newborn

how to pray with baby: in peaceful moments

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The last in the series on how to pray with baby: all day long, up all night, in fussy moments, and in peaceful moments:

. . .

holding - fHolding

To pray:

The Lord, your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he acted with you before your very eyes in Egypt, as well as in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord, your God, carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place.

Deuteronomy 1:30-31

To practice:

Notice your habits of holding your baby. Is your back arched? Are your shoulders slumped? Your wrists aching? Each time you pick up baby today, be mindful of the way you carry him or her. Make small adjustments to relieve the tension in your body.

Pray to God for the strength to carry your child throughout their life, not only when they are small enough to carry, but as they grow into adulthood.

Ask for the wisdom to know when and how to shift the way you hold your child, whether in your arms or in your heart.

 . . .

Resting

To pray:

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
   from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
   and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
   serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
   and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.

Isaiah 58:13-14

restingTo practice:

When your baby finally closes eyes to sleep today, let yourself lie down and rest for a few minutes.

Even if you have ten thousand other things you should be doing, even if the sink is overflowing with dishes, even if your older kids are running wild downstairs, even if you don’t have time for a real nap, simply let yourself rest and breathe deeply for several good minutes.

Take a Sabbath break in the middle of newborn time which follows no schedule. Allow your thoughts to settle and your love to rise.

Honor your body’s need to rest as a sign of strength, not weakness. Let yourself remember that it is not up to you to do it all. Delight in the truth that God’s ways, not yours, are ultimate.

. . .

Beholding

beholdingTo pray:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established; 
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them? 
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:3-5 

To practice:

Go outside on a clear night and look up at the stars. Remember how small your life is – your worries, your problems, and your fears – when seen against the vast universe above you. Give thanks to God who created the heavens and the earth.

Go inside and watch your baby sleep. Remember how big your life is – your joys, your loves, and your gifts – when compared to the tiny child before you. Give thanks to God who created this unique life and all its potential.

how to pray with baby: up all night

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Continuing with the practical side of spiritual practices with newborns, here is the 2nd in this series of simple ways to pray while caring for a baby: all day longup all night, in fussy moments, and in peaceful moments. 

. . .

wakingWaking up at night

To pray:

I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I put my hope in your words.
My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.

Psalm 119: 147-148

To practice:

Next time you are up with baby at 2:00 am (or 3:00 am, or 4:00 am – or all 3!), think of all those who are also awake at this late hour: employees working the third shift, tired parents tending to sick children, monks and nuns praying the hours.

Pray in solidarity with those who work while others sleep. Pray in thanksgiving to God who is always present, watchful and waiting.

. . .

Rocking

To pray:

… I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

Psalm 131:2rocking

To practice:

As you rock back and forth with your baby, let the rhythm set the pace for your prayer.

Meditate on a two-part prayer that matches your movement forward and back.

A-men. Je-sus. Yah-weh.

Or choose the four-part cadence of the ancient Jesus Prayer:

Jesus Christ / Son of God / Have mercy on me / A sinner.

As you connect with your rhythm and breath and baby, let yourself be lulled and comforted as you quiet your own soul within you.

. . .

Swaddling

To pray:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Luke 2:7

To practice:

Whenever you wrap your baby in soft blankets to keep her warm or tight swaddlers to help him sleep, think of Mary wrapping her newborn child in love and warmth. Ask for Mary’s guidance to love, protect, and care for your child.

swaddling

. . .

Singing

To pray:

But I will sing of your might;
   I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been a fortress for me
   and a refuge on the day of my distress. 
O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
   for you, O God, are my fortress,
   the God who shows me steadfast love.

Psalm 59: 16-17singing


To practice:

When you sing to your baby, think of someone who sang favorite lullabies to you as a child: a parent, grandparent, older sibling or baby sitter.

Hold their love in mind as you repeat verse after verse. Give thanks to God for the small, simple ways we share love with each other.

And when you run out of ideas for songs to keep you awake while you help baby fall asleep, try a church hymn – an old classic from growing up or a new favorite from today.

Add your voice to the church’s song of praise to God, who is faithful in the morning, all day, and at night.

. . .

Tune in next time: how to pray with baby – in fussy moments!

how to pray with baby: all day long

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First: a confession. The series on spiritual practices with newborns? Turned out nothing the way I expected. What I thought would be a practical guide turned into my philosophical wanderings as I processed this summer. Great for me, maybe less for all you new parents who told me you were excited for the series. Thanks for reading along anyway!

Second: an inspiration. All those practices I wrote (and rambled) about? Still wonderful ways to pray when you have a new baby in your life. For those of you drowning in diapers and midnight feedings, I’ve compiled a list of short Scripture verses and quick prayer practices that you can do while caring for baby.

All day long. Up all night. For fussy moments. For peaceful moments. 

Starting today…

. . .

feeding

Feeding

To pray:

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25:37-40

To practice:

The next time you’re tempted to check the clock when feeding the baby – how long has it been since he last took a bottle? how long have I been sitting here nursing her? ­– close your eyes instead and give thanks for all the good meals you have enjoyed in your life. Thanksgivings, Christmases, date nights, nights out with friends, family dinners at home.

Pray for someone with whom you shared a memorable meal. Pray for you and your child to nurture generous hearts to share with those who are hungry. Pray in gratitude to God who feeds you.

. . .

cleaningCleaning

To pray:

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

John 13:12-15

To practice:

Each time you clean up after your child today – diaper change, bath-time, spit-up, wet crib sheets or worse! – offer up a petition for their future.

May they always know love. May they always be surrounded by people who care for them. May they always grow in the ways they care for others.

. . .

healingHealing

To pray:

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.

Jeremiah 17:14

To practice:

When your baby gets hurt – from shots or diaper rashes or bug bites or scratches – remember that your role as a parent is not always to protect them from every harm, but to help them handle life’s bumps and heal from life’s wounds. Humbly ask God for the strength and wisdom to love like this.

Each time you try to soothe your screaming newborn, hold in mind one way that they may need to heal from hurts as they grow: rejections by cliques and crushes, disappointments in sports or extracurriculars, academic failures, high school heartbreaks, challenges in college, professional and personal setbacks.

Ask God to guide your child through the journeys of hurting and healing that lead into adulthood. Pray for resilience and forgiveness for both you and your baby.

. . .

Tune in next time: how to pray with baby – up all night!

 

spiritual practices with newborns: holding

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Be still and know that I am God.

Your hands have held things that terrified you. Your first set of car keys. A boy’s sweaty palm. The college admission letter. Cold cans of beer. A brand-new passport.

All gripped by fingers that trembled, knowing the weight of what might come next, the thrill as well as the terror.

God was there somewhere, in what you held.

Be still and know that I am.

Your hips have carried things that taught you. Armfuls of books down high school hallways, then grad school library stacks. Piles of file folders from one job, then another. A niece, then a nephew, then three more.

All slung on one hip, shifted to the side as you walked, aware that what you now held was changing the way you moved, subtly but for good.

God was there somewhere, in what you cradled.

Be still and know.

Your arms have embraced things that overwhelmed you. Sobbing friends after break-ups. Exhausted relatives after funerals. A brand-new family of in-laws. Your first child. Your second son.

All wrapped round with arms that wondered if they could stretch wider, if they were strong enough not to shake even as they tired.

God was there somewhere, in what you accepted.

Be still.

armfulBut maybe nothing else you’ve held has mattered as much as what you hold now, all day and all night, upstairs and down, inside and out, while you soothe and sing and stave off sleep, while you make breakfast and eat lunch and cook dinner.

One small baby, who squeaks and squawks into your neck, who aches your shoulders and slows your steps to heart’s pace.

This is not to say that bearing children trumps all other experiences. Or that parenting’s importance makes other callings pale in comparison. Or that everything up to now has been mere practice. You know none of this is true.

But the weight of what you carry now is no longer your own life. It is possibility within your hands. It is a brand-new person unfolding. With all the beauty and terror and wonder that offers. You know this is true.

Be.

Everything is changing because of what you are learning to hold.

Watch the world shift as you pick him up. As you cradle him to your heart. As you hum in his small curl of an ear.

Watch your life stretch, then settle to embrace what you’ve been asked to hold.

Watch yourself becoming someone new because of what you carry.

Watch God find you there. Again and always.

Be still and know that I am God.
(Psalm 46:10)

spiritual practices with newborn: beholding

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He gazes at me, steel blue eyes searching. He gazes. And gazes. Sometimes so intently, for so long, that I have to work to hold my own gaze steady, to meet his eyes with mine.

beholdThis is part of the (happy) work of having a newborn. Watching them. Watching them change in front of your eyes. Cheeks rounding, lashes lengthening, hair thickening, thighs plumping, fingers uncurling.

Wondering what they will become. Wondering who this person might be, whose life I hold in my hands.

My grandma used to call this stage “the baby’s face unfolding,” waking to the world. My mom tells me this each time she visits to help and hold our newborns.

It is the same story all parents watch, over and over again. A first chapter opening in a brand-new book.

But you have to look to see it. Behold.

. . .

He’s an old soul, my friend declares, handing the baby back to me. You can always tell by their eyes.

Later I think about her words and wonder if we’ve gotten them backwards. Even setting aside reincarnation, as we Christians do, the saying suggests that contemplative, quiet babies are wise beyond their years. That they hold some distant, ancient knowing behind their eyes.

But babies are able to hold our gaze so intently precisely because they are brand-new. They have no filter yet to smudge up their view of the world, no hurt, no grudge, no knowledge of evil. Their innocence is what permits them to disarm us by their unrelenting gaze. They will not avert their eyes out of shame or drop their glance from embarrassment, not yet. They have not learned that lesson.

What we see blinking back at us in their eyes is not the wisdom of the aged – as clear as their vision of the world can be. Instead, babies bring utter openness. Unclouded vision. Eyes not yet dimmed by the cruelty or sorrow they will inevitably see. Not worried or weathered or wearied by years.

He is a young soul, in fact. Behold.

. . .

What does it mean to behold?

In Scripture it’s the greeting of the angels. Behold, for I bring you tidings of great joy.

In church it’s the reminder that recaptures our attention every time we gather round the table. Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

In literature it’s an air of importance. Lo and behold… There’s a weight to beholding, beyond watching or seeing. You are witnessing an impressive sight.

Even the parsing of the word – to be and to hold – signals a notable duality: you must take a certain stance and accept what it offers.

And when you contemplate in the way that beholding invites, something will happen. You will appreciate or perceive or understand or discern differently than you did before.

You will be changed.

. . .

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:5

This summer I’m beholding my own life, too.

For the first time in a long time, I’m looking around at everything I have and finding it so good. Yes, there is the exhaustion of the newborn days. And yet I have felt profoundly happy ever since this baby arrived. For a while I joked about it to friends as “really good hormones.” But now I start to see how much deeper this joy and gratitude runs.

I found new motherhood hard, really hard. I remember in the early days reading about the shift that happens when your first child turns five. All of a sudden you glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel – that your life will not always revolve around dirty diapers and 2 am wakings. That your child is growing up, and quickly. Becoming a person before your eyes, a walking, talking, someday-even-rational human being with all the fullness and wonder of what it means to be human.

And I feel that now, with Sam heading off to kindergarten in the fall. Perhaps for the first time, I feel myself settling into motherhood with deep-seated joy, less tinged with the anxiety that accompanied his birth.

I look around me at our growing family, this beautiful bunch of boys, a husband I adore, work that I love, writing that sets my heart on fire. And I feel so blessed, so deeply wrapped in the presence of God. It has been a hard summer already, physically and emotionally, and yet I have not lost sight of the deeper joy here, the stream of goodness running through it all, clear and fast and strong. I can behold my life in bright sunlight, eyes open and willing to hold the gaze.

And I am able to be what I hold.

. . .

The babe is at that lovely stage where smiles start, now only small bursts of wide-cheeked delight, fleeting rewards for the monkey faces I ape at him, over and over, hoping to catch a grin. I have to watch him for a long time to see them. He is teaching me the practice of beholding: the discipline of deciding to stop and see what is right before my eyes.

Perhaps that’s the lesson in beholding: that you have to be here and hold on if you want to witness the joy, to catch the goodness that rushes behind, beyond, underneath the surface.

These things are trustworthy and true, these moments of joy we know to be of God.

Watch the beauty unfolding before you. Watch your own life blossoming. Watch it bring you joy.

Write these words down. Behold.

. . .

For a new twist: today look your child or loved one in the eyes. Behold them. How does it feel to hold their gaze without words? Where do you see the good – the God – within the life you love?

spiritual practices with newborns: comforting

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As a mother comforts her child,

so I will comfort you…

Isaiah 66:13

The poor babe is sick. Gift of a cold from his big brothers, generously passed along a week after they finished hacking and sniffling and crying for us all night long.

Neither of them were ever sick so small, and it breaks my mama heart to see his tiny newborn face turn beet-red as he struggles to breathe when he coughs. And when baby is only a month old, there are no cold meds to clear his congestion, no Tylenol to help him sleep. We can only watch and wait for the cold to run its course.

Life with a sick baby increases the yuck factor exponentially, too. He snarfs sticky trails on my shoulder, spits up sour milk puddles into my lap, sneezes a germy spray all over my face.

But all I want to do is comfort him. Every cell in my body screams out, hard-wired to cuddle and cradle him. To try and help what I cannot heal.

. . .

When we pick up a crying baby, we revert to the rhythms which comforted us as children, too. The most ancient rhythms – snuggle and rock, cuddle and coo. The body leads and the lullaby follows: knees soften, hips sway, arms cradle, hands rub, lips hum, eyes close.

There isn’t much to comforting a baby. There is only everything. The filling of the moment with the emptying of the self.

Has it been 10 minutes or 2 hours since we started rocking in this chair, or pacing the path of the upstairs hallway?

And who are we becoming in the process?

. . .

The thing about having a baby and older kids is that you realize how the same soothing rhythms stay with us. Sam wipes out on his older cousin’s bike, and he comes flying around the corner, wailing for a hug. Thomas’ nose runs like a leaky faucet, and he cries out in a most pathetic plea – I just want you to hold me!

I cradle them with the same sway that rocks their baby brother whenever he wakes. The same rub of the heaving back. The same murmurs whispered low. The same lingering kiss on the sweaty forehead. All the instincts that quiet the newborn give comfort to the big kids, too.

Perhaps deep down we are all always this small soft child. Crying out to be seen, soothed, loved.

comfort1

Shouldn’t soothing be the simplest subject? Something about it is so instinctual that even our 4 year-old starting shushing in his baby brother’s ear the first time he held him.

But all week I’ve been struggling to write this. Not only to steal away enough time to fill the page, time away from rocking and holding and cuddling and nursing.

But also because it seems like a saccharine subject at first glance. The spirituality of soothing? It’s convenient to conjure up a God who comforts. Isn’t that the stuff of the opiate of the masses – creating the God we crave?

Yet I believe comforting is not simply some handy attribute of the divine. It’s an imperative at the heart of faith. The catch with Christianity is that we are called – even compelled by our very nature, created in God’s image – to comfort in turn. And there’s the rub indeed.

Because it’s hard work to comfort. It aches the back and tires the arms and rasps the throat and wearies the head. Comfort is not just about the calm, but the storm.

Sometimes when I’ve held an inconsolable newborn, on one of those crying jags that pound in your eardrums and pulse in your blood, I’ve wondered how God could possibly stay with us – all of us – through our own shrieks and screams and sobs. The only answer I can find is that this practice of love is about deep faithfulness – not some token pat on the back, not mere temporary relief.

Behold, I am with you always. As a mother comforts her child.

. . .

And it’s so sweet to soothe these small ones, too. So undeniably full of love and loveliness – to have the sleeping head finally loll onto your shoulder, to hear the smooth steady breath that once was ragged, to watch the peaceful eyes stay closed when you gently lay the baby back down.

Both sides of soothing – the challenge and the comfort – whisper something about who God is and who we are invited to be in turn. Consolers. Lovers. Peace-makers.

The ones who stop and stoop and scoop up to soothe. The ones who murmur quiet words over the wails and whimpers. The ones who keep watch over the sick, the weak, the wounded.

Come to me, all you who are weary. Christ like a father who crouches down and opens arms wide to embrace the sobbing child, the smallest who comes seeking only one thing, the desperate need in the painful moment.

So I will comfort you. God like a mother clasping her child to her chest, wrapped in the most intimate embrace, beating heart to heart.

This is love with skin on.

. . .

For a new twist: next time you’re comforting your children, remember who has comforted you through past hurts. Have you been blessed to know someone who comforts as God comforts?

Where do you need comfort in your life? What comfort are you called to give?

(And if you missed the rest of the series on spiritual practices with newborns, check out feeding and cleaning…)

spiritual practices with newborns: cleaning

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Yellow-stained diapers are hanging outside on the deck, bleaching in the sun. Pump parts are drying on the kitchen counter. A rolled heap of wet mattress cover and crib sheet waits on the floor in front of the washing machine. Burp cloths are draped across couches and chairs.

(And as I type this one-handed while nursing, the baby spits up a whole mouthful of milk on my last pair of clean jeans. Ok, my only pair of postpartum jeans.)

If feeding is the most basic of human needs, cleaning up after feeding feels like the most bodily.

Babies bring with their cooing charm every imaginable smell, shape and color of bodily fluid. New parents almost universally agree that they never dreamed so many discussions would revolve around the state of their offspring’s output.

Wiping dirty bottoms, swabbing runny noses, washing soaked sheets, and chasing curdled spit-up – there’s nothing romantic (or even vaguely pleasant) about such tasks required by newbornhood.

But there’s something powerful about the transformation of cleaning up after small children. (Even though it’s always temporary. Another explosion inevitably occurs five minutes later.)

As a parent, you have the power to deal with whatever mess is currently distressing your child. You can change dirty into clean. Wet into dry. Foul into sweet.

As children age into adolescence and young adulthood, the messes become more complicated, less easily fixed. So for now, amid the diaper pails and laundry heaps of the baby stage, there’s something satisfying about being able to help in simple ways.

Even if the cleaning never ends.

wash

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Psalm 51: 7, 10

In Scripture, there’s nothing small about cleansing. Ritual washings to make humanity holy. Baptism’s plunge into a rushing river. Even a great flood to wash the world anew.

God cleans, clearly.

And for us? Cleaning means forgiveness, too. Transformation. A second chance.

Of course we have to keep practicing it over and over. Wash, rinse, repeat. Because that’s the deeper lesson we need to learn – of how to live with each other, how to acknowledge what is damaged and dirty, and how to keep starting fresh.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Every new morning that starts with a leaky diaper and a shoulder drenched with spit-up.

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. So that I can care for those around me, through their stains and smells and splatters and shortcomings. (And my own.)

There’s a lifetime of spiritual practice in that.

You bathe the baby, and he wets all over the dry towel. You change the dirty diaper, and the fresh one stinks as soon as you snap up the onesie.

The saying holds true: cleaning while your children are growing is like shoveling while it’s still snowing. Cleaning never ends. But neither does forgiveness.

(Good to remember while scrubbing dried spit-up off the car seat buckle. Again.)

. . .

For a new twist: while you’re washing and wiping, think about some struggle or sin in your life that you wish could be scrubbed clean. Or pray for the strength to help your child get through the bigger messes they will face as they grow.

What cleaning task do you find satisfying? What do you dread?

spiritual practices with newborns: feeding

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With a summer baby we slip into bed while the sun is setting behind the hill and we wake up when the sky is already bathed with light. And still we haven’t slept a solid stretch. Because all night he is nursing.

All day and all night and all the hours in what feels like the one long day since he was born.

Feeding the baby is a full-time job.

On the surface it seems a simple response to a simple need. You hear the hungry cry. You offer breast or bottle. But nursing newborns has never been easy as pie for me.

Sam had to get a hefty dose of antibiotics right after birth and wound up with a raging case of thrush that we passed back and forth for four months. (My whole body still shudders to think about it.)

Thomas started off with a terrible latch that led to all kinds of bleeding and crying (mine, not his).

And poor little Joseph came into the world tongue-tied. So we’re still waiting to round the corner to that magical moment where every feeding ceases to be Toe-Curling Pain and becomes Smooth Sailing, clear skies ahead.

But no matter what bumps we encounter along the road to keeping babies well-fed, it’s the all-consuming-ness that can feel most overwhelming. How often newborns need to eat. How long it takes to feed them. How their needs never follow a neat schedule.

It’s no exaggeration to say that baby’s hunger sets the pace for the rest of life spinning around it.

boppy

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ (John 21: 15-17)

This is Jesus’s pastoral charge to Peter, of course – to lead and to serve. But it’s also a commission for each of us. Feed. Tend. Feed.

Sometimes we can generalize how we interpret Scripture’s commands – care for those who are hungry in the spiritual/emotional/symbolic sense. But sometimes we have to take the words at face value, too. Jesus is speaking about feeding after he cooked breakfast for his friends, after all.

Feed my lambs. The youngest. The neediest. The ones who cannot feed themselves.

To feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty are the first two Corporal Works of Mercy in the Catholic tradition. And we all know food and drink are the most basic of human needs. We cannot survive without them.

So feeding these smallest and weakest among us?

The teeth-gritting early weeks of learning to breastfeed? Or the tired task of warming up bottles for a screaming babe in the middle of the night? Searching for the right formula, cutting out dairy to fight fussiness, dealing with engorgement or mastitis or low milk supply?

These are spiritual practices, too.

Feeding the hungry. Caring for the least. Giving to those in need.

Scripture’s full of stories of God feeding us. Manna from heaven and bread from the table. John’s resurrection story of Jesus feeding his friends – with fish, then forgiveness – and asking them to do the same. It matters how we feed others.

And when we back up from the bleary-eyed bumble of feeding baby day and night, we can start to see that we are literally sustaining this little one’s life. That we are nourishing another human being while giving deepest comfort. That we are building up their bones with the knowledge that they are heard, loved, and cared for.

Even when baby starts to eat solids, and feeding begins to feel like just another cooking-and-cleaning chore, we can choose to remember that these acts mean more than three-square-meals-a-day. Because this is how we love in the body.

So maybe this is exactly the work we’re meant to be immersed in, day after day. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.

It’s all he asked of us. Do you love me?

spiritual practices with newborns: a new series

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Here we go again! Settling into Newborn Land…

It’s a strange place to live. Everyone keeps odd hours. Crying is common. Spit-up and strange smells are expected. Nothing is ever clean.

But it’s a sweet place to stay, too. Newborn neck nuzzles and curled froggy legs. Milky breath and fuzzy fine hair. Sleepy smiles and softest skin.

The newborn time turns brains to mush. Hearts, too. It reverses routines and casts aside comfort. It makes you crave quiet and sleep so desperately you can taste it.

But it also reminds you how simple life can be. Sleep, eat, repeat. No lofty demands, no stressful schedules.

Just the babymoon cocoon of those dearest and nearest, wrapped up in the needs of the littlest.

. . .

On our third sojourn into Newborn Country, I’ve noticed how quickly the days are spinning by. Mostly thanks to Joseph’s two big brothers who never got the memo on “sleep when the baby sleeps,” choosing instead to play/yell/laugh/eat/whine/run/tantrum while the baby rests.

So the only long, lazy stretches of gazing at my sweet babe are reserved for the wee morning before anyone else stirs.

In those hazy hours before dawn, I think about the practices of caring for a baby. How simple, yet how laborious they can be. How feeding, diapering, and comforting a newborn fill every hour of every day.

If you’ve spent more than five minutes surfing round this blog, you know how my thoughts wind God-ward. So lately, as I nurse and change diapers and rock and swaddle and soothe, I’ve been thinking about how these simple acts can be spiritual practices.

How everyday care for babies teaches us about God and who God created us to be.

Over the next few weeks, as I’m adjusting to life as a mother of three (and a writer with fewer brain cells), I’ll be wandering through Newborn Land, eyes open to the spiritual practices that come with caring for baby.

Feeding, cleaning, rocking, singing, holding, soothing, and resting – to name a few.

Clichés about babies pile up faster than dirty laundry, and advice for new parents abounds. But would you believe Scripture has something to say about these spiritual practices, too?

For those of you in the trenches of Newborn Land (or Toddler Territory, or Preschool-Ville), I hope this new spin on well-worn activities might breathe fresh air into your tired bones.

And for those of you whose days of diapering and nights of rocking babies are now far behind you, I hope you’ll share your wisdom with those of us who still have far to go!

So stay tuned for some spiritual enlightenment on spit-up and soggy crib sheets.

Update: here’s the complete list of posts on spiritual practices with newborns!

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top 10 spiritual lessons from newborns

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To be perfectly honest, the days of newbornhood – while amazing and awe-inspiring and full of love for a sweet new soul – have not been for me a time of deep connection to God.

My foggy head would spin with a swirl of nursing and diaper changes and laundry and sleep. Some days I could barely form coherent sentences, let alone see the spiritual significance of the moment. I knew God was present with us, everywhere and always, but I was either self-absorbed or baby-absorbed. God had a tough time getting through to me.

It’s easy to get down on yourself during the dry deserts of the spiritual life. But this time around, in the early weeks after birth, I started thinking that if I wanted to find God in the chaotic season of the newborn days, I should take a lesson or two from the small child sleeping in my lap.

Three months later, as I realize that the smiling, laughing, ready-to-roll baby is no longer a newborn, I offer you the following:

Top 10 Lessons for the Spiritual Life from the Lives of Newborns

10. If you want something desperately, and you cry out loud enough, your call will be answered. We all doubt at times that God hears our prayers. But the parental impulse to run and pick up the screaming child has taught me that God-as-parent must do the same for us. We do not always see prayers answered in the way we imagined, but they are heard and held and honored by the One who created us. Mothering instinct affirms it must be so.

9. When someone is trying to give you what you need, don’t fight it. I can’t tell you how many times my spiritual director would gently offer me the same wise counsel as she had during our last meeting, and I would vigorously shake my head, adamant that it wouldn’t work for me. Hindsight and a sense of humor have shown me I was wrong. She knew what I needed, and I fought it as furiously as a fussy baby refusing the breast.

8. Sometimes you grow slowly and sometimes you transform overnight. Any parent will tell you there are mornings you go in to pick up your child and find that they have changed while they slept: broader nose, wider eyes, longer legs. But other times we wait for months for the baby to meet the milestones: smiling, rolling, walking, talking. Change is sometimes quick and sometimes creeps at a crawl. We can never force the growth: we can only welcome, witness, wait.

7. Be gentle with yourself. The work of carrying for a tiny, helpless human being is exhausting. Creating a strong, healthy prayer life is hard work, too. So we have to be gentle with ourselves, affirm the small steps we’re making, and care for our basic needs along the way.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Neither of these pursuits – parenting or praying – was meant to be solitary. While we each bring our own wisdom, the wisdom of those who went before us is tried and tested, ancient and true. We do well when we admit we can’t do it on our own, that we need others’ support and inspiration to keep going.

5.  But don’t follow everyone’s advice. People will give you lots of suggestions: cuddle that baby, or cry-it-out; pray in the morning, pray without ceasing. Some of the advice you hear will help; some of it will not. Because what works for one may not work for another. (Subsequent children teach you this quickly.) And what works during one season of life – whether it’s centering prayer or swaddling to sleep – may not work for the next.

4. Routines = good; ruts = bad. When you rise early for morning prayer each day and it settles your soul before you start your daily work, it’s life-giving. When you drag yourself out of bed every morning for a month grumbling about how you need more sleep, morning prayer will not allow God to speak to your stubborn, sleepy soul. Don’t be afraid to roll out of a rut and into a new routine that works for you. Forcing the baby to sleep, eat, and follow your schedule will grind you both into the ground. A flexible routine that adapts to changing days helps everyone breathe easier.

3. Everything is a phase. They call it a dark night – and not decade –  of the soul for a reason: it shall eventually pass. And you don’t meet a lot of colicky grade-schoolers. Of course, trusting this truth in the moment is always a struggle. But looking back we always see that the dark days and the tough times were not quite as endless as they seemed.

2. Be prepared to be surprised. God will sneak up on you when you least expect it: during late-night nursing sessions, in the middle of simultaneous screamfests from multiple children, surrounded by piles of dirty laundry. If you try to script how you encounter the divine, you’ll surely miss it. Likewise, the baby will never follow the book. But if you’re open to wonder amidst the mess of reality, you might just be surprised.

1. If you suspect a change is needed, make it quickly. Otherwise things will really start to stink. Whether you need a kick in the pants to restart your prayer life, or whether you just need to change someone else’s pants, do it sooner rather than later. Rarely will you regret it.

What truths – spiritual or otherwise – have your children taught you?