The Noisier Path { PLUS: Book Giveaway }


Catherine McNiel -Noisier Path3{Leave a thoughtful comment on this post to be entered to win the book, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline}

By Catherine McNiel | Twitter:@CatherineMcNiel

I was late for dinner, though thankfully no one looked up as I quietly pulled out my chair and sat down. Self-consciously I unfolded my napkin and took up my silverware. The room was so incredibly silent I could hear each tick … tock … of the clock on the wall; each chew-and-swallow reverberated across the room.

I had just arrived at a silent weekend retreat, leaving my husband and children at home. Wondering if others could hear me chewing is decidedly not my native dinnertime experience.

I’ve spent the past ten years repeating “Bottom or knees on the chair, please” at least a dozen times each meal, and “Can you ask again with good manners?” Well, no. That’s actually not true. I’m rarely that composed and polite in the din. Mealtime chaos with three young children gets me every time. So much noise, so much food on the face, on the clothes, on the floors. So many demands. So many needy children and exhausted parents.

But this? This meal is a spiritual oasis for sure. Taking slow, tiny, (hopefully) noiseless bites I look around the silent room. Oil lamps flicker in the low evening light. The window seat offers a view of the lovely meditation gardens outside. Lovely wall-hangings illustrate the spiritual benefits of silence, inviting us to Be Still. To simply Be Here.

Yes. My introverted, contemplative heart rises eagerly in agreement. Yes. Surely this is the stillness where God’s voice can be found. Surely this is the path for those who are serious about finding and following Him. After a decade of constant pouring out, of “adult-ing” in service to my children I’ve wound up dry and brittle, desperately in need of finding my center and that still, small voice in the solitude of silence.

My spirit longs to be “all-in” with God, and this path feels so … right. Worshipping Him here in quiet meditation seems so …doable. I wonder idly what would happen if I didn’t leave after the weekend. If I checked in for a week … a month … a year.

This is the thought that brings me to my senses.

What would happen? My children, precious sons and daughters made in the image of God and entrusted to my husband and I, would be bereft. Without me to tuck them in to bed, to hear their troubles and fears, to kiss their ouchies. Who would provide them with the food, shelter, and love needed to make it through childhood? Someone must.

Such a vivid imagination clarifies suddenly that this peacefulness is not as surely-spiritual as it appears. In short doses, it springs up as the miraculous oasis in the wilderness that restores me, yet I cannot linger here. I must go back into the loud-but-never-lonely world of caring for family. While monastery living is a sacred, blessed calling for some, others of us are called to an entirely different journey. While the paths are different, our sustenance along the way are the same—God’s presence.

Someone, someone, must accept the path of service, the path of chaos, the path of noise.

At least in this season, that someone is me.

This noisier path is the one most mothers are on. Our days are chock-full of serving, of pouring ourselves out that others might have life and health and strength. We need the moments and days to recharge, yes. But mostly, our calling, our God-given season, is to take the noisier path. It isn’t Plan B, as it feels to my weary spirit. It is the very place where God meets us.

My spirit breathed deeply of silence that lovely, nurturing weekend. My body and soul needed it, badly, and I eagerly drank in every drop. On the long, silent drive back home, I prepared myself for the onslaught of noise and chaos I knew awaited me—children, eager to see me, to tell me everything, desperately needing hugs, a bit tearful and whiney, full of complaints and quarrels after a few days off-kilter. Laundry that needed doing. Meals that needed planning. Work deadlines that loomed now two days closer.

This contemplative, introverted Mama doesn’t feel spiritual when I’m surrounded by this chaos of growing things, of creating and nurturing. I don’t feel that same certain centered peace that I associate with meeting God. But I know without a doubt that this noisier path is the one He has placed me on. For now, it is in the chaos and the noise, in the serving and pouring out, where I will find Him and where He continues to make me new.

This is His creation, after all. Making babies was His idea. Our Creator can’t be too surprised that raising children demands almost everything we have. We’re His children, too.

Thanks be to God.



We are so thrilled to have one copy of Catherine’s book to share with our readers. Share a comment on this post today until Friday at 10pm. (May 9—May 12, 2017) and enter to win a copy of Long Days of Small Things.

About Catherine:

Hi Res Author PhotoCatherine McNiel is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017). She writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook, or at



  1. Jessica W says:

    Who won the free book?

  2. Kathleen Bertrand says:

    “But I know without a doubt that this noisier path is the one He has placed me on. For now, it is in the chaos and the noise, in the serving and pouring out, where I will find Him and where He continues to make me new.”

    Becoming a mother ushered God back into my life. Motherhood and God are intimately intertwined. However, this contemplative, introverted mama CRAVES silence and alone time and often confuse it with the ONLY place where God and I can meet. Thank you for this reminder.

  3. fiona lynne says:

    Oh but the NOISE. I don’t listen to music or the radio or podcasts anymore because I am so desperate for some silence when they are napping! I daydream about silent retreats, or just booking myself into the nearest hotel for a night 🙂 But. But I know this is holy ground too, this motherhood journey. My kids get to see me at my very worst and at my very best. When I let it, being their Mama is a doorway into God’s presence in a fuller way. But it is so very hard to see that in the moment. Thanks for this reminder again. I’m so looking forward to reading your book.

  4. Kellie Cornelison says:

    Oh wow. This mama’s heart needed to hear that right now. Your words were perfect. Thank you!

  5. This was such a hard season and you’re writing so beautifully from within it. Thank you for the reminder that whatever season we are in, it’s seeking God’s presence that matters.

  6. As a new mama who is in the throes of giving everything she has to mothering, I love this post. Thank you for reminding me to seek Him in this season, too.

  7. Erin Holbrook says:

    I like the reminder that what “is” isn’t based on our feelings.

  8. Clare says:

    I’m with you on the noisy path – I’ve spent the last seven years plus changing the diapers of three small boys – now shepherding the two eldest through the drama of elementary school and piano practice. It does not feel holy, but it is.

    • Catherine McNiel says:

      Drama and piano practice…we’re in that stage too. Yikes…I’m not sure I’ll survive the quarreling…

  9. sandyhay says:

    I’m spending the week with my 2 young grandsons. “Use your fork Elliott.” “Shut the door Josiah.” are on repeat. Although my regular days are full in a much different way, I wonder in awe of these growing up days and wish I’d had women like you to give me focus to see beyond the hustle and bustle. Thank you Catherine.

    • Catherine McNiel says:

      Oh, I’m grateful for women like you Sandy, who show me perspective from further down the path!

  10. Tracy Nelson says:

    “In short doses, it springs up as the miraculous oasis in the wilderness that restores me, yet I cannot linger here. I must go back into the loud-but-never-lonely world of caring for family. ”
    YES and amen. I feel exactly the way you do, many days. <3

  11. I can so relate! I spent the first 5 years of motherhood believing that my children and my new routine is what stood in the way of growing in my relationship with God. I learned that the way we grow in our relationship with Jesus is through the quiet things- reading Scripture, journaling, praying in a quiet place. But finally I came to realize that with a different season, God was trying to grow me in my relationship with Him in a different way- through the serving, through the chaos, through the prayers in the midst of nursing, through the Spirit bringing to mind all the verses I had memorized in the past for my need for them right there. I still long for those quiet times, and make sure they happen (more and more now that my kids are a bit older!) but I stopped putting all my eggs in that basket :). I love how you put it: ” But mostly, our calling, our God-given season, is to take the noisier path. It isn’t Plan B, as it feels to my weary spirit. It is the very place where God meets us.” Thanks for writing this, Catherine!

    • Catherine McNiel says:

      Yes, yes!! That’s it exactly. I think sometimes we feel like we’re failing, when really we’re obeying. I pray that we can learn to imagine a way to seek God with our bodies and noise, even when our minds are unable to find the quiet we’ve learned to find him in. Thanks Tiffany.

  12. Shanelle says:

    Oh, I so needed this today! Spring is always lovely but my husband often works 7am-9pm as we prepare our Christmas tree fields for summer. It’s long days for both of us as he goes from his full time job to our full time hobby and for me as I take care of two needy kiddos by myself. I long for that silence and peace but sometimes forget to be thankful for the chaos. Today I’m reminded to be grateful for kids who are healthy enough to run, yell and make lots of noise. Thank you for the perspective shift!

  13. sgibsonneve . says:

    It’s funny, I feel as if, in some ways, the noise is what makes the silence so much more precious. I’m home with an ill six year old (nothing serious) and he is asleep right now. I am never in the house when it is quiet and right now, I am so aware of the precious silence, much like that magical quiet time when they have gone to sleep before I go to bed myself. Is it crazy to say that it’s a fuller silence, a more gracious silence, with it comes after the noise? If I didn’t have these busy bodies keeping my day so frenzied, this would feel so much less precious and I might not even be aware of it. I try to hang onto that.

  14. After dinner last night, I looked at our tablecloth, the reverse stencil of Parmesan cheese around plates — and I took the nasty thing outside onto the deck to shake it out before washing it. There was no sound out there on the deck but the spring peepers, and the early dark quieted my heart for the return to beautiful chaos. By grace, we do this mothering thing, and your words today are a gift and an encouragement to keep doing the small things that add up over the years.

    • Catherine McNiel says:

      I am so grateful, Michele. I remember once last summer I was so bone-tired of chaos…and I walked outside for just a moment in the evening and the yard was full of fireflies. That 20 seconds glimpse of magic got me through the rest of the day.

  15. Tracey says:

    Elementary school is ending in less than 2 weeks and I’ve slowed my son down. He was so worried about not bring two C’s up and I told him I didn’t care…79’s and 80 is a B. He’s tired, hitting a growth spurt psychological and I told him we’re slowing a bit to enjoy these last days. Be mindful and intentional with goodbyes aND giving him room to process.

    • Catherine McNiel says:

      Wow…so many different parenting challenges in each season. You sound like a wise counselor for him!

  16. Sue Andrea says:

    How true this is! I am happiest when I can be my introverted, contemplative self BUT I need the craziness of kids and grandkids swirling around me to find the deepest peace in those quiet spaces. The energy I derive from being mom and grandma is exhaustingly beautiful and I need it almost as much as the quiet for balance and to prevent the loneliness that creeps into too much time on my own. I must admit, though, a silent retreat ‘sounds’ delightful!

  17. Tammie Raymora Thomas says:

    Being a mom to 7 this resonates. Beautiful, it has been the most challenging, spirit rising, transformative beautiful experience I have traveled. This sounds like an amazing book I would love to read. My kids are teens, and young adults. One 11year old, this book would be very helpful in keep this path in a more zen like journey. Sounds fabulous .

  18. Jessica W says:

    Silence sounds wonderful, says this mom of a 2 year old and an almost-born baby! But I think there is a middle ground, to be sure, and lately I’ve discovered driving in the car by myself is blissful. I just have to be careful not to make too much “noise” in my life with extra books and movies and social media!

    • Catherine McNiel says:

      That is exactly what I discovered too! In “Long Days of Small Things” I end each chapter with a few things we already do each day, and try to find ways to make them a reminder of God’s presence. I hope your pregnancy and delivery go well!

  19. Robin Baldwin says:

    “This contemplative, introverted Mama doesn’t feel spiritual when I’m surrounded by this chaos of growing things, of creating and nurturing.” I so relate to this! I have two teenagers so our home is full of energy and hormones. I have found lately that finding quiet time before everyone else wakes up is my way of creating some peace to fulfill me spiritually.


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