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Busy moms learn how to balance family and faith

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  • Busy moms struggle to make room for faith
  • Religious scholar says her life became consumed by diapers and car pools
  • Experts give tips for mothers trying to balance family and faith
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By John Blake
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(CNN) -- Debbie Street experienced a spiritual crisis after watching her mother-in-law die.

Grabbing quiet time for prayer is one of the biggest challenges for many mothers.

Grabbing quiet time for prayer is one of the biggest challenges for many mothers.

The 82-year-old woman suffered from heart disease and severe arthritis. She was in so much pain that she stopped eating and taking medication, Street says. She eventually confined herself to her bedroom, where she lingered for 90 days before dying.

"The woman was in constant pain. It was hard to watch," Street says. "I kept asking, 'Why is it this way?' My faith took a beating."

A group of mothers helped Street recharge and reconnect. Street, a Roman Catholic, started attending the St. Augustine parish in Andover, Massachusetts, when she heard of a popular ministry: MOMS, short for Ministry of Mothers Sharing.

MOMS met once a week for eight weeks. During each two-hour meeting, mothers shared their struggles, swapped advice, assigned books to one another and wrote in a journal. They also provided baby sitters for smaller kids.

Street says MOMS taught her to see "the sacred in the ordinary." She started to see serving her family and children as a ministry. She learned how to balance her faith and family. She began praying more.

"This has had a huge, huge impact on my life," she says. "My faith has grown so much. It gives me everything: new friends, fellowship with women, dinner dates."

Daily spirituality

When busy mothers don't make room for God, they become isolated and vulnerable, says Tracy Klehn, author of "Prayer Starters for Busy Moms."

"That's when women can get involved in a relationship outside marriage, a relationship with shopping or food," Klehn says. "She has to get something to fill her, because she's depleted, and she doesn't realize that she's hungry for the living water."

Klehn is an accountant, a cook, a chauffeur, a doctor and a child psychologist. In other words, she's your average mom, juggling roles while raising her two children in Santa Clarita, California. Her daily schedule is so crowded that she says it's hard to pencil in time for her spiritual life.

"Mothers can feel so alone because so many people need you for different reasons," Klehn says. "That's the reason why I feel this passion to let people know that there's someone out there to help them."

That "someone," to Klehn, is God. But cultivating a spiritual life is a challenge for many mothers, regardless of their religious beliefs. Mothers spend so much time taking care of others that many have forgotten how to take care of their spiritual selves, say several mothers who have written about the spiritual challenges of parenting.

Lisa Bergren, author of "The Busy Mom's Devotional," says mothers should hone their spirituality by borrowing a concept from dieting: Consistency is the key. Her advice: Set aside a little time each day for some kind of spiritual practice, whether it's prayer or reading a devotional.

"Spirituality is a daily thing," Bergren says. "Wouldn't your yard look better if you even put an hour into it once a week versus not at all? Something is better than nothing. And when you put in that hour a week into your yard, don't you notice it a bit more every time you pull into the driveway?"

Friendships also help, others say. Faith doesn't flower in isolation. Relationships and participating in groups nurture belief, and they give women the emotional tools to cope with motherhood, some say.

Klehn says one of the biggest challenges for busy mothers is learning how to accept help. She says some mothers feel that they have to do it all. They should realize that God often shows up through a friend who may offer an encouraging word or even offer to cook dinner, she says.

"We just can't be the ones who give it all the time; we have to be able to receive," Klehn says.

Breaking free of traditional roles

Some mothers say they discover that they have more to give after they take time to receive.

Miriam Udel-Lambert, a professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, says she had an active spiritual life before she got married and had two sons.

She says she would often go to the synagogue to pray two to three times a day. She also studied and taught classical Jewish religious texts.

But her life became consumed by diapers and car pools after her sons were born.

Udel-Lambert says she found herself slipping into traditional gender roles for Jewish women.

"What we would think of as an explicitly spiritual life is mostly maintained by men," she says. "Women are supposed to find their spirituality in their roles as wives and mothers."

Udel-Lambert says she took control of her religious life again by forging new friendships. She started meeting once a month with other Jewish mothers for ice cream. Ice cream led to a shared study of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible). She now leads the group in an informal Torah study during their monthly meetings.

The small group study has made her a better mom, wife and friend, she says.

"It fills up my cup," she says. "And now I'm approaching everyone in my life with a fuller cup."

In some cases, motherhood can bolster -- not challenge -- a woman's faith.

Sarah Khan, who lives in New Jersey, says her Muslim faith was important before the birth of her two children. But becoming a mother inspired her to delve deeper into Islam.

"If anything, [motherhood] strengthened my faith," she says. "It made me more aware of what God has given me and being thankful for that. That gives me a lot of motivation to say my prayers."

Bergren says, though, that mothers shouldn't approach developing their faith with the same pressure as other motherhood tasks.

"Busy moms don't need one more person shaking their finger at them," she says. "We're coping with enormous pressures, balancing all the things the world says we should do.''

Bergren says they can relieve the pressure to be spiritual supermoms by making a resolution to start small, even if it's only a five-minute prayer each day.

"Start somewhere. Start anywhere you can," Bergren says. "If you leap into a marathon in terms of your spiritual life -- putting outrageous, uncommon demands on yourself when you're already tired and overwhelmed -- well, it's pretty much over before it begins. The point is to start."

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