This Mother’s Day and every day, feeding my kids is an opportunity for prayer.
KRISTEN DEEDE JOHNSON
In recent months, a number of my friends have become converts to the way of the Instant Pot. As I’ve listened to them share the many ways in which Instant Pot cooking makes their lives easier, I’ve found myself wondering: What is it about life today that makes those with an Instant Pot so very grateful for this gadget? Conversely, what makes those of us without one imagine that it could solve every meal-making crisis that we face?
This Mother’s Day, like every day, a lot of women in my demographic face an ongoing quandary: Our ability to tend to the home is often compromised by the pace of life that many of us are living, the norms that we’re trying to uphold, and the multiple callings to which we’re trying to be faithful. Despite our sincere desire to treasure the ordinary and embrace the quotidian, it often feels like the caregiving parts of our calling get relegated to the cracks and margins in our lives. And yet Scripture’s invitations—to “give thanks in all circumstances” and “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17–18)—apply as much to those cracks and margins as to any area of our lives. How, then, do we pray and “practice the presence of God” in the midst of these daily pressures?
I’ve found this struggle especially poignant in the context of daily lunch-making. I would buy an Instant Pot in a minute if it could make my kids’ school lunches for me. As I wash grapes and roll up slices of turkey, I can feel welling up inside me the need to do something more productive, the sense that my time would be better spent cranking out emails, and the desire to get this done as fast as humanly possible.
The pressure to squeeze lunch-making into the cracks is not unique to me as a working mom. I watch my single friends struggle to find time to even get groceries in the fridge, never mind to cook and clean. And I listen to my homeschooling friends struggle to fit everything in, too. Even my friends with a deep commitment to hospitality feel the stress that comes from commercially established standards of housekeeping and food-making. We all feel these tensions, even as we long to live differently.
The phenomenon of “feeling rushed” has become so noticeable that it’s now a measure used by the Pew Research Center. A quarter of women surveyed said they feel rushed all of the time. This increase in pressure comes in part from shifting norms around work and also from shifting norms around parenting. Another part of the picture—perhaps the most notable one—is related to the degree to which we as a society have attuned our lives to the cultural values of efficiency and productivity.
As Anne-Marie Slaughter notes in Unfinished Business, American society as a whole has identified the competitive world of breadwinning as more important than caregiving. That means we often don’t know how to value acts of caregiving—from cherishing lunch preparation to tending to our aging relatives to investing in our communities—or to name why they matter.
As a believer, I face the additional challenge of naming why caregiving matters from a Christian perspective. Scripture, however, makes this delightfully clear. When I read the whole biblical story in light of the themes of home, homemaking, and caregiving, I begin to see them everywhere: God created a home for us in which we could dwell with him and care for each other and the rest of his creation. We lost our home when we were expelled from the garden. God made a covenant with Abraham, promising his descendants a promised land in which they could make their homes. Jesus tells his disciples that they will join him in his Father’s home, full of many rooms. God promises that in the age to come, we will dwell with him in his redeemed creation.
All throughout the Bible, we read about God caring for his people by providing food, drink, and clothing (including the very tender act of making Adam and Eve clothes after they had sinned). The psalms, too, reflect themes of caregiving. “The psalmist’s portrayal [in Psalm 104] is of God as a great housekeeper,” writes Margaret Kim Peterson, “pitching a tent, clothing himself with light and the earth with water as with garments, ordering boundaries, making homes for creatures, giving them food, sustaining all life, creating and re-creating through the Spirit.”
If housekeeping and caregiving are significant enough for God to attend to, then surely they are significant enough for me to give focused, loving attention to—even when I’m feeling rushed. Lunch-making, like all things, is a space where I need to practice thanksgiving and prayer.
To help me cultivate this posture, first, I try to savor the God-given gift of having children in my home who need to be fed and nurtured. Their needs—for grapes and sandwiches, carrots and cucumbers—are part of the caregiving calling in my life. As I do, I place myself in the company of Christians like Brother Lawrence and Kathleen Norris who were deeply aware of God’s presence in the ordinary goodness of the kitchen and the laundry line. As Tish Harrison Warren writes, “I want to learn how to spend time over my inbox, laundry, and tax forms, yet, mysteriously, always on my knees, offering up my work as a prayer to the God who blesses and sends.”
Second, I try to think about my small actions as a way to participate in God’s enduring commitment to caregiving and homemaking, as evidenced throughout Scripture. I receive the gift of God’s care through his saving love, which clothes me in righteousness, and through his ongoing presence in my life, which sustains and nurtures me daily. As I eat and drink and put on clothes, I am likewise receiving caregiving gifts from the God who created us to be both physical and spiritual. Accordingly, when I nurture my children’s faith and prepare food that nourishes their bodies, I strive to remember that I’m reflecting God’s care for their whole selves.
Third, as I reflect on these biblical themes of caregiving, I remember those who don’t have enough food or access to safe water. This in turns reminds me of the imagery we see in Scripture that depicts the age to come: feasts, wedding banquets, vineyards bursting with fruit, and the elimination of suffering from hunger and thirst. These biblical images of God’s abundant provision point to his deep-seated desire for us to have our physical needs met, even here and now. As I make lunches, I can pray a Latin American prayer—“O God, to those who have hunger give bread, and to us who have bread give the hunger for justice”—and let those words shape our commitments as a family.
Finally, I try to stop and name my desire to be ever-efficient, and then I offer this impulse to God. As I do, I am reminded of the importance of community. The cultural forces that shape my inclination toward productivity are ones that I can’t resist on my own. Attending to biblical convictions about caregiving does indeed make a difference, but I need other Christians to help me imagine new ways to live and different values to prioritize. I need a larger church community to help counter messages that I’ve absorbed my whole life about productivity and efficiency and what counts at the end of the day. And I need to ask for help from others in the body of Christ, instead of independently rushing to fit it all in and get it all done.
On my own, it’s easy for me to receive this call to praise and thanksgiving as one more burdensome “should” in my life. But when I join with others who are likewise wanting to “practice the presence of God,” it becomes easier to receive Jesus’ promise that his “yoke is easy and [his] burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Together we have access to a caregiving God who is there to hear our pleas of desperation and our prayers of thanks—even as we bend over the cutting board.
Kristen Deede Johnson is professor of theology and Christian formation at Western Theological Seminary. Her latest book, The Justice Calling (co-written with Bethany Hoang), won the politics and public life category for Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards.