A Contemplative Life for Moms is Noisy

A few years ago I picked up J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind (referral link). It was published in 1997, and is a little bit dated in its lack of references to social media and smartphones. Otherwise, it’s been a helpful look at the role of intellectual growth in the life of a Christian disciple. In many ways, he speaks my language as he argues that growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is an essential part of loving and serving God.

Moreland outlines why this has declined as a priority in the church over the past decades, discusses what the mind is (this was a complex chapter of the book!) and how learning impacts our spiritual growth. Then he devotes a section addressing more practical matters, including developing the discipline required for learning. He writes:

“If you truly desire to develop a Christian mind, then you must squarely face this fact: The mind cannot grow without reflection and meditation on what has been studied, and reflection and meditation require periods of quiet and solitude on the one hand and simplicity of life on the other. You must order your life so as to remove, as far as possible, given your other commitments, unnecessary modern gadgets and distractions to maintain focus and quiet in your life…Do what you can to free yourself from unnecessary distractions.”

This quote leaves me with a very mixed reaction. Since the book was published, unnecessary modern gadgets pervade our lives even more. I feel the pull of online media and the internet in general, and am often lack the strength to swim against the tide of my own desires, let alone those of the wider culture.

But while I can easily identify these sorts of “unnecessary gadgets and distractions”, I think Moreland paints a picture of the intellectual life that can appear extremely unattainable to most mothers. Even if I pare away the unnecessary distractions, I am still left with my “other commitments”, which in my case is an underwhelming reference to my three boys, my husband, my church, my neighbors, my duties towards my house and my homeschool.

If reflection and meditation require quiet and solitude, then I am in trouble. My home is rarely quiet, and I am hardly ever alone. Even when my kids are finally in bed for the night, I still hear my big boys chattering in the room next door, almost until I fall asleep myself. And although I tend to rise early, I’m often greeted far too early by one of my children. Even with my best discipline, my best efforts, my best “ordering of my priorities” as Moreland puts it, I find my efforts thwarted. Sometimes it seems like the universe really is conspiring against me.

So what of the intellectual life for moms?

Personally, I don’t accept that cultivating my intellectual life is a task that must wait until I can have literal quiet and solitude. In fact, I don’t think it can wait until then, which is one reason why I’m writing about education for moms. Instead, I think we have to reframe what reflection and meditation look like on a daily basis, when our days are full of other people.

Reflection and meditation can look like:

  • Talking to your kids about what you loved about Bible study this week
  • Turning off your audiobook or podcast while you cook dinner and letting your thoughts run where they may
  • Taking five minutes is enough time to copy that quote into a commonplace notebook
  • Asking your husband about his thoughts on an article that you’ve both read
  • Enjoying your kids’ school books because they are living and beautiful, even if they are technically written for children
  • Learning to narrate to yourself as you fall asleep at night

A contemplative life, a life where we intentionally learn and grow as persons, doesn’t need to be monastic, an ideal for other people in other stages of life. It is one that we pursue now, sometimes in brief snatches, and often in community, in conversation, in the midst of our good and necessary distractions.

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