A sweet little voice from the backseat reaches my ears as we approach a red light. “Mommy, can we help that woman with the sign that says ‘homeless’?” See, I can tell them that we love the poor, but my tenderheart in the backseat doesn’t want to hear about it. She wants to see it, feel it, touch it, taste it. And I’m suddenly in one of those crises of my intention smashing up against my lack of follow-through. My words and the reality of my life collide in a heap, and I realize again that the most important things are not really taught, but caught. I’m in that sloppy space of needing to mean what I say and say only what I’m ready to live out. This kind of discipleship – the kind where our children learn what it means to live and walk in faith by watching – this kind gets right up in your face.
There was a time in my life when loving others, ministry, discipleship – it all felt tidied up. I could go about my life, and use the free spaces to find opportunities to share about my faith in Jesus. Only the safe, pretty and in-control spaces. Without realizing, I was presenting a story of “Once upon a time life was messy, and then I met Jesus and now it’s tidied up and beautiful.” God was gracious to redeem what I offered, but in the quiet, I think something felt disingenuous. You and I both know that life doesn’t get tidy when we follow Jesus. Life is still a sloppy mess with pain and grief and temptation and disease and broken relationship. Even under God’s covering, and in His hope, life and our own weakness this side of heaven, still hurt and confuse us.
It took some up close and personal relationships to show me that I hadn’t been free. The honest truth is that there is no freedom in offering only the pretty spaces to the world. Only the clean house. Only the made-up face. Only the well-prepared bible study lesson. I felt the pressure of keeping it up. I felt the fear of being “found out.” And those with me likely felt the same.
I faced my first crisis of intention versus reality a number of years ago when life got a little intense. My husband was elected to the State Legislature, I was running a small personal training business, I had recently become a mom, and I was involved in a ministry for high school students, which I was striving to do in the in-between spaces. As my life became more demanding, I began to see that if I only invited those around me to see the pretty parts of my life, I would soon run out of parts to offer. I began to see that the margin for loving anyone from the tidied-up spaces was quickly being squeezed out of my life. I considered cutting things out to make more pretty space, but I felt that God was leading me in a different direction. I felt that I needed to step in faith, rather than rest on my own strength.
I had always thought that loving others could only come from a put-together life. But in that season, God brought into my path an opportunity that began to change my thinking. I met a young woman looking for a home in which to heal from family hurts, to learn what godly marriage, parenting, family looks like. When this opportunity arose, I was days away from the birth of my second child, and my husband a couple months from his second election. I was working, and had stepped into leadership in several places in the church and community. Life was chaotic and messy. But my husband and I felt a nudge to invite this person in. It felt like a giant step of faith to allow someone into the mess or our home and family life, and to believe that she would see God in the midst.
It’s terrifying to let someone see our life when it is not put together. We want to clean up our bodies and our houses and our lives before we invite someone in. But I found myself wondering what I was really afraid of. If I truly believed I was following Christ in the mess, then there should be evidence…right? If someone watching can’t see God and lives of faith in the messy times, than we must be lying to ourselves. So, God challenged me to begin to develop a “come and watch me need Jesus” attitude. Watch my husband and I fall towards one another. Watch us ask each other and our children for forgiveness. Watch us get on our knees with our great need.
And guess what, by God’s grace, this young woman saw us forgiving ourselves and each other. She saw us living beyond ourselves and drawing on God’s grace. She saw us failing in ways that made all of us want less of ourselves and more of Jesus, and it changed her life. And ours.
God is still leading me on this journey – the journey of living fearlessly, and letting His power be made perfect in my weakness. I’m seeing that I still have layers and layers of wanting to keep it all together for everyone watching.
And motherhood gets right up in my face like nothing ever has. I now have little eyes watching to see if my words come alive in my actions, and seeing all the moments – not just the pretty ones. And it forces me to look right at the truth of my life and how it compares to my words and my intention.
I have to be ready to say what I mean and mean what I say. And I have to be ready to need lots of grace.
I have to be ready to point to the Merciful One, and to teach my children not how to stop being weak, but how to lean our weakness right into the strong chest of God.
I have to be ready to teach them not how to fix our hearts up so we want and seek better things, but to go ahead and die to ourselves. We can just lay our will right down, and let God show us how to align with His will instead.
I have to be ready to teach my children not how to get better and stronger, but how to get right down on our knees and let God wash us again and again in grace through Jesus. This is freedom. I can live the life I intend to live, and not just pretend to. I can flounder and fail, and let God’s grace pick me up. And I can let my children and the world watch the whole thing. I can do more than teach them the Bible lessons (those are good too!), but I can also let them catch from me the freedom of walking in grace.
Yes, motherhood gets right up in our faces where there is no escaping being seen. And so, I’m forced to ask myself the question “Do I believe that I have the spirit of the Living God in me, or not?”
If I believe it, than I truly have nothing to fear. There is freedom to be seen in my broken and redeemed mess. There is no pretending that because I am a follower of Jesus, I no longer struggle with sin and weakness. In motherhood, and in the hardship of real life, I am led to a place of inviting my children (and others) to walk with me on a broken road of needing Jesus every minute. They see me fail and be forgiven over and over and over.
On the fly, I’m constantly led to face not only my intention, but the reality of my heart. I’m forced to ask what I want my children to see me doing, and then do it.
In a moment when I could have convinced myself that I do care about the poor, but that there’s nothing I can do right now because I’m in a hurry anyway…my children bring me to the feet of Jesus. I face the truth that my intentions and actions are not lining up.
So, after that sweet cry from the backseat about whether we might do something to help, I try something new with my little disciples. I roll down our windows, we say “hello,” ask her name and say a quick prayer for her. My children join me as we offer this woman the dignity of being seen, and a little snack. A simple thing, but one that challenges the way I’ve lived, and the frequent emptiness of my intention. I can’t for a moment feel proud for the change, as I know I would never have done it without the innocent challenge from little lips. I want it to be real for them. And they make me want it to be real for me. I want to live more than a life of good intention.
Motherhood is teaching me that loving others can’t be tidy. There is a kind of discipleship that lets us reflect the greatness of God, by leaning our weakness into God’s strength. There is a way of loving others that lets us be broken, because we lay down our own greatness and point to God’s greatness instead. And God gets the glory as we let him reflect his great glory on the broken mirror of our lives.
In this life that comes with being covered in spit up, with whining and back-talking, and a million hidden things that make us feel so small… we can just be small, so the bigness of God can be seen through us. I imagine sometimes that this life as mama must be a little bit like trying to live with a TV camera in your face. Someone is always there to catch your weakest, ugliest moments – the moments that basic human dignity tells us should happen in private. But when children bust through the bathroom door, or pull off the nursing cover, or yell at us when we are running on an hour of sleep, the challenge to love and disciple them gets really up close and personal.
But if we let the up close and personal moments push us to laugh at our humanness, and be the empty vessels of God’s love. If we let the moments when we face our inconsistencies to push us to live out our intention, and to say what we mean and mean what we say, then we spread our wings and soar in new freedom.