I’ve always struggled a bit with taking up my space. I’ve never wanted to inconvenience or overwhelm, or bring too much need or heaviness. I’ve measured my feelings and passions, and most definitely my requests for help. I now know confidently that God has a sweet obsession with winning my heart and a significant sense of humor…
He gave me five children in seven and a half years. I got a crash course in taking up a lot of space.
Children take up their space unapologetically, with wild freedom. Though their parents are presumed to be responsible for ensuring that they don’t interfere with anyone else’s space, the reality is that as your family grows, the space you take up in surface area and sound waves and need grows exponentially.
If you have ever walked into a restaurant, a grocery store, a library, or an airplane with children, you know the reactions can be mixed. I’ve seen everything from a joyful exclamation of blessing to an eye roll to an audible scoff. I’ve had strangers question if I know how to prevent pregnancy, or murmur things like “Some people just need to know when to quit.” Our family is undeniably avoided on airplanes and in a variety of other places. And I get it.
We are a lot. For me too! But no one needs a reminder that children are a blessing more than a mom!
These experiences with mixed reactions and projections of too-much-ness have highlighted my insecurities, but they have done something much more profound as well. They have sparked a flame in me, and given me a deep passion to proclaim loudly and proudly that children are a gift. As mothers, we know it, but sometimes we don’t live it that way. Messages of annoyance or inconvenience can oppress us, if we let them.
In these years with tiny kids, I’ll be honest, most of the time my brain feels like it might actually explode. Life is so sweet and full, but also completely overwhelming. I cry out to the Lord to grant me wisdom, peace, joy, the ability to slow down and soak in the moment, grace for my children, self control to use calm and kind words. I am metaphorically on my knees every second of the day with my utter depravity. I cannot pull together so much as an hour of righteous living, maybe not even a minute. I am stripped down with sleep deprivation and endless chores and prolific whining…and questions.
Oh the questions.
But at the end of the day, I want more! More of my children, more laughter, more of their magically unique personalities and amazing little faces…faces of light and life and freedom. I want to know them more, enjoy them more, drink them in more. I want more of the toddlers running shamelessly after bath time, resisting those confining pajamas. I want more sweet little hands cupping my face and telling me I’m the best mommy. I want more of watching the beautiful mystery of identity and spirit unfolding in my older children. I want more silliness and animal noises and living room dance parties.
Light and darkness are at war over these best of years.
The little old women keep telling me to love every minute, and my friends with a youngest child barely over five-years-old keep telling me to hang on for dear life a few more years. “Long days, short years,” they say. I think the truth and the secret to joy rests in some sloppy mess of both.
We do need to soak these years in. We need to deeply and truly celebrate all the firsts of things and the dependence and the spongy learning and the snuggles and the silliness. We need to slow down and taste it and chew on it and let it change us.
But we also need permission to say that this thing is really stinking hard. I want to tell those little old ladies that they don’t actually remember very well what it felt like not to get a good night’s sleep for a decade. And I want to remind those who look judgmentally at me with my occasionally out-of-control children, that they too were once a child and that my children deserve their respect. And for the love, I want to scream from the rooftops that sometimes moms have to take their kids to the grocery store. We weren’t trying to slow you down or ruin your day or run over your toes with the shopping cart. We just ran out of milk and peanut butter and we can’t go on without those, and this is just when the grocery store had to happen. So be nice. Please.
I have found that I need to be prepared to respond well to the comments and reactions that oppress my spirit. I need to be prepared to take up my space in a joy-filled, life-giving way.
The most common thing that is said to me throughout my days is “Wow, you have your hands full!” Though seemingly harmless, the constant flow of this message leads me to feel sorry for myself, or to feel defeated under the seeming “too much” of my life. If it constantly looks like I need help, then I must not be ok, right? A sweet friend encouraged me to find a thing to say back that helps to combat the influence this comment was having. So now, every time (usually at least three times a day, depending on how many errands I run or places I go), I say in response “In the best way!” or “Yes, sir, I am blessed!” or “My cup runneth over!”
Cheesy as it may sound, having a positive response transforms these moments of defeat into moments of victory. And it proclaims over my children – to their listening ears – that they are a blessing and a joy.
During pregnancy, it was the continuous flow of “You’re about to pop!” or “Wow, you’ve really gotten big!” These threaten to steal my joy, make me feel frumpy and insecure, and to be honest, make me want to say all kinds of cruel things. I needed an armament for this one too. I came up with a few phrases like “Must be a healthy boy in there!” or “Can’t wait to meet him!” so that these comments didn’t pour self-consciousness all over my blessing.
Last week, a man saw me out and about with my little flock and said to me in real life ”Wow, you must be a glutton for punishment.” Without thinking, I responded: “Maybe…but I get it all back in joy!”
Infinitely more important than the puzzled looks I sometimes get, my children hear me declare that they are a blessing. And when I am prepared with these joyful “comebacks”, the words that threaten to make me feel overwhelmed, insecure or less-than Do. Not. Stick. Hallelujah!
Today, let’s celebrate our children out loud for the world to see. Let’s celebrate their slow wonder and their unreserved delight. Let’s celebrate their bubbling joy and their shameless freedom. Let’s celebrate their unquenchable curiosity and their endless teachability. Let’s celebrate their enthusiasm and their presence. Let’s celebrate their incredible courage, resilience, and flexibility. Let’s celebrate the clarity of their love, and the purity of their faith. Let’s celebrate their fearlessness and their reckless abandon. Let’s celebrate their comfort and familiarity with their need, and their absolute dependence. Let’s celebrate that Jesus said children are worth celebrating.
I want to challenge myself and other mamas to go convince the world that children are worth our celebration and our blessing. They are worth listening to. They are worth our lingering looks of acceptance. They are worth our smiles. They are worth our patience as they try to figure out how to do things they’ve never done before. I want to embrace them together. If those inconvenienced deliver scoffs and scolds and sharp glances, I want to let them roll off and I want to lean into the beautiful mess of it.
And maybe, as the world sees moms delight in our children, it will be softened towards them. Maybe we can deliver a powerful blessing over this next generation.
What do you say, Mama? I say let’s give it a shot.