“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15: 58
I have always loved being productive and efficient. I have spent a lot of my life living for results. I love checking things off of a To Do list. I love Excel sheets and organized desks and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of a productive day. I love taking steps that feel linear and progressive. I love large gatherings, the sounds of laughter filling my home. I love making friends and building connection, deep conversation, and the feeling that I might have made a difference in someone’s life. Whatever the form, I love visible, tangible, see it, taste it, touch it results.
I think we all do, to some extent.
We are built to create beauty and innovation, in the image of the One who made us. This beautiful drive is set in us to partner with God in something bigger than ourselves.
What I never knew is what would happen to me when all of the visible was stripped away. I never knew what it would feel like to work all day and have a list longer than when I started, and to fail to explain how the minutes and hours evaporated.
I never knew what it would feel like to work tirelessly and never see the bottoms of my hampers. I didn’t know the feeling of picking up the toys only to find them dumped in the next room. I hadn’t felt the sting of giving everything away, to be told I’m the worst mom ever or that I just don’t care at all (this was just today). I never knew about sweeping and mopping endlessly, only to find sticky and littered floors when my husband walks in the door. Walking around all day not knowing I had spit up on my shoulder, and feeling so unbelievably insignificant. I never knew about struggling through a trip to the grocery store only to encounter eye rolls and annoyed glances from passersby.
Getting to the end of the day without having accomplished anything I can name, and having no idea what kept me so busy – it can make me feel so small.
I never knew how much of me could be spent in completely invisible spaces, bandaging the boo-boo, holding and praying over the child with the nightmare, making all the lunches in those special ways, rocking the baby, changing the wet sheets, folding the clothes, going to appointments, loading the dishwasher, wiping the bottoms, breaking up the arguments, teaching and training and guiding in the ways of relationship and reconciliation, buckling and unbuckling and rebuckling the seatbelts, cleaning the kitchen over and over and over and over, and shepherding the hearts in all of the in-between spaces that will add up to a childhood.
I never knew how incredibly uncomfortable I would feel in my skin without tangible successes and accomplishments to show for my days.
Several years ago, this experience turned me inside out.
My husband, Mike, and I had just left our home in Kansas City, with thriving lives and work and ministry and friendship, pregnant with our third child, to move to Durham, North Carolina for Mike to attend business school. My calendar, which had been bubbling over with color-coded activity from 5am until 10pm most days, with a personal training business and a high school ministry, children’s activities and social gatherings… transformed overnight to completely, entirely, alarmingly blank.
I stared over my bulging tummy into the adorable faces of a three- and a one-year-old child and thought my life was all but over. I was wild about these little people of mine, blessed beyond words to be their mom. And I had no idea how to “just” be their mama. I felt that I had lost myself, and suddenly I was forced to believe that I mattered even when no one over three feet tall could see me.
I wanted to defend myself over the mess I had tried to clean, the chaos I had tried to pacify, the child I had tried to discipline…despite the appearance that I had sat on my behind all day. I wanted to be understood, to vindicate myself and scream to the world that there was more to me than diapers. I wanted my children to behave and speak kindly so that the world could see what I’ve taught them. I simultaneously wanted to prove that I had a brain and questioned that it still worked. I wanted to change the world and just wanted a shower. I adored my children, and never took a day for granted that I got to stay home with them, but I suddenly had no idea who I was or what I was doing.
And I abruptly forgot how to make friends because the first question out of everyone’s mouth is “What do you do?”
Despite feeling like my dreams were coming true…
Despite the desire and gratitude for the ability to stay home…
Despite knowing that so many other moms would love to be in my shoes…
Despite feeling abundant and undeserved blessing…
Despite all of that, I found myself squirming and wincing at the words “I stay at home with my kids.” Suddenly, all the lines were blurred, and who I am felt mixed up with what I do and the busyness of my schedule and my perceived relevance to the rest of the world.
In that season, I faced this ugly underbelly of my heart where I was silently desperate to be important and known and respected and appreciated and needed.
I cried out to God, begging him to give me purpose and identity and clarity about it all…begging him to show me where to invest, to let me use my gifts.
And in this one simple desperate prayer, he gently offered me this…
Sweet one, be faithful with what you have been given. Be poured out here. Whatever gifts you are longing to use, give them all away right here, where only I can see. Whatever you feel you are capable of doing, do it here with the ones I’ve entrusted to you. Trust me with the offering.
Painfully simply, God told me in the quiet of my heart that as I love the least of these within my four walls, I was loving Him. Be faithful as I am faithful.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 40
He gradually and gracefully extended my reach beyond my home, but my eyes for what I’m doing with my children are new.
I come back to this truth over and over that in God’s upside down Kingdom, my children are completely and totally deserving of the the very best of me.
The parts I used to use to impress a boss. The parts of me I used to make money or to try to create something beautiful. When my children are the ones in front of my face, I can pour it all out to them, knowing that the eyes of the Father are on me.
And in that moment, my offering could be better spent no where in the world.
Maybe someday, I will have the opportunity to do a great thing, by the standards of the world. Or maybe not. But for today, I will heed the words of the lovely Mother Teresa…
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Give it all away right where you are, Mama. Your toil is not in vain.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12: 1
If you missed Part 1 of this post, you can check it out here.