Picture this: you’re at Bible Study. You’re tired, but you’re not just feeling a bit fatigued, you’re exhausted—more exhausted than you’ve ever been in your life. It’s because of things like countless nights of interrupted sleep, breastfeeding around the clock, lack of down time and constantly tending to the needs of a little person who is completely and utterly dependent on you. Furthermore, even though it’s been a couple of months since the birth, your body is still recovering and you’re sore all over—even in places where you didn’t think it was possible to be this sore. Your fatigue makes concentrating on anything (let alone Bible reading and prayer) quite difficult. Sometimes you start reading a verse only to forget how it started when you reach the end of it. Occasionally you nod off—only to be jolted awake by the CRASH! of LEGO Duplo bricks being dumped into plastic tubs by little people blithely oblivious to the fact that you’re doing Bible Study.
Your eldest rugrat seem to positively delight in coming up to you, tugging your arm and saying, “Mummy! Mummy! MUMMY!!!” repeatedly until you give her your undivided attention. You may have been in the middle of making a profound theological point arising from the passage (well, you think it was profound), but then you have to break off and referee the bickering and wailing two-year-olds who haven’t yet learned how to share and take turns. Or you need to change a stinky nappy, or take the toddler-in-toilet-training to the bathroom, or feed your famished screaming baby. When you return, the group has already moved on to the next question or a different topic of discussion, and you’re completely lost. Or you’ve missed an important prayer point that a group member has raised and it seems impolite to ask her to repeat it—especially as there’s only five minutes left and you still need to pray together.
This is what I call Extreme Bible Study—trying to engage in the normal activities of Growth Group (i.e. studying the Bible together, praying together and encouraging one another in Christ) in the face of perpetual disruption and distraction. I’m not sure if dads groups are like this (or even if kids are a regular part of dads Bible study), but pretty much every mums Bible study group I’ve been a part of has been like this.
Chaotic as they are, these sorts of groups perform a very important function for mothers with young children. At this stage of life (and I would argue that it’s at this stage more than at any other stage), the Christian walk can feel too hard. If you’ve been up half the night with a baby who won’t settle, if leaving the house is a struggle and you just can’t face the day, or if you’re so worn down by the task of kid-wrangling under-5s that the last thing you want to do is read the Bible, it can be easy to think things like “What’s the point of going to Bible study if I’m not getting much out of it?”, “What’s the point of going to Bible study if I don’t have the capacity to look after others, let alone myself?” and “What’s the point of going to Bible Study if I can’t concentrate and just don’t have the brain space for theology?
Yet often this is the most important time for mothers of young children to be attending Bible study, because it’s when they most need to be encouraged to persevere with the Christian life—to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering”, to “stir up one another to love and good works” and to “not [neglect] to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”, as it says in Hebrews 10:23-25. Everything becomes so much harder once babies come along, and that often includes living as a Christian. So it’s right and even imperative that mums continue to gather together and spur each other on in their walk with Christ.
It also has the added benefit of modelling to your children from a very young age that you think that the Bible and your church are important—important enough to spend regular time studying God’s word and gathering with other Christians. Mums Bible study gives your kids the opportunity to get to know their peers in the church over many weeks. Obviously this doesn’t really benefit babies, but it helps toddlers and preschoolers to start to form some sort of relationship with the kids that they will (hopefully) grow up with.
That said, mums Bible study groups can be challenging. If you’re a mum with young kids, here are a few tips to help you to get the most out of each study:
Accept that your fatigue is here to stay and is going to make things difficult. Of course you’re going to be tired. Of course that’s going to affect your concentration, memory skills and attention span. Of course that’s going to affect your Bible reading and praying.1 That’s okay. Everyone here understands and no-one is judging you for it. In fact, they’re all just glad to see you and spend time with you today. Don’t be discouraged, don’t beat yourself up and don’t think that you’re a bad Christian. Do your best with what you have and be kind to yourself. It won’t be like this forever.
Expect to be interrupted—whether by your kids or by other mums dipping in and out of the study, needing to do stuff for their kids. This is the new normal: the days of continuous and unbroken intense Bible study are over. (For now, anyway; you’ll probably have that again later when the kids are older).
If you end up not being able to make the study because everything is going wrong or you just can’t face leaving the house, don’t feel bad. Your salvation is not dependent on your attendance at Bible study. Message the leader to let her know and even take the opportunity to ask the group to pray for you. Try again next week.
Remember the essential things of the faith and grab onto them: God loves you, Jesus died for your sins, Christ has conquered death once and for all, so put off your old sinful self and live for him. Even if you only get one thing out of the study that encourages you in your walk with Christ, that’s a big win.
Thankfully, for most mums, the season of life that gives rise to Extreme Bible Study is only short, compared to the span of our lives. As you weather the grind of the day-to-day and the ups and downs of parenting during these years, try not to give up meeting around God’s word with other Christians and keep on raising your weary eyes to look to Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). You and your family will be glad you did.
By Karen Beilharz