Cradles and the Cross

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Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

John 21:16

Last week, I took care of my grandson while my son and daughter-in-law were at work. We live hundreds of miles apart, and I welcome opportunities to help them when we visit. My husband and I raised three children from scratch plus a couple bonus kids who arrived as tweens—half-baked, as we like to tease them.

With all that experience, I thought I was plenty prepared for the grandparent gig—long days in which you get nothing done but ensuring the baby’s survival: making meals, changing diapers, picking up toys, cleaning up messes, giving baths, praying, singing, reading stories even as you struggle to keep your eyes open.

How do you nurture your spiritual life when caring for others who rely on you takes every ounce of strength you’ve got? #thislifeweshare

We forget so quickly what it’s like to be a caregiver on call twenty-four-seven. Expectant parents usually receive the cliché advice from the veterans: Hang in there—the days are long, but the years are short. The kids will be grown and gone before you know it. They grow up so fast.

That’s absolutely true, but when you’re stumbling through those 2:00 a.m. feedings, it sure doesn’t feel like it.

You might be in the throes of parenting right now, or could be you’ve reversed roles and the older adults you depended on are now depending on you. Maybe you’re in the sandwich generation, caring for children and aging parents at the very same time. And every bone in your body is exhausted.

Toning spiritual muscles is vital for our well-being, just as regular physical exercise is, but when loved ones’ needs dominate the landscape of your days, soul care can be nearly impossible. How do you nurture your spiritual life when caring for others who rely on you takes every ounce of strength you’ve got?

In her aptly-named book Long Days of Small Things, Catherine McNiel describes the dilemma:

My responsibilities [as a mom] rarely allow me to shower, much less sharpen spiritual practices. Silence and solitude? Never, ever, day or night. Prayer? Harder than you’d think after years of sleep deprivation. Fasting? Not while pregnant or breastfeeding.

If your days are spent at home caring for young children, aging parents, or a spouse with declining health, you’re well aware of the limitations full-time caregiving poses. Unless you have family nearby to help or can afford respite care, it might be impossible for you to join a Bible study or participate in a faith community on a regular basis. Social-media feeds where friends post engaging photos of their activities only exacerbate the isolation you’re experiencing.

But what if the activities that already define your days are refining your soul in the process?

McNiel writes,

Though we mamas may appear half-crazed, sleep-deprived, harried, and unkempt, our souls are being taught and sharpened and purified. . . . We’re not able to sit and ponder this, or even be aware of it most of the time. But soul refining is the work of struggle, sacrifice, discomfort, and perseverance. My [children] take me to the end of myself on a daily basis, and I’m certain my soul will emerge stronger for it.

Irish missionary, writer, and social reformer Amy Carmichael went to India initially to do the work of an evangelist, but eventually, she found herself caring for hundreds of children as well.

According to biographer Elisabeth Elliot, Amy had gone to India to bring the message of the cross, not to rock cradles, but “It is not the business of the servant to decide what work is great, which is small, which important or unimportant.” The saving of children became a fire in Amy’s bones.

Through the sacrificial work you do in caring for others, your soul is being strengthened every day. As you feed his lambs, the Great Shepherd is nurturing you too.

Points of Connection

  1. Think through your responsibilities on a typical day (if there is such a thing). How does caring for your loved ones cultivate your prayer life and bring you closer to God?
  2. Throughout the ages, the people of God have practiced spiritual disciplines, including intercessory and contemplative prayer, solitude, Bible study, meditation, and acts of service. Which of these feel impossible in your present life stage? Identify several ways in which you might already be practicing these disciplines outside a structured framework.
  3. Martin Luther King once said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” How does this statement reflect Jesus’ teaching on caring for others? See Matthew 25:40-45 and Luke 10:25-37.


When caregiving contains no quiet or time, rest in the presence of the One who is caring for you.

Maggie Wallem Rowe
Maggie Wallem Rowe

You’ve been reading with Maggie Wallem Rowe from her book, This Life We Share. Read the first reflection for free here. Get a copy of this beautiful book (also makes a thoughtful gift) at your favorite retailer or at

[1] Catherine McNiel, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2017), 4.
[2] McNiel, Long Days, 9–10.
[3] Elisabeth Elliot, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (Grand Rapids: MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1987), 183.
[4] As quoted in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2005), 146.

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