This is something that I’ve been musing on and off for some time, and was thinking about on our car journey to North Wales the other week. I got to thinking about how people in general, but perhaps especially those with the role of motherhood, are a bit like cars (I promise that’ll make a bit more sense later). This is slightly ironic as, half way up a Welsh hill on the last day of our holiday, our clutch completely gave out and our car is now in a little metal box shape in a scrap yard in North Wales. It had also sustained a few scratches and bumps that week, not really being suited to the terrain of North Wales, and especially not to the 1:3 hill leading to our holiday house!! So, hopefully we aren’t too much like cars!
Before I start to explain why I think the notion of ‘me time’ is an unhelpful myth, let me say that I am unequivocally and completely in favour of taking some time to regroup and make sure we’re ready to face the challenge of parenting. As an introvert I definitely need some time away from the constant interaction that children need – I just think any suggestion that we should call it ‘me time’ totally misses the point.
We are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26) and although this image is marred through the fall, we are still called to be image bearers of God and we are still made to be in the image of God. God is by definition relational, being the Triune God. And this means that we are necessarily relational, whether we are introvert or extrovert. We are called to be in relationship with God and with others – remember how it was not considered good for a man to be alone, so God created woman. The very nature of humanity means that, for its continued existence, relationships are essential.
Throughout the Gospels there are times when Jesus withdraws away from his disciples or the crowds – but, critically, he is still never alone. In John, we read that “Behold the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” (Jn 16:32) Jesus is by his very nature in constant communion with God – he is never alone. And though we are not part of the Trinity, we are in Christ and God has sent the Spirit of Jesus ‘into our hearts crying “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6), and so we too are now able to be in this constant communion with God.
There was, however, one occasion when Jesus was alone, when the Father was no longer with him. On the cross Jesus cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) He had been forsaken by God the Father, and this is anguish and torment to him. He is ‘Jesus’, he is even still ‘God the Son’, but he is no longer in communion with God the Father. I find it strange that, when we talk about ‘me time’ we often do so with some idea that there is an irreducible ‘me’, some identity not shaped by our relationships that we need to spend time indulging. Here, Jesus endures this idea of ‘me’ without his relationship with the Father, but it is not something to be strived for or enjoyed. It is forsakenness.
By virtue of the fact that we are made in the image of the Triune God, and the fact that God the Son had to be forsaken on the cross so that our relationship with God the Father could be restored, I would be inclined to think that we, too, find our identity and our ‘me’ in the relationships that we are called into. There is no irreducible ‘me’ that I should be finding in ‘me time’, or if there is an irreducible ‘me’ it is not one that I want to experience if it means forsakenness from my relationship with God.
My primary relationship is that of a daughter of God with the Spirit of Christ. This defines me. I am no longer alone, for the Father is with me. I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I am washed by his blood. When I stand before God on the day of judgement, He will see Christ and Christ’s redemption on the cross. I am forgiven and redeemed in Christ. I am very glad that there is not a ‘me’ separate from Christ, because that would be a ‘me’ who had not experienced Grace. Of course I can turn from Christ, I can choose not to be an heir with him – but I fail to see how this would make me more ‘me’ as I would no longer be in communion with God, and this is what I was made for (Eph 1:4-5).
But there are other relationships that have a significant shaping on my identity, even though they do not define my identity as Christ does. As a wife, my relationship with my husband is designed by God to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church (amongst other things). Because of this, I am called to submit to my husband (Eph 5:22-24), which has had a shaping effect on who I am. I am still in Christ in my own capacity as a child of God, but I also sit under the headship of my husband. I cannot extract myself from this relationship for ‘me time’ and no longer be under his authority. My relationship as a wife is part of what shapes my identity.
Being a mother also shapes who I am. In Mary’s Magnificat, we see that ‘from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me’ (Lk 1:48b-49a). Mary’s identity has been shaped for generations to come because of what God has done in making her the mother of Jesus. But her ultimate identity is still in God: her ‘soul magnifies the Lord’, not her role as mother, and her ‘spirit rejoices in God her Saviour’, not in the fact she will give birth (Lk 1:46-47). As mothers we cannot deny the fact that our identity is shaped by having children: from the impact it has on our bodies; to sleepless nights; to the sacrifices we are called to make in terms of our own life decisions. But also, our children are a blessing from God – we may not bear the Son of God but our children are, nonetheless, ‘a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior and the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!’ (Ps 127:3-5a).
We are made in the image of a relational God. Our relationship with God is what defines us, but we are also shaped by our relationships as wives and mothers – we cannot simply withdraw from these to find an irreducible ‘me’ in ‘me time’ – to suggest this denies both our status as image bearers of God but also our callings as wives and mothers.
This is where the car bit comes in. A car is most a ‘car’ when it is being driven and taking passengers to where they need to be. In a similar way, we are most ourselves when we are in communion with God and fulfilling our calling as wives and mothers. But cars need to stop for petrol; they need servicing; before a long journey they need to be checked for oil and tyre pressure; sometimes they need to go to the garage for a slightly longer time. In a similar way we need to take regular time out to make sure we are spending time in God’s word – our fuel for the days! Sometimes we may need longer to make sure we are ready for a busy season (or to recover from one!) – perhaps a soak in the bath, or a book and a coffee shop, or a retreat. But we are not more ourselves in these situations; we are simply ensuring that we are equipped to be the ‘me’ God has called us to be in blessing us with husbands and children. And, obviously, in all these situations we are still engaged in that defining relationship with God, in which we ultimately find our identity.