Here at Flunking Sainthood we’re always open to people telling it how it is. Today we welcome guest truth-teller Ellen Painter Dollar, who blogs for Her.meneutics at Christianity Today, on those days when you just can’t quite rustle up the kids to go to church. Preach it, sister. Yeah, there are some days when you just need to hang out at home.

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By Ellen Painter Dollar

I have often wondered how the Christian life would be different if God had become incarnate as a nursing mother instead of as a single man. Christian practices–solitary prayer and contemplation, weekly worship, sacrificial giving and service–require detachment from other people and mundane concerns, large chunks of time, and internal reserves of energy to engage with the world’s sore spots. As a housewife and mother of three, those are precisely the resources I have only in very short supply.

Detachment? I carry on entire conversations with my children while I’m sitting on the toilet. Time? In those rare moments unclaimed by children, chores, or work, I could pray, and sometimes I do. But honestly, using scarce and longed-for solitude to pray makes me feel like God is just one more being who wants a piece of me. Energy for ministry? Many traditional ministries (outreach projects, church committees, etc.) require yet more interaction in my overly interactive life.

My prayers are haphazard. At bedtime, I whisper a disorganized prayer that goes something like this: “Please take care of all the hurting people in the world, especially ____ and _____ and the little Haitian girl I read about in the paper. I’m sorry for yelling at the kids, pining over magazine spreads of renovated kitchens, and obsessively checking my latest blog post to see if anyone has commented yet. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this man lying next to me and our three children sleeping nearby, all of us safe and healthy. Thank you thank you thank you. I’m sorry. Thank you. Amen.”

As I wrote on the Christianity Today women’s blog last week, my family’s church attendance has also become haphazard. Although we still attend church more often than not, we’re more likely to skip it than we used to be due to my own burnout and my kids’ lack of enthusiasm.

Our lukewarm church involvement is in part due to my own failures–a desire to avoid power struggles with my kids; my passionate love for lazy mornings, coffee, and the Sunday paper; my difficulty setting healthy limits on my commitments without becoming bitter. I should, and could, do better, and I thank God there is such a thing as grace. But our churches could also do better at building communities and promoting spiritual practices that are life-giving for everyone.

I have known Christians and churches who act as if our deepest attachments–to family, home, and fundamental daily needs that can consume so much time and energy–are at best, irrelevant and at worst, a barrier to a faithful life. That’s not an unreasonable conclusion. Jesus, after all, had few such attachments. He ate, drank, and slept, but he also had nowhere to lay his head. He asked his first disciples to leave their families, their work, and their possessions to live as itinerants.


But is following Jesus synonymous with imitating him? Are we all called to exercise the same detachment from home and family that Jesus and the disciples did? I hope not, because my attachments are so deeply embedded that if I were to disengage from them, I would also lose most of myself. Our culture tells us that being so attached to our roles as wives and mothers is bad for our mental health; the church tells us it’s bad for our spiritual health. But what if neither is true?

What would Christian practice look like if God had become incarnate as a nursing mother instead of a single guy? Perhaps we would understand that those who pace in the night with a colicky baby embody sacrificial love as much as those who toil on behalf of the world’s sick and poor. Perhaps we would know that muddled prayers whispered before sleep are just as good as eloquent prayers said on one’s knees in a solitary hour. Perhaps we would acknowledge that the weariness that leads a mother to question whether taking her kids to church is worth the trouble might be a sign that the church’s priorities, not just the mother’s or the children’s, are out of whack.

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