As a Pandemic Parent, God Calls Me to This Loud and Lonely Life

I have a legitimate need for monastic silence. But that need is also a serious temptation.

COVIDtide has been a deeply lonely time for many of us. My single friends miss gatherings and human touch. They bear a unique and heavy grief in this season. But those of us with a full house experience another kind of sorrow that comes with the unrelenting presence of people. We know well the strange dichotomy of simultaneously feeling lonely yet desperately longing to be alone.

Over the last few years, I’ve regularly retreated to a convent near my home, but since COVID hit, I go more often. When I’m home, I catch myself fantasizing about the monastic life with its blessedly quiet order. But my home is a far cry (literally) from the hushed hallways of a monastery. I wake each day not to the singing of the Psalms but to a hungry one-year-old crying. Soon he is joined by other small voices.

All day and into the night, the house echoes with kids giggling, arguing, shrieking, hollering that we’re out of toilet paper, hollering that we’re out of milk, and my husband hollering that there’s too much hollering. And with the pandemic’s curtailing of in-person school, playdates, babysitters, and open coffee shops (which are my office), there’s no escape. The five members of my family are nearly always together, housebound in a small space.

My monastic longing is understandable—I crave silence, solitude, and prayer. These longings spring from what theologian Greg Peters delightfully names “the monkhood of all believers,” which he identifies as the call on every Christian’s life to single-heartedly seek God. But I’m also learning that among these legitimate desires dwells a kind of monastic temptation.

In Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary, he chronicles his …

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