Everyone’s spirits are shaped. A lot of the time we aren’t aware of it, or if we are, we feel like formation “just happens” as we pray, read our Bibles, and serve others. But there’s more! A decade of motherhood has formed my spirit profoundly, actively, and relentlessly.
As 2010 opened, I had a 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and 3-month-old. Pouring myself into these young lives kept me so busy I scarcely noticed the new decade. I remember aching for 2020 when I’d have more independent kids. Motherhood has been the crucible within which I’ve been ground finer and made more malleable. My lessons were learned in the cloister of the bathroom, the blackness of midnight wakings, the raucousness of unfettered kid-fun, the rhythm of school years, and the pervading terrifying honor of showing these little ones how life is done well.
The first five years birthed in me a desperation to hold on to myself and God because caring for these kids felt consuming. So I clung to what I knew—go to church, study (at least read) the Bible, and praying lots of “help me” prayers—but my spirit floundered. My irritability and discouragement were evidence.
Here are five things that did work in those first five desperate years:
1. Asking for and accepting help. One year God made me aware that I didn’t accept help well or often, so I committed to accepting help every time it was offered whether I wanted to or not. In this place of humility, connection and community grew. It meant being vulnerable, and not worrying about whether the amount of mutual giving was equal, which in turn bred true gratitude.
2. Paying attention to and caring for my body. One of the few books I read during these years was Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas which really helped reform my view of body and spirit. I also joined a gym—so I could have a break from the kids! And so I discovered how my spirit responded with gladness when my body was well. These two things jumpstarted a process of discovery that continues today on how our bodies are so important to our spiritual lives.
3. Doing things that made me feel alive: One of the best things I did was create and cultivate a large garden in our fenced backyard. It was my happy place where I could relax into a mundane activity, love creation, be creative, work hard, think or not think, and be invigorated.
4. Making space for solitude. I’m naturally inclined to quiet and solitude, so this was imperative for me, but I believe it’s imperative for everyone. At first it felt awkward to have someone babysit while I went to be by myself, with no job to do, errand to run, etc. But everyone noticed how different I was when I returned from solitude. I laughed and was silly, my patience grew exponentially, hope returned.
5. Deciding to stop and make a change. It was a difficult decision to change where we worshiped and to stop leading our small group, one that we made prayerfully and with much agonizing discussion. It meant ending some commitments and starting new ones, and we don’t take this lightly. But I am so grateful we didn’t stick with the “ought to”, and went with the “get to”.
In 2015, my pastor invited us to take a year off from leading at church and invest in our spiritual formation. That experience turned the entire trajectory of my life and unleashed creativity as I stopped trying to do the same thing hoping for new results.
Here are five (of many) things that worked in these last five years:
6. Committing to a spiritual formation group where I learned about and experienced different spiritual disciplines. This investment is still bearing rich fruit and was the catalyst for my change. We dove into our experiences and felt beliefs to gain understanding of our image of God and ourselves. We learned and practiced things like centering prayer, lectio divina, the examen, keeping Sabbath, and much more.
7. Taking a Jubilee year. Jesus invited me to take a full year to focus on joy. It was a year to “lay fallow” and not produce, but simply be. I did not move into anything new, and even let go of commitments under his direction to make space to discern my way out of my modus operandi—I should do it, therefore I will—and into his invitation to live in relationship with him.
8. Learning about attachment, neuroscience, and Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). This came right out of my mothering journey, where I knew I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to help my daughter, so I went looking for them. I found what we needed from Dr. Karyn Purvis’s research and teaching on trauma-informed parenting, which became a part of a profound shift in my felt and cognitive understanding of my relationship with God. (A great book on the connections between neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality is Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, M.D.).
9. Cultivating two spiritual friendships. We meet monthly and we expressly check on each other’s spirits in the circumstantial contexts of our lives. A great book on this is David Benner’s Sacred Companions.
10. Spiritual direction. The space that a spiritual director holds to non-judgmentally listen to you and the Holy Spirit is sacred. I am able to connect with the Holy Spirit in deeper and truer ways, fostering change and hope in me, which is bearing much fruit in the lives of those around me. If you are curious about spiritual direction, you may contact me as I am currently in training to become a director. Your church may have some or know of some, and there’s also a large listing at Spiritual Director’s International.
May your spirit be formed profoundly as you discover with the Lord what feeds and forms your soul during the 2020s!
Having been a burnt-out leader in the church, Kimberley Mulder discovered her pace with grace, and now writes to sustain your soul as you serve at www.KimberleyMulder.com. She loves to tend souls with a listening ear and a reflective heart, and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Ministry at Portland Seminary with the goal of becoming a Spiritual Director. The outdoors is always calling her name, so when not tethered to a computer, you can find her exploring, gardening, and taking pictures anywhere outside of four walls (some of which make their way on to Instagram @writerkimberleymulder). Her husband and three kids journey with her, adding purp