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Motherhood: Practicing an Unholy Spirituality

In 2021, I was asked to give a blessing at my church on Mother’s Day. It was my first Mother’s Day, just a few months after I had become a mother. This is what I offered:

My daughter turned 5 months old yesterday. The start of her life was the catalyst of a change in me so profound that I may never fully comprehend the depths of it, because in the midst of being a mother, there’s somehow so little time to reflect on what it means to be a mother. What are you learning? someone asked me.

Oh, what I’m learning…

What am I learning in this season of sleepless nights, blown-out diapers, milk-stained shirts, the constantly tugging tether of my baby’s need? I am learning all over again what it means to be a child of God, as I learn anew, with a mother’s heart, the nature of God’s love for me. Just as the moon is there to remind us of the sun, my love for my daughter is a pale but beautiful reflection of the divine love that gave birth to unconditional devotion to another’s good no matter the cost.

I am learning that needs are meant to be met. The psalmist says of God, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” I embody the meeting of my daughter’s every need. Her hunger, her fear, her longing for touch, for sleep, for comfort, her craving to make sense of the world—my body is there for all of it. And God embodies the meeting of all of my needs, from the ones that shout to the ones that barely whisper. I can have no need, however deep, however hidden, no matter how intangible or inexpressible, that does not find its answer somewhere within God’s depths.

I am learning to hope, to trust that my labor is not in vain, to have faith that every weary bedtime bath and every task dropped at the sound of a frightened cry has eternal worth, eternal purpose, not just in my daughter’s life but also in mine. Motherhood is the path of my sanctification, this laying down of myself and leaning into strength and wisdom beyond the boundaries of this empty cup from which I can still pour day after day.

I am learning that God sees me in the midst of the mundane and meets me there when I am too consumed by the demands of the day to seek Her* on the mountaintops or find an hour of quiet solitude or dig out my Bible buried somewhere under all the spit-up rags and baby clothes beside my bed. She sees me, and meets me where I am—at the well, drawing my day’s water, all that I can carry, just enough for one more day.

I am learning the privilege of love, the discipline of patience, the pleasure of beholding my image in another, the sheer delight of God.

I am learning to embrace the faithfulness of God, as I watch my daughter embrace the faithfulness of my love. Once, she cried the moment she couldn’t see my face anymore. Now, she knows that whenever I leave, I’ll always come back for her, and in this wordless faith, she has nothing to fear. She can laugh and play in my absence because she trusts that I will always be there. She has internalized my presence. And through her, I hear the promise again: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

I am learning, in these little lessons on love and trust, that there is goodness woven into this broken world in millions of kisses and lullabies and loads of laundry—a hearkening back to a past that was perfect, a reaching forward to a future when all will be whole again.

I grew up in a conservative evangelical religious culture where holiness was measured based on correct belief and correct behavior

Holiness meant believing in a seven-day creation, a literal interpretation of the Bible, and penal substitutionary atonement, and engaging in behaviors such as adherence to a strict sexual purity code, abstaining from alcohol, and daily rituals of Bible-reading and prayer. My mother—who homeschooled five children spanning a sixteen-year age gap—was diligent in her daily “quiet times” with her Bible, and seemed to find comfort in them. I remember thinking even then, though, that it was a lot to ask of a woman buried in the demands of motherhood, that she not only take care of her household and her children, but also take care of her relationship with God, as though that connection with God was just another one-way street of giving time, energy, attention, and love.

By this point in my life, I have failed almost every category of holiness I was shown in my childhood. I have deconstructed my beliefs, and given up on torturing a literal interpretation out of the Bible. I’m a single mother who works full-time, and some weeks, just doing laundry is beyond me; finding time to engage in a daily “quiet time” feels like a preposterous and even self-damaging goal (three years of seminary kind of spoiled the Bible for me, anyway). I’m also queer and divorced; so much for the sexual purity code. I suppose I’m still doing well abstaining from alcohol—but that’s for medical reasons, not moral reasons, so maybe it doesn’t even count.

Even though I have fallen short of holiness in most of the ways that my conservative evangelical background values, I have never felt more spiritual or more deeply connected to the Divine than I do right now. While I don’t have space in my life to meet God on the mountaintops like Moses, I meet Her instead in all the mundane places of my daily tasks, like the Samaritan woman drawing her day’s water at the well and Martha preparing a meal in her kitchen and Mary tending to a grave early in the morning. I meet God in the growth and pain and triumphs of my clients, and I meet God in the washing of my dishes. I meet God in the making of lunches, and I meet God curled up in my bed at the end of the day. But most of all, I meet God in the work of parenting.

Motherhood has become my place of worship and my path of holiness.

I feel God’s attentiveness and affection when I bake muffins with my daughter, and guide her hands so that she dumps the flour in the bowl instead of all over the counter. I feel God’s delight in me when I drop to my knees and let my daughter run into my arms at daycare pick-up. I comprehend a little more of the depth of God’s grace and welcome for me when I repair a rupture with my daughter after I’ve gotten frustrated or misread her needs; as she embraces me and rests her head on my shoulder—trusting me still, even in my flaws and humanness—I get a taste of what redemption means. I pare away layers of my selfishness and complacency when I choose to play outside with my daughter when I’d rather watch TV. I know God’s fierce and burning love when I watch with a lump in my throat as my little girl sings and dances in her Elsa dress, loud and carefree and beautiful.

Spirituality is not for the elite. It is not the sole property of the righteous or the mystical. The ecstasy of encountering divine love is not reserved for those who have time to meditate for hours or spend undistracted days out in nature. All of us can find connection to something greater than ourselves in the everyday work of our lives. All of us are capable of spiritual growth in the here and now, right where we find ourselves, today, this minute. It does not have to include religion. You are not required to believe or to behave in any thing or in any way that feels foreign or unsafe to you. All it takes is a mindful opening of your heart and your body to the everyday magic of love, a practice of self-awareness that blossoms into others-awareness and then expands into awareness of the Beyond or the Great Other or whatever else your soul meets out there.

Let the spirituality of the everyday transform you, make you softer and kinder, wiser and more spacious within.

I know my spirituality is accomplishing good work when I feel a burst of kindness toward myself at the end of a hard day rather than judgment for the moments when I lost my patience or gave up on my goals. I know nothing is wasted when I wake at 2am to tend a sick toddler and feel held in loving arms when I finally collapse back onto my pillow. I know God is changing me for the better when my impulse is to hug my daughter rather than chastise her when she collapses into a wailing heap because she can’t have the cookie she wants before dinner. I am growing more compassionate. I am growing more mindful. I am dwelling in my body with more presence, more love, more grace.

As I close, I want to give you a couple of suggestions, small ways to practice spirituality in your everyday lives.

  • When you feel affection for a loved one—a child, a partner, a friend—pause and see if you can feel that same affection toward yourself, perhaps from God, or if a higher power isn’t your thing, then from your own higher self.

  • When you notice something beautiful, pause and practice gratitude for fifteen seconds (the minimum amount of time it takes for gratitude to leave a meaningful neurological impression).

  • When you are engaged in a mundane task—vacuuming, chopping vegetables, giving the baby a bath—pause and notice your hands; practice a quick reframe, to view your hands as instruments of love and your task as a gift of love.

  • And when you have a quiet moment, pause and close your eyes, and see if you can feel a sense of connection—maybe to a tender part of yourself, or to someone you love; to humanity as a whole, to the earth that sustains our life, or to something more immense than the sum of all those things.

It’s all in the pausing, I think—the pausing and the noticing. To simply pause and notice is a spirituality far richer and more authentic than any hymn or rite or teaching. At least, it has changed me more than any sermon or prayer ever has.


* The original blessing used male pronouns, since the church I attended at the time used exclusively male pronouns for God. Part of my spiritual journey of motherhood, however, has been realizing that God is not bound by gender, and that it is at times easier to connect with the Divine through the use of other pronouns. I use “she” in this version of the blessing to honor the maternal love I have found in God.


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