Sometimes I get into a parenting funk. Or really, a life funk. One of those seasons when there are too many demands on time and energy, too many nights punctuated by sleepless children, too many ills in the world reminding us that the kingdom of God is still super not yet here.
When I get into these seasons (yes, seasonS), I find that all the details of keeping our family afloat have to shift to the edge of our life-household-spiritual peripheral vision. We perhaps wear the same clothes several times in a week (laundry didn’t get done). We eat more boxed mac and cheese than our pediatrician would suggest (don’t want to have the fight over broccoli). We bump into the television remote and maybe parenting responsibilities are suddenly shared with five enthusiastic animated helper puppy dogs. For more than the AMA’s recommended 2 hours. Sometimes my prayer life sounds a lot like ‘Thank God they are asleep.’
These seasons of parenting funk remind me, when I stop judging myself for going through them, that sometimes you have to reorient yourself to the essentials. To stop with the extras, and just aim for what is needed in this moment, what is needed to get through this day. What is needed to doggy paddle out of the deep end, and over to the pool edge where we can hold on, take a deep breath and try again.
I never thought that in the midst of one of these seasons, a 14th century lady who chose to isolate herself in prayer would be immensely helpful in considering the chaos of a twenty-first century family life.
Julian of Norwich was born in 1342, her childhood placing her in the middle of the Black Death and its recurrences; her adolescence, in the midst of the Peasants Revolts; and her adulthood, witnessing the violent and bloody suppression of religious dissenters. So, she knew something about chaos.
Towards her thirtieth birthday, Julian (most likely not her real name, but named after a well-known church in Norwich where she ended up living) fell gravely ill and neared death. In her illness and subsequent miraculous recovery, she experienced the ‘Shewings’ or showings of the Passion of Christ and of his mother, Mary. She recovered from the illness and wrote down this experience, which was also the first (extant) book written in English by a woman. She wrote two versions of this account, the shorter one soon after her recovery, and a longer version after a number of years had passed. Between the two, she requested to live adjacent to the Church of St. Julian as an anchorite – a person set apart for prayer in seclusion and contemplation.
The book stemming from her experience, Revelations of Divine Love, offers a series of questions that she asked in her vision and the answers given to her. She inquired about sin and what might happen to those who had not yet heard the gospel. In her vision she experienced a divine love akin to mothering love – feminizing the traditionally male imagery of God and Christ into female, mothering figures.
One can find her words from this work all over the internet, but one of her main responses stands as a rock in the waters of parenting funk season:
From the time these things were first revealed I had often wanted to know what was our Lord’s meaning. It was more than fifteen years after that I was answered in my spirit’s understanding. ‘You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more. But you will not know or learn anything else — ever.
In the center of her chaotic world, and in the seasons of our human fallible frenzy, Julian offers a reminder of what is essential to being a follower of Christ, a child of God: the deep assurance of God’s abiding love. When one could come undone with all the complex ways of understanding God, Julian reminds us, then and now, that sometimes the simplest answer is the one which can sustain a weary soul until we can reach the shore.
Some days (weeks) we need that reminder that ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ May Julian encourage you, whether you are a parent, grandparent, child or human being. She offers us her unshakable conviction that God’s deep love can cover and restore us in the midst of whatever season of life we find ourself, be it the seasons of chaos, boxed macaroni and cheese, and unwashed socks for days. It can, and it will, be well.
[Image Credit: Julian of Norwich icon written by Lu Bro OBJN, used with permission from The Julian Centre]