Easy like Sunday morning ...

When Lionel Richie penned his famous song, he clearly was not thinking about the pressures of being a mum, teacher and pastor’s wife, says Allison Robinson

Becoming a Christian in my early twenties meant I couldn’t get enough of church; whether it was prayer meetings, children’s groups or writing and performing sketches for the service, there I was a front-seated, note-taking, fully-fledged member of everything!

So it came as quite a shock when my Bible student husband became a full-time pastor and I had two small children to look after in church. As it’s not really the done thing to ask the pastor, mid-preach, if he can hold the baby, I would end up missing most of the service as I juggled two babies and their seemingly unceasing demands.

Our eldest daughter Emily was born with Down’s syndrome and, as a bright, mischievous toddler, she kept us on our toes. Just 19 months younger, Lucy was the perfect sister for Emily and although it was incredibly challenging at times, I loved being mum to them both.

But, as delightful as Emily was as a toddler, getting her ready to go anywhere was a huge issue, as all manner of things could go wrong. She was adept at hiding shoes, wallets and even passports at crucial moments, and could strip to near-naked in the blink of an eye. It seemed that Sunday mornings were the time when everything came to a head in the Robinson household and arriving in church, on time, seemed to be mission impossible for me. Every week, I would tumble through the door with breakfast in my handbag and hair still to be brushed, wondering how everyone managed to be there on time.

Emily’s mischievous nature meant she regularly locked herself in toilets, escaped out of the back doors or hid in church. Our lovely church family knew to step into action at the cry of, “Emily’s gone!” and would scour the church like a swat team, often carrying her back to me covered in cobwebs from hiding under the pews in the balcony. I couldn’t see a time when I would be able to leave Emily’s side without the worry of what she would do next.

Trying to get everything done before church and maximise every minute only increased my stress levels. I would set the washer, leave something in the oven for lunch and try and get the girls in clean, matching clothes. Jonathan would walk around the house like the speaking clock letting me know exactly how many minutes I had until he set the alarm!

When I finally arrived in church, it was rare to hear a whole sermon and I longed for the times when I would take a Bible and notepad rather than a nappy bag and assortment of silent toys. The luxury of closing my eyes during prayer without fear of my handbag being emptied into my neighbour’s lap was a distant memory!

As the girls got older, I had different concerns for them. They had always accepted that we went to church and Sundays were a family day, but as Lucy developed a talent for running, increased training requirements meant she needed to run on Sunday mornings. Should we force her to come to church and resent missing training, or let her go and risk her walking away from church altogether?

As the busyness and worries built up, I felt I didn’t have any quality time to offer God, so I would exchange my quiet time on a Sunday for hasty prayers, as I rushed around the house. Things built up until one day I yelled at Jonathan in frustration, “What is the point of me even coming to church?” Church seemed to be a barrier to getting everything else done instead of the necessary oasis of spiritual refreshment I needed.

Things didn’t resolve overnight, but little changes in routine and attitude restored my sanity. We had an epiphany one day when we accepted that we didn’t need to go to church together. Sunday is a work day for Jonathan and trying to arrive as a family was becoming increasingly distracting for him and his work. It wasn’t rocket science, but this little change made things less stressful for both of us.

I began to be more organised in the lead up to Sunday and made sure that things for school were done as much as possible in advance. I abandoned the idea of a ‘Delia Smith Sunday’ and opted for something light after church and a nice meal in the evening. I also came to appreciate the value of even a few minutes’ quiet time with God and would make sure I could sit with my Bible and a cup of tea before the girls were awake.

It helped to make sure the girls had clear boundaries and guidance as they got older. Making sure that they understand the decisions we make as parents are rooted in our personal faith and belief in God, means that they know why we say no to some things, yet are willing to compromise on others.

Lucy is now 16 and her running has gone from strength to strength. We are thrilled that she has been selected once again to represent Yorkshire this year after a fantastic season in 2013. She is committed and determined, reaping the rewards of her hard work and discipline. Did it stop her from coming to church? No, we have worked things out so that she trains early, then comes to church part-way through the service.

And I no longer have to chase Emily around the pews. Last year, she made the decision to become a Christian and we celebrated with her as she was baptised and gave her testimony to a packed church. Emily and Lucy have both matured into lovely young women who are an absolute joy to be around.

I love the passage in Ecclesiastes 3, which tells us that everything has its time, and I’m encouraged to know that God has a plan for each different period of our lives. There is the old saying, “This too shall pass” and I can see more than ever how important it is to hold onto God, particularly in more trying times, for there will always be a new season to follow.

Be encouraged that there will come the day when the things that are challenging at the moment will be a distant memory and God will lead you into new pastures. Who knows, there may come a day when you find yourself sipping coffee and listening to music with time to chill out before the Sunday service! That is of course unless you have been listening to cries of, “Grandma, I can’t sleep!” all night long. Now there’s another song altogether!

Tips for easier Sunday mornings

•      Don’t set unrealistic standards or targets. Prioritise what’s important around the home on Sundays and leave the rest.

•      Plan ahead with important jobs so that Sunday is as clear as possible to do what’s important for you as a family.

•      Don’t compare yourself to other families. We are all unique in God’s eyes and he has a very different plan for each of us.

•      Choose your battles! Be clear about the important issues so that the children have firm foundations, and then be flexible and creative to accommodate their changing needs.

•      Make space for you and God, even if it’s only a few minutes with a cup of tea, a verse of Scripture and an open heart to listen. The busyness of being a mum to young children will pass and you will be left with a deep and lasting relationship with your Father God.