When running out of options is the best thing that ever happened

dani and mommy's hands

You know those evenings when you’re desperate for the day to come to a close, but you know that the instant your head hits your pillow, someone will need you?

You know those days when a cacophony of coughs and wheezes and sneezes and cries rings through walls and over baby monitors, and you know you’re going to be rubbing backs or dishing up medicine or rocking someone back to sleep any minute…so why even bother?

Midnight snuggles are precious, holy moments, but winter germs are a bit merciless, and I’ve had at least a dozen of those nights in the last three weeks.

I know I’m not the only one.

Despite the precious moments we try to embrace, we can’t help but notice that parenting sometimes seems to require giving on empty for a wildly unforgiving amount of time.  As a mom, you might be left to look around and wonder if anyone sees or anyone cares that you’ve had to pee for three hours, but haven’t had a chance… or that you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in years… or that you’ve answered so many questions today that “What’s for dinner?” makes you want to scream.

Parenting requires a fierce devotion to meet the others’ need, when you feel like your own is getting smashed under everyone’s muddy shoes. 

 

In my early years of motherhood, I thought I just had to muscle through, just keep it all together, be enough, stay strong, keep going.  And I had very little reason to doubt that I would make it through the little years this way.

I had everything a mom could ask for – healthy kids, supportive husband, loving community, good sleepers – and so, my system of staying on my game and being everything for everyone seemed to work just fine.  But underneath my shell of strength was the fear that I wouldn’t actually make it, if anything ever went really wrong.

I struggled to admit to myself or to God how desperately I loved my children, because it would leave me raw and vulnerable to the possibility of being flattened by hardship or tragedy.  Other parents joked about starting counseling funds because of the wounds we would unintentionally and inevitably give to our children, but everything in me said No…that wouldn’t be ok…I simply must succeed.  I couldn’t tolerate the reality that I could and would fail.  In that season, when I encountered difficult situations, other parents suffering loss or injury or illness or hardship with their children, my heart would simply beg Please, God, not us and my mind would concede I couldn’t survive it.

Something in me knew that my “Head down and hope for the best” mindset was a bit flimsy, but I didn’t yet know another option.

I was not forced to change this mindset because we were struck by tragedy.  I feel incredibly fortunate that I have not suffered the heart-wrenching losses and aches that so many dear friends and loved ones and families in the news have.  I still look around and see that I have it so easy.

But nevertheless my mindset was challenged.  Very shortly after my fourth child was born, there was just a really hard day.  Just one really hard day that bled into a disheartening week, with hospitalization for my littlest, alongside some relationship strains, loneliness, fear, and a feeling of failing my eldest as she started kindergarten essentially without me.  The struggle of that week stretched into a heavy month…then three months, then most of a year…and it threatened to utterly crush me.

A long string of seemingly minor crises began to strip off layer after layer after layer of my self-made strength… my thin hope that things would probably be ok, my faulty belief that maybe I could just be really careful and keep my children from most hardship, my erroneous sense of control over who they would be and how they would feel.  Sleep deprivation wore my body and my patience.  I began to see deeper and uglier brokenness within me, that which I had never let the healing light of God touch.

I could feel the fragility of my hope, and I think I knew that it was being built on the shifting sand of our circumstances, rather than the love and victory of Christ.

But I wasn’t yet sure how to change it.

Children right underneath my nose were getting injured.  Relationships seemingly safe within my grasp seemed to be slipping through my fingers.  Good hand washing and a well-sanitized home wasn’t stopping my littlest from getting sick.

And finally, in one equally innocuous and heart-stopping moment, all my self-sufficient systems came crumbling down, and I was utterly defeated.

Somewhat embarrassingly, the moment that changed everything in my parenting was a moment involving a pinky finger…perhaps the least significant part of a body, and yet apparently significant enough to break a mama’s heart.  My then two-year-old daughter – for all intents and purposes, still a baby under my protection and care – lost part of her finger to a folding chair, just a few yards from me.   And something in me broke.

This was the moment I decided I couldn’t do it.  I could not be mom, if it meant I couldn’t protect my babies.

I could not be mom if it meant everything in the world, including a chair, could be dangerous.

I could not be mom if it meant that my heart would remain raw, from now until forever, always wondering what kind of peril might fall on my children.

I threw my hands up before God and said I can’t!  

This moment I wanted to crawl out of my skin became a catalyst for a dramatic shift in my perspective in parenting.

This moment forced me to acknowledge that my systems of self-sufficiency were not enough, and I began to learn that parenting is less about being everything, and more about learning how to let Jesus be our everything, and teaching our children to do the same.  The days and weeks after this moment, in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other, I had to decide if I was going to take God at his word, and trust that He would be enough, no matter what circumstances our family might face.

This was the moment I began a journey to discover beautiful opportunity tucked inside all of my fears, in each of our struggles, in my weakest moments as a parent, in my sense of crushing inadequacy, in the invisibility of pouring my life out to little ones who can’t give back.  This was the season I began to find sweet invitations from my Father God, on this journey of motherhood.

And it started with knowing I am NOT enough.

I hear moms encourage each other often with words like “You ARE enough!”  “You are a great mom!”  These words are sweet, but when we know the brokenness of our own hearts, words like these can sometimes echo around in all the empty places, and leave us feeling little more than confused.

By God’s grace, and in His beautifully extravagant jealousy for our hearts, parenthood can function as a big, gaudy mirror hanging at the most unflattering angles.  

Sisters, may an understanding of our brokenness and insufficiency lead us never to condemnation or hopelessness, but ever and only into the arms of our ever-sufficient Jesus.  

Despite never wishing the difficulty of that year on my sweet little ones, in some ways, running out of options was the best thing that ever happened to us.

When the Israelites were trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea and out of options, God invited them to know him as God Almighty.  And when they were out of food and out of options, God invited them to know Him as the God who Provides…

When Hagar was fleeing and out of options, God invited her to know him as the God who sees…

When the bleeding woman was out of doctors and out of options, Jesus invited her to know Him as the Healer…

When the woman at the well was out of hope and out of options, Jesus invited her to know Him as the Living Water…

When we run out of options, we are invited to know God as our Healer, our Banner, our Peace, our Shepherd, our ever-present Help in trouble.  We are invited to know Him as our Defender, our Provider, our Counselor, and the One binds up our broken hearts, our Light in the darkness, our Loving Father who works all things for our good, and our Perfect Holy Savior who trades our rags for a glorious robe of righteousness…

Motherhood has offered me a giant shortcut to discovering some of my most vulnerable places.   If motherhood, or any life circumstances have you feeling exposed and out of options today, it might be just the perfect time to look for the outstretched arms of God.  

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