baby boom in the young moms around me causes some melancholy. My friends from high school and college are becoming grandparents, having started parenting a lot sooner than I, and my arms long to cuddle newborns again. I plead for time holding the young mom’s infants, but somehow someone consistently beats me to it.

I know that there are many who cannot bear their own babies. Some opt to remain childless, some adopt infants, some adopt older kids. I have friends in all camps. The struggle is real. When I didn’t know whether I’d be able to have children or not, each new birth around me was painful. Now, each new birth is a joy as I know that it’s my time to be a mentor, to let the younger women have their chance. I’m certainly glad to be able to sleep through the night! And it’s probably a good thing that my daughter and I won’t be hormonal at the same time once she gets in on the act.

IMG_4533Bearing babies isn’t what makes me a woman. It isn’t what gives me worth. It isn’t even what defines me. I am a mom and it’s a wonderful thing. But I am first of all a child of God. Nothing will change that. Instead of being defined by the blood I used to shed each month, I am defined by the blood shed for me on the Cross. It will never run dry.


Now excuse me while I go find a baby to hold.





Today, I took my two teenagers in to their pediatrician for their annual well-check. Seeing as how Justin now is taller than his doctor, it was an interesting experience. We’ve had the same doctor since Justin was born, and we love him. But I know eventually we will have to move on.

I remember the interview we did with him when I was pregnant. I remember Justin’s induced birth and bout with pneumathorax immediately after, and his brief stay in the NICU where we dubbed him “Bubba” because he was so much larger than any of the other babies in there. I remember our rush to the emergency room when Justin was 6 months old and had his first scare with his milk allergy. And the stitches in his head when he fell on the coffee table. And the stitches near his eye when he was pretending to be blind and walked into the edge of a bookcase. And his surgery where the meds they gave him beforehand made him act drunk. And the rush to the hospital when he had his first asthma attack. Dr. Didea talked us through it all, even if he couldn’t be there to do the fixing himself.

And I remember Nathan’s uneventful birth. Three hours and done. No scary NICU or anything. It was smooth sailing. And I remember how Justin loved him when we brought him home. When we finally moved Nathan into Justin’s room once Nathan was sleeping through the night, every little noise he made had Justin yelling for us: “Nathan’s crying! Nathan’s crying!” Then there was the staples for Nathan after Justin threw a broken piece of asphalt in the air and it landed on Nathan’s head. Back to see Dr. Didea.

The boys have always shared a room, but not always happily. I have stuck to my guns on this issue because I believed it would make them better friends, better people, better roommates, better spouses. Do they still argue? Absolutely. Do they drive each other crazy? You bet. But who is the first one they look for when they want to show someone something cool they’ve discovered? Their brother.

It is my fervent desire that they be the best of friends as they grow up. They are two very different personalities: Justin is into guns; Nathan loves swords and knives. Justin is a go-getter, seemingly not afraid of anything; Nathan hangs back a bit to see how things play out. Justin is driven; Nathan is laid back. Nothing wrong with either of those personalities and they both have much they can offer each other. As they mature, I see them respecting each other more. That is a wonderful thing.

They are brothers; I pray they become best friends.




Thankful today for:

123. a good report

124. teaching poetry writing to 2nd graders

125. bananas

Faithful in the Little Things

Recently, our vacuum cleaner broke. And, life being what it is, we couldn’t go right out and get it fixed. If we had a carpeted house, a few days, or maybe even a week of not vacuuming wouldn’t seem like all that big a deal. But nearly our entire house–save two of our smaller bedrooms–is hardwood or ceramic tile. And we have a big, black dog and a white and black cat. After just a day, the hair drifts are ankle high.

Daily vacuuming of pet hair is a kid chore, as is daily cleanup of the dog’s business in the backyard, the litter box in the garage, wiping down of the kids’ bathroom and setting and clearing of the table for dinner.

If any one of those things doesn’t get done, the affect is cumulative. Thus the ankle-deep drifts.

No amount of nagging gets me buy-in. So I’m taking it up a notch–if chores aren’t done, allowance is affected. No more Mrs. Nice-gal. Be faithful in the little things and you will be given more.

Matthew 25:14-30 tells the parable of the talents. Verse 21 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.”

What’s that old saying? If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Momma’s not been too happy with the lack-luster attitude about chores, so we’ll see if this new standard works. I made them all sign a contract. Day one down. We’ll see how the rest of the week goes. This is life lessons, folks. If you don’t do the job, you don’t get paid. If you don’t do it well, you don’t keep the job. But even more so, it’s what God desires out of us. Do all things heartily, without complaining, as if God was your boss. Because, in the end, He really is.

Thankful today for:

87. a normal temperature for my middle child

88. a youth group my kids love

89. old TV shows

Who Am I?

Justin, Morgan, Nathan

After spending much of the last two days doing things with and for the kids that I didn’t really want to be doing myself, and feeling like a selfish PIG because of it, I’m trying to find out who I am again. What is it that I really enjoy doing? How do I spend time with my kids without feeling like I’m not getting any enjoyment out of it? What’s the matter with me? Who am I anymore?

I know I don’t like standing in lines. I know I don’t like amusement park rides. I know I get really tired of noise ALL the TIME. I don’t like being pulled around, clung to, whined at, argued with. I know I don’t like playing games that degenerate into bickering and crying when one loses or doesn’t get ones way.

The problem is, it’s not all about me. And I want it to be. Except that I’m a mature adult and know better than to act like that. But it’s how I want to act. I want it to be all about me. What if I don’t want to spend the day at Wet ‘n’ Wild? What if I don’t want to walk around for hours at a Fall Festival, then wait in line for more than an hour at the rock wall, only to have the child insisting I stay there with her give up after getting only three feet off the ground?

As was so plainly pointed out to me when I mentioned my feelings, I do many things that don’t involve the kids and that take a chunk of my time: I watch baseball, I read, I am on the worship team at church, I’m the copy editor of Worldwide Challenge magazine. We host a small group in our home every week.

All of that’s true, I am involved in those things and they aren’t kid-driven, but somehow all that seems more for survival than fun. And they’re things I mostly do alone. Nobody really enjoys watching baseball with me. I read by myself. I work from home as a copy editor by myself. The only things I do with other people are lead worship at church and host our small group. But those aren’t leisure-time activities that I find “fun.” They may be what God’s calling me to do right now, and they may be fulfilling, but they don’t bring me lighthearted joy.

I want to feel light hearted.

But if I’m not feeling that way, I don’t think it’s my activities that are the problem. Ouch. Don’t really want to have to face the condition of my heavy heart right now. Takes too much work. And I’m tired.

Tired of laundry and grocery lists and cooking. Tired of correcting homework and having frustrations taken out on me. Even vacations aren’t really vacations when disputes still have to be settled, cooking still has to be done, laundry doesn’t stop. I think I need a week at a spa.

And whether it’s my own vain imaginations or not, when I think of wanting to do something for myself, I feel guilty for wanting it. When I do sit down to read and my daughter comes to me wanting me to play with her, I feel very guilty for not really wanting to do that. It is all about the kids during these years, right? But what’s that the airlines say? Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you try to assist someone else.

I feel like I can’t breathe. And nobody in this house understands that. I really want them to understand. I want someone to ask me what it is that I want to do. But first I have to figure out what that something would be.