Recently Catherine McNiel published her first book, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017). Catherine’s fresh, wise perspective and beautiful language stood out in a culture where books on motherhood abound. If anyone is feeling like they can’t do one more thing as they navigate the years with young children, let me just say this book doesn’t heap on more guilt or add to the to-do list. The book simply offers hope and assurance right where you’re living. I had a chance to interview her recently about her book.
tell us a little about yourself.
Thank you! I’m a mom with three kids (and a few part time jobs).
I love to read and garden. I love to study theology and ancient cultures. I’m always
trying to learn something new. I’m enamored by
the creation of new life but find that working in the garden is less exhausting
than pregnancy. J
I found Small Things: Motherhood as a
Spiritual Discipline to be a refreshing look at motherhood. Can you tell us a little about your book?
In each chapter I tell
stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and
delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and
the tasks that fill them. I look at spiritual tools that already hide
there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and
consider how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every
day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so
many disciplines every moment of the day.
Why did you decide to write Long
Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?
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 quite
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.
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?
convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too
exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.
What are the “Practices” that you
describe in Long Days of Small Things?
At the end of each
chapter, I list three things we are doing already—things like walking, eating,
driving, changing diapers, going to work. And I explore how we can use these
things, already in our daily routines and schedules, to awaken to God’s presence
with us. Moms often don’t have time to add additional tasks and tools into our
days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the tasks already there! In fact, in
many cases, I think these natural things are the most effective.
How has motherhood impacted your
understanding of spirituality?
We think of spirituality
as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our
bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God.
That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum
bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud,
messy, physical, chaotic needs.
But God made us, didn’t
He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by
hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and
messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled
around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world
through her birth canal. God was born, you
guys. That’s our Good News.
All this physical stuff
that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to
speak to us, to save us.
So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither
quiet nor time” as the cover says—or dads, grandparents, and other caregivers.
Describe an experience that first
caused you to understand motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.
I was shopping with
my three kids. Can you imagine the scene? Lugging my infant in one of those
terribly unwieldy baby-carriers. Holding my toddler by the hand, while my
preschooler zoomed around the store. The diaper bag was falling off my
shoulders, and I clenched the grocery bags with the same hand that grasped my
And then…the door. I
couldn’t figure out how to get us all through. The baby was wailing for milk
and a nap, the toddler and preschooler needed lunch (and a nap). I wanted lunch
and a nap too, truth be told. But mostly I just wanted to get us out the door.
No one held it open for me, but plenty of people watched me make a fool of
myself trying to wiggle us all through without banging any heads or pinching
any fingers. It felt like a hero-feat, an epic win.
When I finally got
everyone home, fed, and sleeping, I sat down to read an article I’d been
saving; a short biography of a favorite Christian teacher. The biographer
described this hero of the faith as so spiritual, he radiated peace just by
walking through the door.
This stopped me in my
tracks. The memory of how I looked
going through a door was so fresh in my mind. I realized that if spiritual
growth entailed developing an aura of peace and radiance, I was never going to
arrive—at least not without getting rid of these precious babies!
The contrast between this
teacher and myself was so stark, and I realized he and I were simply on two
separate paths. I was seeking God through the chaotic but life-giving seasons
and tasks of motherhood, and this was going to look entirely different from the classic spiritual practices. “Results
may vary” as they say.
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 being to drink.
What are your hopes for the moms
reading Long Days of Small Things?
I told my publisher and
editor so many times: I want the title, the cover, and every word to convey
that I’m not saying you should do more. You
are enough. You are seen. You are loved. You are doing so much already, and
there is value here. God is here already. These long days of small things make
us feel shunted to the side, second class, invisible.
But I’m certain of one
thing: this is the very place God meets us. That’s why we practice spiritual
disciplines—to arrive at this place. I’m confident that every flowing,
bleeding, dripping, sticky, crying, dirty, wet, exhausted piece of motherhood
is a piece that God made and loves, a place where He came, and place where He is.
If moms can hear me say
that, and accept the invitation, and find Him there—I will be overjoyed.
Thank you for your words, Catherine! You can find Long Days of Small Things here
and visit her website at Catherinemcniel.com.