Practicing the presence

This past year I turned to a free online resource to help me bring order to my household. The thing about this resource that has worked for me (in spite of a great deal of cheesiness and way too many reminder emails that clutter my inbox and totally annoy my husband) is that she believes that a few well-chosen habits each day will change the life of your house. She tells you what her habits are, and there are a few she is quite religious about, and then she encourages you to develop your own. Throughout the day she sends you email reminders (this is the part Doug dislikes) for the “core habits”, the ones she thinks are necessary for everyone, as well as testimonials and essays from other users.

Some of the core habits I have embraced are: doing a load of laundry every day, figuring out what is for dinner in the morning, keeping my sink and counters absolutely free of dirty dishes at all times, and doing a simple routine in my bathroom that keeps most of it shiny and clean (the bathtub and floors are still a battle but boy does the toilet shine!). So while my inbox requires a bit more maintenance now, my home has truly become a more restful and peaceful (read clean and less cluttered) place.

The last three years have been challenging for me in the area of my spirituality. I feel as if every spiritual discipline I have ever relied upon has become close to impossible to maintain. Between pregnancy and a newborn and sleepless nights and breastfeeding (and then doing it all over again so quickly), I have felt like a spiritual failure more often than not. Gone are the days of solitude, spiritual reading, meditation, and prayer as I have known them. Even how I experience Sunday worship has been altered: no longer do I enter into the singing and prayer and reading with focus and devotion, but rather with one child strapped to me while herding the other in the back of our worship space (yes, we have a nursery but I like Mercy to experience some of our corporate time, even if it is in her own “almost-two year old” way).

I remember an especially discouraging experience this past spring. Our sister church in Pasadena had offered members of our church free admittance to their three-day Lenten retreat, which featured group sessions with Brennan Manning, and designated times and spaces for meditation and prayer. Aaron was just two months old, and I thought I could pretty easily get him to sleep through most of the sessions at least, and the church offered childcare that I was sure Mercy would enjoy. It was not to be. Aaron was fussy and noisy, so the first night when it was just he and I (Mercy was at home with Doug) I spent the session alternately nursing in the prayer room and pacing in the foyer, where at least I could strain to hear some of what Brennan was saying. The next day, while Doug was at synagogue, I again attempted to participate in the group session, only to have my cell phone vibrate four times alerting me that Mercy was not okay with the nursery situation. After ungracefully exiting the sanctuary the fourth time, I decided to scrap the whole thing and just hang out with my girl in the nursery.

I wanted to stay for the lunch offered, but once again, what could have been an enjoyable time for meaningful conversation was instead one of those “what was I thinking” thirty minutes of sheer stress. When I finally made the decision to just leave (which I should have done hours sooner), I was walking to the place I had to park which was about a block away when Mercy did a wild face-plant onto the cement, and came up screaming and bleeding. I sat on the ground holding my little girl, with my infant in one of those hard-to-carry carseat buckets next to me. With the diaper bag on my back, the heavy infant carrier, and my screaming daughter (and my car a block away), I sat defeated. I was ready to cry myself when two friends emerged who had heard Mercy’s cries. They graciously helped us to our car, and I cried all the way home. That night Doug said: “you’re not going back for the evening session?” and I looked at him as if he had just suggested I rip all of my fingernails off one by one.

More often than not, this has been what my pursuit of a spiritual life has felt like lately. And while it certainly is not always this extreme, the reality is that the things I am dependant on to feed my life with God are no longer things I can assume.

Which takes me back to my housekeeping. I am slowly learning how a few simple habits can literally change my household. I need to learn more about how that works for my spirituality. As I make this ungraceful shift from a Julian of Norwich to a Brother Lawrence spirituality (dishes and diapers as opportunities for attending to God in prayer), I need to learn new ways to practice life with God. I think I need to figure out what my “core habits” can be right now and embrace that instead of resent the loss of what does not fit this season.


  1. Great post. I’m the Brother Lawrence type. When I had been at Shoreline for a year and a half I was doing dishes (ironic) feeling sorry for myself. I had a friend that was riding a horse across Mongolia and another friend that was at the Everest base camp … and I was washing dishes, having never left the continent even once. At that moment I realized that if I could not find God in what was in front of me, for surly he was there, then I would not find him riding a horse or climbing a mountain. At this point in my life I don’t do a single classic spiritual discipline. I know at some point in the future I will, but right now I don’t. Some would say, if you’re not willing to get up (or stay up) that extra bit of time then you’re not experiencing everything that God has made available for you. But, I know … that if I don’t get sleep I hate my life, and I start to hate my wife and kids … and I’m certain that God didn’t make that available for me. So … when I’m sweeping the floor for the twentieth time in the day … I thank God it wasn’t twenty-one. Brother Lawrence was a good man.

  2. Thanks, Steve. It’s funny the temptation–to want God in the spectacular and be unwilling to see or feel God in the mundane. That’s totally what it is…It makes me think about how we “sell” God to people from the pulpit or wherever by promising the spectacular, and then when life just happens it is like we’re suddenly “missing” God. Hmmm…..

  3. Erika, always remember that as you continue to raise those two beautiful babies to be polite, caring and responsible adults, you ARE doing God’s work. In fact I can’t think of anything more important at this stage of your and Douglas’ life right now. Peter and I are thrilled to see what wonderful parents you both are (although we do worry constantly about their high-crime environment). There is nothing more Godly than the care and nurturing of children. Seminars come and go, but do not define us or leave a legacy. Children do. Bless you both for that understanding.


  4. Beautifully said Erika. This really touched me as it echoes so much of my experience as well. Just hearing you describe it is continued encouragement to me.

    God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.

    And someday-people tell me- we will regain some of the contemplative that we’ve experienced…

    By the way – you and Doug are incredible parents – in all of your decisions. You two live out the life that God has called you to faithully and genuinely, and that is an amazing, enriching, life-giving way to be and raise a family.

  5. Thanks, Susie. It blesses me to know that I have partners in this journey 🙂 I remember someone saying to me that the spiritual disciplines are not all to be used at all times, and that there are seasons for when and how certain disciplines may be used fruitfully in our lives. I think it is also for me a lesson on grace–God’s pursuit of me and acceptance of me in spite of myself! And really, when I think of the things being a mother is teaching me, about God, about life, about faith, I think it might be the richest journey yet 🙂

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