Editor's note: Today's guest post comes from Micha Boyett, whose just-released book found followers her journey as "Mama Monk," as she explored Benedictine spirituality during early years of motherhood. She writes here about rediscovering the honesty, grit, and hope of the Psalms through the example of the Benedictines, and how they helped restore her prayer life. -Kate Shellnutt
When I was five months pregnant with my first child, I kneeled on a concrete hotel balcony, alone, and made a choice to remain in youth ministry.
For three years I'd spent my days with high school and middle school students, believing that play and prayer could be held in the same hand. I sang Taylor Swift songs at the top of my lungs in the car with my 15-year-old students and then, in a moment, found myself talking a sophomore through her parents' divorce, or her friend's anorexia, or her certainty that God could never love her. My life in ministry was powerful and challenging and deeply meaningful. And now I was pregnant.
I kneeled on that balcony during my youth mission's conference, where friends and colleagues inspired me to continue in the ministry, and I begged God to make my future clear. Was it possible to minister and mother at the same time?
Many moms ask themselves a similar question. Are we capable of giving ourselves fully to work and fully to our children? Can we split our callings without fracturing ourselves in the process? I wondered if I could raise a kid in the midst of my wild life of Friday night high school football games and 6 a.m. Bible studies. I was passionate about my work. How could I not continue pointing high school students to the Jesus I loved?
I prayed, "I'll do it, Lord. You and me. We can do this." I would carry ministry into motherhood. I would bind them together. I would search for a way to hold them both. Me and Jesus. We would hold them both.
I didn't enter motherhood in ignorance. I had friends who had stumbled through the darkness of post-partum depression. I knew I'd face sleepless nights. I had two dear mentors who were living the hard, lean years of raising teenagers. I recognized that motherhood would be the heaviest task I'd undertake.
What no one prepared me for was how lonely I'd be for faith. As new moms, we expect our lives will change, but we never expect to lose prayer. We never expect to lose God.
It's difficult to minister to students, to teach young people to encounter God, when your life of prayer has evaporated into the fog. At first, when I was up hours each night breastfeeding and changing diapers, I told myself it was a season. I simply needed to find the time for prayer anyway, work harder, accept the sleeplessness. But I didn't. I fell asleep in the rocking chair, my baby in my arms, my chin drooped down to my chest. I didn't wake up early to pray because I'd been up late with students the night before. I was tired.
Like so many other Christian moms, I pushed through, convincing myself that the fatigue and struggle were tests of my faithfulness. If I wanted to follow Jesus, I should be able to wake at 6:30, despite my four hours of sleep. I should be able to wake and pray and show God I was serious here. I didn't want to be a failure.
I was a failure. I was a failure of prayer. And still I prayed with students. Still I taught Bible studies and spoke to rooms filled with teenagers. Still I trained my volunteer leaders. But, prayer? Alone, personal time with God? It puffed into a cloud. I stood outside and watched the wind carry it away.
It's easy to guess where this story goes. When my son was nearly a year old, my husband was offered a job promotion, a position on the other side of the country. I was so exhausted, so weak, that one of my first thoughts was relief: I could leave ministry. If he took the job, I would be forced to leave ministry.
We moved. And I set out to rediscover prayer, to find that puff of cloud the wind had carried westward. Maybe I'd find it in San Francisco. We can do this, Jesus. You and me. I grit my teeth. How to pray my way back?
The story of my return to prayer is a complicated one. It involves loneliness and the search for identity. It involves two monasteries full of Benedictine monks and an ancient Rule for monastic living. It involves a woman who needed to recognize the depth of her weakness and frailty, her doubt and fear, a woman who needed to find herself incapable of striving her way into God's pleased presence.
And once I found myself there—in the darkness, the loneliness, the doubt and the lack of God—I did what the Benedictine monks did. I prayed the Psalms. I said the words out loud every day. I forced myself through them. I asked God to let my attempts at prayer be enough.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22)
Why,Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10)
I prayed the words as they were. God was not afraid of my questions. God was not afraid of my doubt. God was not undone by my weak faith.
And in the grit of the Psalms. In the honesty and desperation. In my ordinary, unholy mothering life, I learned to pray again.
My prayers aren't so full of promises anymore. They're weaker, I suppose. I'm more aware of how much I need God, of how far I am from earning any position in the holy lineup. I will not be the woman who saves the world.
You and me, Jesus, I pray. Will you help me believe you exist today? Don't leave me.
My prayers are small. My faith is weak. I am not impressive. And I've discovered the God who finds me anyway. We are all loved by a God who provides the faith we can't muster up, a God who invites us into prayer, not because we are expected to perform, but because in prayer we discover the hope of restoration: of ourselves, of the world.
The Psalms aren't just desperate cries from desperate people. They are also works of worship. Sometimes the Psalmists lament and praise at the same time, in the same sentence. And that's the gift the Benedictines gave me: the possibility that I didn't have to be one or the other. I could come to God imperfectly, faithfully. I could ask the questions and live in the hope.
Yes, my prayers are small now. But my unimpressive life of prayer has become the richest sort of faith I've ever lived.
Micha (pronounced "MY-cah") Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. A former youth minister, she's passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. Her first book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer released this week. Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at michaboyett.com.
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