I am a very lucky lady in the sense that I very rarely feel lonely. I have a good network of friends, other mothers and home ed groups so I am often surrounded by other people and when I am not I enjoy my own company and the company of my children. Loneliness and isolation are not feelings I often experience in my day to day life.
Unfortunately this morning I felt these things in the place you really aren't supposed to. Church.
Going to church with very young children has a lot of challenges. In the church I attend there isn't any childcare provision for under 3's. If you have an under 3 you have the option of staying in the service or sitting in the small chapel at the back of the church where some toys are provided and the sermon is wired through so you can hear it. For this reason I usually leave my littlest boy at home with his daddy on a Sunday so I can enjoy the service with the rest of the congregation and my two older children go off to junior church, I normally have a wonderful time.
When I bring my littlest one I prefer to stay in the service as I find it difficult to hear the sermon and join in with the singing etc from the chapel at the back. However this means I have to be towed round the church by the finger by my 1-and-a-half-year-old, whilst he explores every nook and cranny chattering to himself and making demands of me to go this way or that (a little bit embarrassing and uncomfortable to say the least although I know no one really minds). As I am sure you can imagine this is not very conducive to a spiritual experience. As it happened, this particular morning I was sat in the chapel at the back with my little one when the minister invited the congregation to pair up with a neighbour and discuss their experience of the holy spirit. I sat in the chapel, on my own. I felt forgotten and unheard. I felt like my voice, my opinion, my experience, as a mother didn't matter, wasn't important. No one else was there to hear my experience. I had no neighbour.
Now I love my church, it has been an incredibly welcoming place and I know this wasn't intentional and maybe on any other day this wouldn't have happened, there are often other parents in the chapel, but on this day there wasn't. I felt lonely and unheard and unseen.
Next the minister went on to pray and asked the congregation if they could close their eyes and raise their hand if they wanted to receive the holy spirit for the first time, or anew. I sat looking out of the chapel's glass doors whist putting together a farmyard puzzle with my boy feeling very far from the Holy Spirit. I felt like I was on another planet to everyone else there. Whilst everyone else was on planet holy, I was on planet mother.
("blessed are the weak in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of God" right?)
Now this isn't a blog post about how church should be doing more for mothers or about how motherhood isn't as revered or elevated in church as much as it should be. I could write a blog post about that, but this one isn't it. There is good news (Isn't there always when it comes to Christianity?!).
I was eventually towed out of the chapel and back to the general area of our seat where I was pleased to be able to take part in the final hymn. It was a special hymn to me called "How Great Thou Art". The words are magnificent and the melody very moving and it was played at my wedding.
(Incidentally "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer" was a hymn sung at our wedding and was sung at the wedding of Harry and Meghan yesterday, I just need to hear "Shine Jesus Shine" tomorrow for a full house!)
I started singing and belting out this fabulous old song and was completely uplifted, it brought tears to my eyes and I was struck with the message that I am not alone. I realised that I am not unheard, I am not unseen, I have not been forgotten.
Because even when it feels like I am invisible to everyone around me God sees me, God hears me, and God is with me, right here is the misery and majesty of motherhood.
He saw me yesterday as I cleared up a spilled drink for the third time that day, He saw me the day before that when I fell asleep on the sofa out of sheer exhaustion whilst trying to read my children a story. He saw me the day before that when I sat crying on the sofa because one of my children had moved and subsequently lost the back door keys moments before we needed to leave the house. And He saw me the day before that and the day before that and the day before that. And he saw me today being towed round church trying in vain to listen to the sermon, he saw me sitting with my baby as company whilst everyone else was in prayer, He saw me changing a nappy in the toilets whilst everyone else worshipped.
And do you know what mama? He sees you too.
You may not even believe it, but it's true. He sees you and He hears you and He loves you and He is with you and He has not forgotten you. And I really think He wants you to know he is by your side all the time, He feels every pain, heartache and struggle you go through, you are not alone, you are not forgotten. Even in the depths of loneliness, in the deepest trenches He is in the mud with us. Motherhood bring us to our knees and He is there right next to us holding our hand and wanting us to know that all this is worth something. When you have reached rock bottom and it feels like there is no way back up, when you are at your lowest low, when you feel totally alone, He is there, telling you to "hang in there mama" and "you've got this" and "I hear you" except it is so much more important and meaningful and 100% true from him, not just empty sentiments, but real true encouragement.
And you know what else, He can help us. If we ask Him He will help us up from that trench. He will take your hand and lift you back up into the light. Just ask. God is like the ultimate listening partnership. He listens and listens and listens and won't try to fix your problems or give you unsolicited advice or tell you it's all your own fault because of such-and-such a reason, or tell you about this one time when He had a really bad day (remember THAT day?!), but if you ask Him He will help you and he will speak to you, just be quiet and listen back.
He sees you, He hears you, He has not forgotten you, you are not alone.