It was a cold, wet Thursday afternoon and she had brought jam doughnuts.
My friend Suzanne and her two children had come to my house for a little play date and a catch up. But somehow, all of us gathered together in a relatively small house, on a wet afternoon, did not bode well for a decent conversation!
As mums we’ve learnt our focus will probably shift from the kids to each other, to feeding the baby, to making snacks and sorting out squabbles, to tidying up the mess and going on toilet trips and then back to each other again.
And we have learned to be okay with it.
So I switch on our coffee machine and we try our best anyway. For she had brought jam doughnuts…..did I mention that already?
Later there are piles of washing to fold, smelly nappies to change, meals to cook, tables to wipe, squabbles to sort out, calls to make, homeworks to do, bottles to wash, games to play and spills to mop up.
These days, my mind can easily become a constant whir of just.getting.it.done.
Three small children and a constant messy house do not lend themselves to providing an environment for a habit of focus. The noise and the constant questions and little people at my feet make my head hurt.
I figure if I can just make it to the sofa, then that’s where I’ll find the clarity of thought, the mindfulness, the purpose! But who am I kidding- as soon as I get there the first thing I do is reach for the remote – a bit of TV promises relaxation for a weary mind and body.
But not actually a whole lot of focus.
And so, motherhood and life at home are not my only excuses for a mind of mush. As when all is still and I do have some time to myself, I don’t even spend it wisely! Truly, I lack a whole lot of discipline and am often just bone lazy. My husband always ‘jokes’ about the fact that I need pushed. And I laugh. But he is right.
I’m not very good at seeing a job right through to the end. Come round sometime and I’ll show you all of my ‘abandoned’ DIY efforts.
I waste a significant amount of time mindlessly browsing on my phone or the tv or ipad. I procrastinate a lot, putting myself under unnecessary pressure because I’ve left things to the last minute.
I would like to live with a little more intentionality and to simply simplify! Strangely, it feels a lot easier to drag my feet through the clutter and the noise and all of the stuff. The thought of change and doing something about it seems like hard work, like too big a mountain. And I don’t really have the capacity for mountains just now.
But more than anything, more than all of this, I would love the focus to purposefully lean into that voice. You know, the one I hear in my heart- the one that says,
Give your friend a call, she needs you…
Ask your neighbour about her kids because she longs to talk…
Put the bin out for your husband, he feels love best through your actions…
Don’t rush bedtime tonight, your kids love that time with you.
I felt there was something in me that longed for a more focused approach to life. And I think when I say focus I mean more mindful. I’m talking about paying attention to my life and to His presence. To know that even in all of the crazy, He dwells and He speaks and He comes.
And so, it is as much about learning to carry His presence as it is about the discipline and making those wise choices.
But, is any of this possible at home with three small children? With all the screens in my hand, on my lap and on my wall competing for my attention? With my blasé attitude and insane love for my bed?
I think so. I mean, I think there is hope for me. With this focus stuff.
See, I have a bit of thing for St Benedict and the Rule he wrote for monastic living fifteen hundred years ago. They aren’t really rules as such, but more of a book of insights and practical suggestions for the Christian life.
Benedict talks of sanctuary in the midst of everyday life and this intrigues me.
I suspect that focus might not mean always having a space for complete silence and concentration. It’s probably not about my present circumstances or the number of needy small people in my house. The focus I need is not found in strong principles or correct attitudes or the right environment.
It is a posture of the heart.
It is finding God everywhere I look, in everyone I see and speak to, in everything I have, in every place I find myself.
It is awakening to His presence.
It is a life lived in union with Him.
Esther De Waal writes,
For what the Rule discloses is a life in which prayer and the constant awareness of the presence of God are never lived out at the expense of concern for the demands of the ordinary daily life, of attention to both things and to people. This requires of me nothing less than holding on to a contemplative centre, a heart of prayer in the midst of my busy daily life.
But hey, just because I realise something doesn’t mean I instantly change my ways and embrace it. Maintaining my ‘sacred centre’ is no mean feat and I suspect I will continue to figure this stuff out for a little while longer…
But I’m hopeful because here’s the thing. God comes anyway.
And maybe, as I stand and wash bottles and coffee cups, I will learn to lean in, focus and listen. I will soften my heart and hear the whisper of the One who knew me first.