My will was weak, my attention was weak, and here's the thing about spiritual practices.
They're not about us pleasing God or finally being good enough. It's about returning again and again to the reminders that God loves us. That's Reverend Courtney Ellis describing how spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, and service can transform your family and your faith in powerful ways. Courtney is back with us today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly.
I'm John Fuller. John, we had a great conversation last time with Courtney about a common challenge we all face as followers of Christ, how to better incorporate our faith and intimacy with the Lord into our daily routine, especially in parenting. And we all know the struggle. We're too busy and life happens, and before you know it, you've missed devotions again. And you say, Lord, I'm sorry, I'll do it tomorrow.
And you miss them again because it's just the pace, right? But here's the thing. God understands our predicament. He knows our season of life.
He knows that busyness. And that's why Jesus says this in Matthew 11, 28 and 30. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Doesn't that sound good? It does.
It's very appealing right now. Well, and just like everything else, if we bring those failings and burdens to the Lord, he will help us get through. And that's the message that Courtney wants to share with us today. If you missed the conversation last time, get the download, get the app for your smartphone so you can listen when you want to, or you can watch on YouTube. Yeah, it was a really good conversation, and we do have Courtney Ellis back with us today. She's an author, speaker, and associate pastor. She and her husband, Darrell, have three young kids, and Courtney has written a book that spells out her own struggles to consistently live as a disciple of Jesus. The title is Almost Holy Mama, Life Giving Spiritual Practices for Weary Parents. Courtney, welcome back.
Thanks for having me. We're going to kick it off with a really important topic now, laundry. Let's dig into the spiritual blessing of laundry.
You know, one thing, again, I said this often last time, but Gene did a wonderful job. By the time our boys were 10, they were doing their own laundry. And I always thought that was probably the highest achievement for us.
Getting ready for bed, not so big on the marks, but getting the laundry done is just something that she handed to them quickly, and they took to it. And we did have a few pink items that came out from time to time. I think you had your own pink item episode. What was that?
I did. It was early in our marriage before children when we were both in seminary and didn't have two nickels to rub together, and I was doing the laundry and turned all of my husband's undershirts pink. And being seminary students, we did not have the budget to replace those for quite a while. So he wore those pink shirts.
I think he just stopped wearing undershirts for a while, just had gotten up all the way to here. But he said, you know, why don't I do the washing and you do the drying and the folding and the putting away, except I wouldn't do the folding and the putting away. I would just have Laundry Mountain staring at me from the corner. And then we had children, and every tiny baby increases the laundry in exponential ways. I was not prepared. And it was a chore that I really didn't like. And I have all of these deep theological reasons for why the tasks of the home are so important. But I couldn't convince myself. I just I didn't want to do it. And so I thought if I have to do this, I need to do this. The family needs to not live out of laundry baskets forever.
Daryl is doing his part so faithfully. Then is there a spiritual practice that I can connect to it that will make me feel like that time is is holy, that God is present to me in it. And so I started practicing listening prayer while I folded laundry and describe that.
Yes. So I listening prayer is simply putting yourself in the presence of God and being quiet. And so I would say a few things where I would have a scripture I would meditate on.
Often I would let whose laundry I was folding guide my practice. So Dear Lord, please bless my my son Lincoln. Please bless my son Wilson.
Please bless my husband. And then I would just be quiet and see what the Lord brought to my mind. And it was difficult.
I'm a person of many words. And so silence is tricky. But scripture talks a lot about being still before the Lord.
And I think it means being still not just in our bodies, but also with our voices and also with our minds to to be present to God in that way. No, that's good. I love the idea of praying for the person's clothing, your folding.
I'll try to do that too. I do try to do my own laundry. John, you're looking at Gina still working on, you know, seriously, and I cannot take credit for the idea. It was actually my dad who taught me that he was the laundry folder in my house growing up.
Yeah. And he would tell us that he would pray for each of us. I think folding is the hardest part.
And he had three daughters. So detergent in there is pretty easy. I could do that all day long. It's when I'm ready to come out. What do you do it?
I gotta hang all these shirts up. But anyway, you had an experience with your washer breaking down. I think you said it was a very vulnerable moment when a friend said I'll do your laundry. What happened?
And why was that so vulnerable? It was this perfect storm. We had a new baby. We had a two or three week old baby. Our washing machine broke and my husband, Daryl, had just had knee surgery.
And so he was immobilized and we had so much laundry and nowhere to do it. So a friend called and said, I'm going to come over. I'm going to take your laundry to my house.
I'll do it all for you. And I said, that would be great. And then I got off the phone and realized, oh my goodness, our laundry is, I don't, there are things in our laundry I don't want her to see. And so I started pulling out all of my unmentionables and my husband said, yes, my husband said, we need those washed too. And I said, oh, I'm not pulling out yours.
I'm only pulling out mine. And so I got all the laundry ready for her. And she came and she picked up all these laundry baskets and it's pretty intimate to do someone's laundry, right?
That's their life. That's their, the food stains and everything else. And she was taking the last basket to the car. And then she looked down the hallway into our bedroom and she said, I see one more basket of laundry. And she picked that one up and she carried that to the car. And now she had an entire basket full of only my unmentionables and I thought I would die. And it was this lesson to me of, of God's humility and of God's presence to us in the really bodily intimate things that this dear Christian friend who did not have time to do laundry in addition to her own laundry was giving of her time, her talent, her hauling of laundry, and that God loves us even in those most embarrassing places.
And this friend did too. You said in the book, you really, in terms of receiving something in those times of listening prayer, there wasn't anything earth shattering in that regard, but you did sense God's presence in that holy silence. Describe that again, that it was a victory, that it wasn't wasted time.
Yeah, it was an opportunity to just let myself be loved. And you know, the trick with listening prayer is if we hear something, we need to test it against scripture and wise people in the faith. It's not, well, God told me, so I'm doing this, this thing that's totally off the rails.
Don't do that. But I think I expected to hear something really earth shattering from God. In times of listening prayer earlier in my life, I've heard, you know, I've sensed, okay, it's time for a career shift or it's time for a move or you need to have this hard conversation with this friend. But during this season, I think God knew I was so exhausted that what I needed more than anything was the encouragement of just knowing God was near. So I'd fold little tiny shirts and I'd pray for my son Wilson. And I'd say, God, you know, please bless Wilson, be with him. And I'd hear from God, I love Wilson and I love you and I'm here. And what a powerful reminder. And I could sense it in what you're saying.
I think there's not a mother out there who doesn't need to hear that and to be reminded that at the end of the day, the work is the Lord's at the end of the day, even the laundry is the Lord's and that God sees you and all that you do. You mentioned in the book, another great story where you find out you're pregnant with your third child and that was a more difficult pregnancy. What was the circumstance? And I can only imagine the additional weight that that added. But describe what happened.
Yeah. When we talked about expanding our family to one more child, we thought we kind of knew what we were in for. I had done this twice before and it went pretty well.
And, you know, we had these two beautiful boys and, you know, we prayed about it and we're like, okay, we're open to this. And then we got pregnant with our girl and it was a completely different physical experience for me. I was now throwing up multiple, multiple, multiple times a day and borderline non-functional. I was going to do my job and I would, you know, I would lead the opening prayer and then I'd run to the bathroom and throw up and then I'd preach a sermon and then I'd run to the bathroom and throw up.
And then I'd do the benediction and I couldn't do anything unless I was chewing peppermint gum all the time, which is such a no-no in public speaking. And it was just relentless. And so that's where the book took an extended turn because I couldn't write for a while. There were days I struggled to sit up. There were days I struggled to eat anything at all. And it turned into a chapter on the spiritual practice of suffering.
Yeah. And in that context, you described how difficult it was, I think in some ways, just to feel so helpless. And let's drill into that a little bit because I'm sure many, many women feel that at times, especially if they're having their third child, their fourth child, whatever it might be. And you, you just feel disconnected and helpless.
Describe it. I'm such a doer. And I think that's true of many parents because we have to be to get through the day and to have a season where I couldn't do much was really difficult. And my husband reminded me of the time he had his knee surgery and in the recovery from that when he could do very little. And he said, you know, we are all needy sometimes. And so to throw yourself on the mercy of God and the love of your community, you know, my husband and I pastor together at our church and we're used to being the people who bring the meals, the people who give the love, the people who drop off the things and to have our church family say, let us help you. Let us bring you meals.
Let us bring you dinner. It was humbling, but it was so important because our posture before God is not of givers, it's of receivers. And we learn so much by receiving. Did you have to talk about that? Did it feel, I mean, I think he even described it as feeling a bit of shame that you weren't able to do so. I mean, you guys are definitely doers if you're feeling shame if you don't do.
Yes. And I think when it's, especially when it's a third child or a second child, and it wasn't just that I was leaving my husband to fend for himself. He's very capable.
You know, he can cook, he can clean, he can do all the things, but it was him and two children where often he'd get home from a really long day. And I was like here, you know, like I'm going to bed at 7pm. I'm done. I'm toasted. And realizing that the love within our marriage and the love of God and the love of our community, when we let them in on it and said, you know, we really do need some help.
Yeah, they were there for us. It's interesting. You talk about Psalm 23, which in there it says, you know, God makes us to lie down. Never, I never thought about it like a swift kick where he takes your feet out from under you and makes you lie down if you're like overextended. But describe how that scripture related to you at that time. It's so fascinating with scripture because we can read a passage a dozen times or a hundred times and then you come to it at a certain day in your life or a season in your life and it speaks so differently and so loudly. And that was Psalm 23. I didn't make it past verse two. He makes me lie down in green pastures and it was this reminder from God that this is your job right now.
Lay down. I never thought of the fact that he doesn't say helps you. He says makes you. Right. Yeah, I've always taken it as helps you.
Right. Besides quiet waters kind of sounds like a gentle thing, but makes me lie down because I think so many of us, especially those of us who work in ministry, have this help or do or go or, and, and accomplish all of these things because the kingdom is important. And ultimately God was telling me, I build the kingdom.
You work for me. Courtney, you write in the book about pilgrimage and travel. And I think modern families, we do more travel today than we used to.
Uh, we'd be at home. I think Jean, Jean's mom and dad said they'd never really left Southern California, but uh, today we do. And how did you incorporate that idea of pilgrimage into family travel and how'd that go?
It went up and down like, was that like a vacation time or what were you doing? So pilgrimage is just expecting to meet God along the journey. And when we encounter difficulties in a journey, thinking of those as opportunities to meet with God in a new way, to learn something, to be challenged by God, to grow. Um, so it can be a long trip. And we took one, one long trip back to visit my family in the Midwest in this book, but also it was traveling to Los Angeles to visit Daryl's family, which is 65 miles.
And in California traffic that's between one and four hours depends. Um, but anywhere you go with young kids, you have to prep like you're going to climb Everest. It's a journey even if you're just going to the playground because God help you if you forgot the snacks.
Without a doubt. And many families have found the wonder of adventures and odyssey for those big travel moments. Good companion. I've heard more from people that have used odyssey for travel time, you know, which is a great radio program that we do for kids.
And it's, it's 30 years old. So we've got over 800 episodes for people. You say God calls all of us to be those pilgrims, but for the audience really drill into that. What does that mean to be a pilgrim? To be a pilgrim is to be on a journey with Jesus. And so I linked it to travel because pilgrimage is our lives with God. Our daily lives with God are a pilgrimage, but linking it to the actual practice of going somewhere was kind of a fun angle and a good reminder that a trip is not just a trip.
It's an opportunity to meet God in a new place, in a new way, and know that God is already working out there at the airport or in the Uber or at the playground or wherever we go along our journey. Be alert. Now, Courtney, some of us might have travel planning control issues. It's sort of like we know something's going to break down along the way, but let's prevent as much as we can.
We want to as much. Are you a firstborn or what? I could be. So the Lord invariably brings things along. How do I today get ready with that mindset that I'm going to welcome the interruption, even though it wrecks the rest of the trip in my mind?
Yeah, I'm wired very much the same way. I'm a firstborn and I've got my spreadsheet and we have a plan, right? My husband will start doing laundry 10 minutes before we leave and I'm like, what is going on?
That's plenty of time. I'm with your husband, man. It makes me crazy. And that's what we've learned in marriage is I just let him do his and he lets me do mine and we get along great. But viewing those interruptions as divine interruptions rather than some foreign thing that's coming in is really an important piece that God is ordaining who you're sitting next to on the airplane and God is ordaining the flat tire and God is ordaining, right? Like there are opportunities and lessons and graces that we don't expect when things don't go as planned. And that's a metaphor for the rest of our life as well, right? It's a trip, but it's also everything else in our lives that sometimes gets derailed. You know, Courtney, I used to believe that as a young Christian. I was far more open to, Lord, thank you for that flat tire. Let me get out and repair that. Not only mine, but the person broke down next to me.
I'll do their tire too. And then over time, life kind of wears on you and you say, ah, look at that poor person on the side of the road. It's not the right way to mature in Christ, is it? I think spiritual practices work on us and make us more tender. They make us softer. They should.
Yeah, that's the way it should progress. And if they're not, then there are questions to ask about how we're connecting with God or if we're connecting with God, because if our faith is making us more arrogant, then something is off. Something is wrong. Jesus was gentle and humble and heart. And we should start to see that in our lives, which does not mean we encounter every difficulty with the spirit of hooray.
We'd be sociopaths, right? To say, this is a wonderful thing, this terrible thing that has happened. Thank you, Jesus, for cancer.
We don't do that. But we know that in all circumstances, God can bring good things. So it's beginning to look for those things, to look for God at work. Does the tow truck driver want to talk about his faith?
Has he been through something recently? We wouldn't have met him without the flat tire. You know, predictive models are there. And I don't mean this as a, you know, I'm kind of teasing both of you as firstborns, but there are generally attributes that come in that position. You tend to be more responsible in that birth order. We fed Dr. Kevin Lehman on and lastborns, you know, tend to be kind of the social people and all those kinds of things as that person that's wired in terms of that responsibility. And again, I don't care what your birth order is.
You can be a last born and be highly responsible. But in that, how did you in your own personal discipline begin to realize, how do I become a little more flexible? How do I embrace a little slower pace or whatever, helped you in that intensity of responsibility?
I love that question. And I think so much of what I was taught, I grew up in a wonderful evangelical church, was that devotions were done a certain way. You read your Bible for a set amount of time and you pray for a set amount of time.
And then I would kind of leave it there and go about the rest of my day. I did the God part and now this is on me. And that didn't do good things for my control issues, for my flexibility, but living into these spiritual practices, which by the way, they're ancient. The church has been doing these for hundreds and thousands of years.
I kind of grew up thinking there was no one between Paul and Billy Graham, but there are wonderful folks in the faith we can learn from St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Julian of Norwich who talk about these spiritual practices. And what happens is when we can integrate them into the rest of our day, it becomes this constant awareness that God is at work and that we are on this journey with Jesus. And it's less a, I did my thing and now I'm going to follow Jesus the best way I know how. And it's more, I'm constantly in touch with God and I'm constantly talking to Jesus and what's next and how is God going to meet me in this new situation the whole day long. And it takes the pressure off because if I would miss those morning devotions, I felt like that's it.
Nothing to do but try again tomorrow. God's really disappointed in me. And now it's this reminder. I talk in the book about writing scripture on my shower walls with a wipe off marker. If I miss the devotions, the Bible is there for me when I get that 10 minute shower.
That it's not all or nothing, but it can be constant. When Paul tells us to pray continually, it doesn't mean we're always on our knees with our hands folded. It means our entire lives can be a prayer.
All right. So the spiritual practice as a last born, my favorite, celebrate, let's have a party. What is that about? Celebrate. It feels like it's a little of an antithesis to how we should behave with God. Be serious. Right.
Be very serious and kind of grumpy all the time. It's not who the Lord is. Not at all. Celebrate. Jesus was a master of celebration. We find him always with his friends, reclining at the table and making the wine at the wedding and going to the feast and the festivals, even when he had to go in secret because people were after him. He goes to these feasts and these festivals. So scripture is filled with celebrations. There are all of these feasts and festivals in the Old Testament. And then there are many new ones in the New Testament. The early church, the early church had over 200 feast days every year. They had more feast days than not feast days. And then there's the weekly celebration of Sabbath where we remember that ultimately the work is the Lord's and we're invited to rest from our labors.
Eugene Peterson talks about the Sabbath as a day for praying and playing. And I used to major in the praying and forget the playing. Why was that hard for you? I mean, personally, that celebrate part, why did that seem to be outside the orbit for you? Firstborn, maybe?
Yeah. I mean, was it that just that sheer responsibility thing? I had not really sat with Jesus as a full person. And I would read more deeply into the, this is what you should do. And I wouldn't read as much about who Jesus was and the fact that he enjoyed these things so much.
The message translation says that you called me a lush, right? There's this idea that they see him enjoying the wine to the point where they're like this guy. Which the Pharisees did. They said, like, he's laughing and having too much fun.
Yes. The kingdom of God is serious. And I don't think it is. I think the kingdom of God is deep and playful and winsome and holy.
And it's all of it. God calls us to celebration because in celebration we form greater connections with God and greater connections with one another. There is a holiness to play. There's a holiness to joy. Our church is, you know, walking out of this pandemic like every other church in the country. And we've had to invest in live stream technologies and new cameras and new lighting and all of these things are best purchased.
A couple of ping pong tables for the patio. Now we're talking. Honestly, people stay and they laugh and they play and they're like, I'll catch you next Sunday.
I'm playing you next Sunday. And folks we would see once a month, we're seeing every week because of celebration. Yeah, being present. You share a sweet story about an expected celebration you experienced with your son Lincoln during a weekend retreat.
What happened? I love that celebration between parent and child. As God was teaching me about not compartmentalizing my faith, I was about to lead a retreat for our college and young adults group. And the pastor I was going to co-lead it with said, you know, bring your son. And I said, he's four. He's going to throw rocks and eat dirt.
And you know, I don't think that's a good idea. And he was like, you should bring him. And so I brought him and the final morning of the retreat, this pastor led a service of communion and talked about Jesus and the last supper and what it means to give your life to the Lord. And I looked over at my little boy and as far as I could tell, he wasn't paying any attention. He was digging in the dirt and he was begging the older kids for candy and snacks. And then I brought him home later that day and he said, you know, Pastor Steve talked about being a disciple of Jesus.
Can I be a disciple of Jesus too? So he was listening. He was listening and he wanted to pray this prayer of salvation. And I'm married to a PhD in theology. I always thought that would be Daryl's moment and Daryl was at the store and I was like, all right, I guess it's me.
And so we knelt there on the carpet in his bedroom and prayed and that wouldn't have happened if Steve hadn't said, bring him. It's going to be fun. Yeah. And I, you know, for that person that does take their faith seriously, that's admirable, but you do have to have life in that. And I think of the Lord, you know, if you've lived your entire life, you're 80 years old, maybe older, and you've just been this very serious person about your faith and maybe again with your temperament you know, what word do you have for that person to say, enjoy what God has given you.
I mean, experience it, not just be a scholar about it. And I think it does speak to the spirit of the heart. You know, that's why the Lord wants us to celebrate because it breaks us out of our kind of high and mighty self. Celebration takes some humility that you're not going to act in a, you know, sophisticated way. You may even be ridiculed like they did to Jesus.
Yeah. I think that's one of the reasons that Jesus invites us to come to him like little children. Children know how to celebrate. And so for the person who says, my faith has been so serious for so long, I would just say, God gives you permission.
God invites you. There is no reason we have so many types of food. There's no reason we have so many types of birds. There's no reason we have so many sunsets.
They don't serve a purpose. They are for our joy and they're for our flourishing. And when we walk more deeply into that country of joy, which is our native land, God has glorified, it enlivens our faith, it deepens our connections with one another.
That's my next book, actually. That is good. Courtney, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for being with us here at Focus for the first time over the last couple of days.
It's been really good. And your wonderful book, Almost Holy Mama, life-giving spiritual practices for weary parents. And I don't think I've met a parent, especially with young kids that isn't weary. So this is a resource that you need. And you can get it right here from Focus on the Family. Make a gift of any amount. Become a monthly sustainer or a one-time gift and we'll send it as our way of saying thank you for being part of the ministry. And as we said last time, John, there's a great parenting assessment that you can take at our website.
It's free. We just want to help you identify those things you're doing well and then identify some of those things you might do a little better at. And it's only five to six minutes and it's a great resource for you to get on a better track in your parenting journey.
Yeah. Find the link to that free parenting assessment and details about Courtney's book and an opportunity to donate to the ministry. It's all right there at the website.
The link is in the episode notes or give us a call. Our number is 800, the letter A in the word family. Courtney, thanks for being with us. Really a good time. Thank you. Thank you for having me. And we hope you have a great weekend with your family and your church family as well. And plan to join us on Monday.
We'll hear from Patty Garibay, the founder of American Heritage Girls about why she started this alternative youth program. If you cannot pull yourself up, be able to recall those scriptures to encourage you and inform you, then you're going to fall prey to all that's out there because the majority out there is against what you're about. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ. Do you ever wonder what it was like to meet Jesus face to face? The miracles, the teachings, the long awaited Messiah in the flesh. It's all in a new novel by Focus on the Family called The Chosen. I have called you by name based on the hit streaming series, Immerse yourself in first century Galilee. Experience the savior through the eyes of his followers. You'll want to dive deeper into scripture with every page turn. Learn more about the chosen novel at focusonthefamily.com slash chosen. That's focusonthefamily.com slash chosen.
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