I read somewhere that Susanna Wesley would pull her apron over her head as a signal to her children (all 19 of them) that she was praying and was not to be disturbed. This was held up by the historian as evidence of personal devotion and a deep commitment to spirituality. That take on things is possible. On the other hand, I find it easier to imagine a scenario in which a frazzled Susanna reaches her saintly limit and cowers under her apron pleading with God for enough grace not to strangle little Johnny or Charlie. It is said that her children knew not to disturb their mother when she was praying. Of course they did. All children know when their mother has completely had it. Susanna employed her trusty apron. My mom brandished her wooden spanking spoon. I get a big red "V" on my forehead. No one wants to disturb Mom when she's reached such a pitch of desperation that she is relying on divine intervention to bolster self-restraint.
I'm probably not doing justice to Susanna Wesley, but these days history is anyone's ball game. We make of it what we can. I'm not necessarily advocating this approach, just taking advantage of it. Somehow it is comforting to imagine a mother who raised the likes of John and Charles Wesley needing to hide behind her apron to salvage a few quiet moments for reflection or prayer or a ten minute doze.
That said, I do admire Susanna's tenacity. She didn't retreat. Instead she found ways to worship in the thick of life. She did it behind her apron or while she taught her children their lessons. Worship was a part of her busy life not a diversion from it. Sometimes it seems that we treat worship like yoga. It is something we do to take a break from our day, to calm ourselves, and to prepare to jump back into the fray. It's as if God is reserved for quiet moments, scenic hilltops, and church auditoriums. We're lost without an overhead and guitars. We forget that God is with us. He is near, even when pea soup is scorching on the stove and the baby is screaming for attention.
Don't get me wrong, there are times when we do need to withdraw from all the noise of life. We need to carve out crevices for solitude and reflection and prayer. I'm just uncomfortable with a tendency I see in myself to think of retreat as the only way to meet God. I forget that he is in the midst of the fray as well.
Yesterday I read the Bible and prayed in a tent constructed from a bed sheet stretched between a couch and chair in our living room. It's a new tactic. I've discovered that if I put Nathan down for a nap and set Caleb's imagination going down some path, I can eek out a few moments to read and pray and otherwise collect my thoughts. Gone are the days of lengthy vigils in the campus prayer chapel or long, solitary walks in the woods. For a while I feared that this meant my days of sensing God's nearness were gone as well. It's hard to praise God while cleaning cereal off the floor for the hundredth time in a week or to pray with a three-year-old playing horsey on your leg. Most days I fail miserably at it. I am learning, though, to meet God in the thick of things. Yesterday this meant praying in a tent while Caleb sang campfire songs. Some days it means just remembering to thank God for the things that bring me joy or keep me sane--Nathan's slobbery kisses or Daniel washing the mountain of dishes I'd put off till the day of reckoning (aka. the morning of empty cupboards). I worship in the fray imperfectly, but I hope I am getting better at it.
Surely Susanna and I are not alone in our mad attempts to celebrate God and turn our attention toward him in the thick of life. Do you have any strategies of your own? If so, leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your suggestions.