The book’s greatest weakness is that Gerber seems to assume that interacting with her little ones is always the right call and the decision that will lead to greater wholeness, spiritual peace, and connection. Blame it on the fact that just before I read Ordinary Miracles, I read Jennifer Senior’s excellent book on modern parenting, All Joy and No Fun, but I am not at all convinced that setting aside household chores in response to a toddler’s incessant requests to “Play with me, Mom!” is always the best thing for either mother’s or child’s spiritual and emotional lives. With a generous grace, Senior highlights the absurdities of child-centered families, in which kids have entire playrooms stocked with toys of every kind but, accustomed to adult-led scheduled activities from infancy on up and forbidden from wandering outdoors because of sometimes overblown safety concerns, don’t know how to entertain themselves. While I understand and even, to an extent, agree with Gerber’s belief that interacting with her young children is a fleeting opportunity that ought not be trumped by housework, I became impatient with her continual refusal to send her boys off to play by themselves so she could finish what she had started—or maybe just read a magazine or stare out the window for a bit.
For example, as she crouches in the shower, waiting for her son to find her in their game of Hide ‘n Seek, Gerber reflects, “For I know who is really calling out to me, wondering where I am: the One who is seeking me, always searching, always longing…And here I am hiding. In the dark.” Perhaps I should forgive her for simply stretching a metaphor a bit too far, but equating a toddler’s voice with the voice of God might be putting just a wee bit too much pressure on everyone involved.
In another scene, Gerber is unpacking from a recent move and, once again, abandons her housework to play with one of her sons. She berates herself:
“How am I making the most of these days? Unpacking? Facebook? Email? The heat inside rises. How dare I make these things more important than [my son]? How dare I throw away these precious moments to waste them on things that truly, in the larger scope of life, don’t matter one iota?”
Except, of course, that our household chores do matter, quite a bit, as do tools such as Facebook and e-mail that can enable supportive connections with other adults and allow writers like Gerber to work from home while also being available to young children. Unpacking boxes from a recent move allows for the re-establishment of household routines, which are nurturing for children and adults alike. Likewise, other household chores, from cleaning bathrooms to going grocery shopping, are not distractions from caring for our children, but necessary to that care. In focusing on the “sacred mundane” of childcare, Gerber seems to overlook the sacred mundane of housework (movingly explored by writers such as Margaret Kim Peterson and Kathleen Norris), along with the necessity of children learning that their immediate needs and desires are not always paramount.
In another passage, Gerber writes, “I have been given so much. Come rain or shine, sickness or health, manners or whines, hunger or fullness, I pray that I radiate joy.” Many readers will no doubt find solace in Gerber’s encouragement to embrace their time with small children and recognize that in caring for these vulnerable ones, they are meeting God. But I worry that her ever-readyness to abandon household chores to play with her kids, and her impossible goal of radiating joy at all times might also backfire, making mothers who despise playing Legos with their kids and most definitely do not radiate joy much of the time beat themselves up even more than they already do.
Gerber tells us that the editor who contacted her, suggesting that her successful blog Everything Belongs might lead to a good book project, compared Gerber’s work to that of Ann Voskamp, author of the best-selling book One Thousand Gifts. Gerber’s gentle, quietly competent prose (along with the soothing piano music that continually plays on her web site which, unfortunately, kept me from browsing her blog archives for more than five minutes) place her firmly in Voskamp’s vein—which is both good and bad news. Many readers are moved and encouraged by affable prose that illuminates, comforts, and guides as it honestly speaks to life’s difficult moments without being grim, always circling back around to redemption. Other readers—I am one of them—find this sort of devotional writing pleasant and thoughtful, but without the staying power of grittier, more idiosyncratic writing with unexpected renderings of even ordinary events.
Nevertheless, Rachel Gerber’s book will likely be a welcome read for many frazzled, weary parents who find respite in this serene style of devotional writing, and who are afraid that their spiritual lives have vanished along with uninterrupted sleep and pre-pregnancy abs. Gerber assures them that:
“In this season of caring for small children, it can be difficult to carve out time to intentionally read, study Scripture, and pray. However, as we realize that Christ already resides within us, our lives lived become prayer. For we are working alongside Christ all the way.”