I have realize now that I needed a solution that was outside the traditional box of kneeling at one's bedside to pray, or setting aside a half hour at a table to read. For five years I have battled and struggled to instil these habits, and after five years I am no further ahead.
(Sidenote: These past four months or so, I have been blessed with both boys taking naps at the same time, while Colin is at school. I really wanted to complete this Beth Moore study and so I prayed that God would grant me that time, and I would use the time given me for study instead of some other frivolous pursuit. How great are the blessings God grants, since I was able to do 45 minutes 5 days a week, for 10 weeks.)
But this is only a new phenomenon for me, and I know that most young mothers are not lucky enough to have all their children at home nap at the same time every day, for a good length of time. So there had to be another solution. And I think I found it.
This has mainly to do with babies in the first year to year and a half, and especially when they are nursing. I have found that is the perfect time to both pray and read God's word.
First, prayer. This will involve a radical change on the way you think about praying. (I'm reading a great book on this right now, called "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller.) First, when you are nursing a baby, or rocking them to sleep, or pacing the floor, you can't exactly stop to kneel and pray. That's okay - you don't have to. You can speak what is on your heart to God just as well sitting in a rocking chair or walking the hallway as you can on your knees. The second problem you'll face is the wandering mind. When you are running on little sleep, it is really hard to focus your mind. So you need to let go of the preconceived notion of the formality of prayer. Yes, a properly laid out prayer has its place, whether it is the "I thank thee/I ask thee" format or the ACTS (adoration/confession/thanksgiving/supplication) method. But our Father in Heaven will also hear the messy prayers of a sleep-deprived mother. Here's a great quote from Paul Miller's book:
"Jesus coes not say, "Come to me, all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you read." No, Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." The criteria for coming to Jesus tis weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy."
That was eye-opening for me. In the past, if I couldn't find uninterrupted, solo prayer time, I just didn't pray. Then I realized that I had all this time "alone" with a baby in arms, nursing in the middle of the night or rocking them to sleep before bedtime, and that could be used as prayer time. Let me assure you those prayers are messy. They are wandering. They meander. But they are never more heartfelt. I usually start with pleadings: the things I beg from my Father in heaven (like just one night where Benjamin sleeps through, or that my children's whining won't drive me crazy the next day.) After pouring my heart out, I start to feel that "peace that passes all understanding," and I feel able to move on. I start to confess my short-comings and sins, and plead for his grace to help me do better. Then, if I'm still going, I turn my mind to family, friends, neighbours, and nations who are also in need of my prayers.
You would be surprised at the result. First, sometimes I find myself sitting there long after my baby is finished nursing or has fallen asleep. Second, I somehow don't feel as tired or short-tempered with my baby. Prayer has that calming affect on me.
The second challenge scripture study. This I found particularly hard, because of how much I actually do like to read the scriptures. If I couldn't get some quality time at it, I just passed. With kids getting up before 6am, and a baby still waking every 3 hours at night, there was no way to get up early and do it. With a baby wanting to be on my all day, and a 3 and a 5 year old still needing a lot of my attention and help, I wasn't about to risk trying to pull out my scriptures during the day. They would be more likely to be torn, soiled and ruined than to be read. And once the kids were in bed, there was only a couple of hours to get all the housework, laundry, etc. done, plus spend a few moments connecting with my husband. There were just not enough hours in the day.
But once again - there was that time I was spending nursing/rocking the baby. Every 3 hours I was up for at least 15 minutes, usually more. Granted, it would be counter-productive to turn on a light, flip open your bible and try to study when you are trying to lull your baby back to sleep. Solution: mp3 player. All the scriptures are available online in audio format. Each week I would download a book, then leave the mp3 player in the side pocket of my rocking chair in the nursery. When I would come in to nurse, I would first pop in the earplugs, feed the wire down the back of my shirt, out of the way of clawing hands, and press play on the mp3 player. (Mine always remembered where I had powered off last time - instantly picking up where I had left off.) Then I would pick up the baby and nurse. Sometimes I nodded off. Sometimes I found it hard to concentrate. But at least I was hearing the word of God. Normally I am not a person who can remember anything spoken like that - I am a really visual learner. But I would offer a quick prayer that God would help something stick while I was listening. And amazingly, it did. Also amazing: how many chapters you get through in such a way!
So there it is: easy prayer and scripture study for nursing, sleep-deprived moms of young babies. Okay, I will grant you that nothing is ever easy. And I imagine each of you will have your own challenges even with this format. But perhaps it helps you to think outside the typical prayer/bible box to find a radically different solution that works for you, just like this one did for me. Your spirit will thank you for it!