Friends, this motherhood thing…it stretches every part of you. Your very skin stretches over this tiny person growing from within. Your heart stretches to the new heights of love. Your strength stretches when you have to smile through deep pain or worry. Your mind stretches to hold all the things at once, because every mama knows that your people never really leave your mind, you just stretch to fit them all. You stretch with wider boundaries and new trust as your child grows. And your faith…
Mamas, this thing requires the stretchiest kind of faith.
That’s the stretching I never knew to expect. It’s the kind that breaks chains and let’s me run free through these days that press in on me from every side. This stretching of my faith is what is making me nimble…my soul bending with the winds but never breaking, my spirit twisting with the million things but never left in a knot. I feel the heat turning ever hotter in motherhood, but my faith is stretching as armor over the whole of me. On the good days, anyway…er, the good hours…er, minutes…
On the other days, those in-your-face hard days, I usually find that this one thing keeps me stuck. The thing that makes me believe it’s all on my shoulders. There is this thing that makes me feel like God chose wrong when He made me their mama. This thing convinces me that if I don’t do it ALL right, my children are doomed. This thing ties me up in knots about all the decisions – how far to let them explore, how many cookies, which babysitters, whether they need more time with me, need a bottle, need a diaper change, need a doctor, need a counselor, need a vacation, need a tutor, need a nap.
This thing: Unbelief.
As I reflect back on my years being a mama, there have been seasons when I feel like my boots are stuck in the mud. My steps are labored, and no matter how hard I work, at the end of the day, I’m still in the mud puddle. You know the days when you wake up determined to do it differently, but it just feels like the same old battles, the same old things that push your buttons, the same cycles of spewing ugly words or facial expressions at your children when you hit the same old wall you hit yesterday.
A couple years ago, I found myself in one of these stuck places. I woke up in a cycle of criticizing and lecturing and nagging my eldest daughter. It’s not that I was criticizing her character or person, but a growing number of my words were corrections…about chewing with her mouth closed and being nicer to her siblings and remembering her homework and wearing clothes that match and acting her age and cleaning up after herself and sitting up straight and holding still while I brush her hair and paying attention when I speak to her and using her table manners and setting a good example for her siblings and doing what she’s supposed to without being asked, and being the BIG KID that I expected her to be.
Meanwhile, I could have burst with pride over her. I knew how amazing she was – what a blessing she was. I was just so dang stuck in the pattern.
My heart wrenched at the thought that I was overly critical of her – of that ugly spirit shaping our relationship. So every time the words came out, I would beat myself up. The thoughts would roll over and over in my head. I’m too hard on her. What’s wrong with me? And when did this small person stop being allowed to be a child? Where’s the grace for this one? And when did she gain a responsibility for helping me raise my other children and setting our family culture? The more siblings we give her, the faster I expect her to grow up. She’s going to hate me. And her story will be one of “I was never good enough for my mom.” And it’s all over.
Then I would remember that she was 6 years old, and Lord-willing, we had some time to work it out.
And then a week would go by without breaking the cycle, and the thoughts would storm, and perpetuate the cycle.
I’d love to tell you that I figured out a way to stop my buttons from being pushed. I’d love to tell you I have a system for changing the feelings that creep up on me, and make me feel the crazies about to spew out of me. I didn’t. But I did uncover a great mystery about where all of this criticism and anxiety was rooted.
Underneath my desperate need to control my daughter was the fear that I was going to fail as a mom by not holding her accountable. Or a fear that she would be teased at school like I was. Or that she wouldn’t turn out right. Or that if even my oldest wasn’t “under control,” then my house would spin out of control. And though I needed practical things like learning how to breathe in the moments, the real solution was to let my faith stretch to allow my home to be shared by an independent, unpredictable, mysterious human being – ever changing and never what I plan or expect.
Because it all comes down to this…
If God is who he says he is, I can handle some unpredictability and lack of control since all the days ordained for us were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139).
If God is who he says he is, we ought to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4), but bring everything to his feet.
If God is who he says he is, the pressure is off, because He is writing the stories of my children, and he chose me to be their mama.
If He is who he says he is, I didn’t do anything to earn my place in His family, and my children won’t have to either (Ephesians 1).
If God is who He says he is, he made you and me, and called us very good (Genesis 1). He planted us here on earth simply to show the world how awesome He is (Isaiah 61). And when Jesus went to the cross, He said “It is finished,” so all the work I think is so critical, just isn’t (John 19).
If I believe that God is who He says He is, then the earth will keep spinning when I stop scrambling and striving, and there IS time for the one thing that is needed, for sitting at the feet of Jesus. And it will not be taken away from me (Luke 10).
The road of letting my eldest daughter be her mysteriously unique self was the far more terrifying than trying to mold her into who I wanted her to be. It was a frightening step of faith – but even from the start, I knew it was also far more joy-filled. Rather than bringing a spirit of “here’s what I need you to be,” I can bring a spirit of “tell me about wonderful you!” I can bring a spirit of joyful exploration and discovery of God’s creativity on her. I can believe that God sees us, and has good plans for us, and will cover us in our mess.
And the strange, beautiful thing is: when I believe God’s goodness over us, the shame and fear dissipate, and the critical spirit goes right along with it.
As I allowed my faith to stretch, my spirit burned with the hope of no longer seeking to mold my daughter into my comfortable liking, and rather starting the scary, exciting journey of figuring out how to love her, with her unique spirit and character. I didn’t have to be afraid of volatility or unpredictability in my children. If I could, in faith, remain unshaken as they bounced and stumbled and slopped through these years, our home maintained peace. In faith, I could be, by God’s grace, a boundary line for them and for our home, rather than another pinball. They had a culture to join, rather than a mess to try to sort through, or a moving target to try to hit. I believe we hold this boundary line not by doing it all right, but simply by believing God is who he says he is. We find stability by falling into the arms of God, and letting him hold us.
We move mountains of anger by believing that our children’s behavior and performance does not determine our worth. We can believe that we are offered grace, so that we have grace to offer to our children.
We move mountains of guilt and shame by believing that God knew we would fail, and Jesus finished the work on the cross.
We move mountains of fear by believing that God holds the future. He’s not blind to all of the things that threaten our children and families. He sees. He knows. He is not afraid.
We move mountains of too-much-ness by believing that God is bigger than our pile of laundry, our ‘to do’ list, our fatigue – by believing that he made us limited beings, on purpose.
Sister, when we feel stuck, let’s work the muscles of our spirits into that deep stretch of faith. We can sit in the discomfort of believing what we cannot see. We can develop an elasticity that allows us to move and flex with the wacky, unpredictability of these days with littles because God is stable, faithful, unchanging. We can choose to believe God is who he says he is.
And the mountains of our hearts are thrown into the sea…