Standing In The Gap Of The Real And Perceived
The feeling of being overwrought as the mother of a newborn is certainly a fair one. And there is beauty in the mundane, but it is still mundane, and sometimes harrowing. As humans, it is to be expected that the nobility of our perspective might wax and wane.
Sometimes even the industrious, task-oriented personality can struggle with young motherhood. You see something you want to accomplish, and you make a plan, execute the plan, and get the prize. When you climb a mountain, go fishing, run ten miles, or kayak down a river, you always know exactly where the end is. There’s a map for that, and it will be the same for you, more or less, as it was for the person who made the map. If you’re fishing, you set a time, or you set a catch, and you’re done. Or, you can change your mind in the middle, and you’re done anyway.
Even with business endeavors, there’s an order to it, aaannnndd you can partition it off to a certain part of your life. You might not, but you can say, “After six, I’m done.” You can set the parameters of your experience, and the criteria of your success. It’s all quantifiable.
But raising a child is a 24/7 obligation, and it’s hard sometimes to step back and ask yourself if you’re really accomplishing anything besides keeping your house and car — and sometimes it feels like your life — from being materially destroyed, and to keep from being accused of child neglect when it seems like your baby/toddler is constantly trying to kill himself.
It’s also frustrating because even in the accomplishments, parents often feel like they have so little to do with it. My wife and I really had little control over when our daughters decided to walk, talk, use the toilet, eat on their own, or read. You can provide a conducive environment to progress, but you certainly can’t set your watch on it. So how do you know if you’re even doing a good job?
We found that we could encourage our children, but we couldn’t push them much without disastrous consequences. Sometimes it was a wondrous surprise; sometimes it was a maddening test of patience, or even, believe it or not, a battle of wills. But it didn’t matter what Dr. James Dobson or Dr. Benjamin Spock or What To Expect The First Year said they should be doing or when they should be doing it. Our children hadn’t read those books, and neither, apparently, had God. And it can start from the time they’re born. Nine months, we heard all of our life. My wife laughs at that. Ten and some change was more like it for our first child, and for absolutely no apparent reason my wife could see.
“Is this ever going to happen?”, my wife would say. “Why don’t I just paint myself blue and audition for that snotty girl in ‘Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory?’” Even in the beginning, our girls were ready when they were ready.
One of our daughters was potty trained at two and a half; the other was nearly five. One of our daughters started reading at four and a half; the other was six. One of our daughters hadn’t really said a word before she was two. My wife’s graduate-degreed aunt and uncle worried that she might have a speech disorder, and strongly suggested that we take her to get diagnosed and prescribed speech therapy. We ignored them, and she started talking just fine a little later on. Today, we can’t shut her up, and she excels in the language arts.
We wanted to be captains of our daughters’ destinies. More often than not, though, we have been relegated to swabbies and lookouts. As mere caretakers and guides of our children, we’ve found ourselves at the end of the day to have more responsibility than control. But then again, that’s not too different from the greatest of our other creative aspirations. At some point, if you’ve done the job right, every creation takes on a life of its own. It’s quite humbling to see our children, however slowly, however meanderingly, become so much more than the sum of our parts. There is God in them.
When I have read the sometimes painfully honest cries of young mothers on social media forums, I am reminded of the old adage that the reason babies are so cute is because if they weren’t, we’d kill them. We can only laugh about it out loud because we first cried in silence.
I would bet that the most frustrated young mothers are the most committed. They’re young women who had ambition before they had a child, and for whom that child was not incidental or accidental to a sexual experience, but rather the point of one. Whatever they do in life, be it for fun or profit, they tend to do with everything they have. They engage, they reach, they strive, they plan, they purpose for success. It is in their DNA. They excel. They sweat for the goal. And they are willing to give up a lot to have a child, but in fact, they will end up giving even a lot more than that.
At their best, they’re being asked for a level of endurance they’ve never had to muster, like super smart high school graduates who get to college, and for the first time in their lives, have to study to stay on top. It’s a rude awakening.
Raising a newborn into a toddler is like boot camp. If you haven’t done it, you’ve never done anything like it. Babysitting a child is as different from mothering one as cohabitating is from being married, because properly approached, there’s no way out. It’s a ’til death relationship. It will test who you are. You will be pushed past what you thought were your limits. It will temper you somewhat to future challenges.
If you ask a soldier on deployment what life in the field is like, he or she will tell you that often, it’s a lot of doing nothing, seemingly — a lot of waiting, keeping the camp clean and orderly, keeping weapons and tools constantly ready for use, and doing drills to keep skills sharp. But after a certain point, all of that is just busywork to keep boredom at bay.
Then there’s the other side, when combat comes to you, and suddenly, you’re fighting for your own life and those of everyone around you. You’re trying to keep your head above water, but below the firing line. You’re taking a shot while trying to look inconspicuous. In those moments, you use everything you learned in boot camp, and you learn what boot camp and drills could have never taught you. You find out that there are some things in life for which you just can’t prepare. Playing house is not paying a mortgage.
But you can do this, this raising of a child. God has built you for this like He’s built you for nothing else, but He’s also built you respond to everything that’s bigger than you by drawing near to Him, Who is bigger than any challenge you have in front of you. It doesn’t mean you can’t whine and cry about it. God can handle you as He gives you the grace to handle your children.
That said, we’re not all conditioned to have ten children, and that’s okay, too. When we married, my wife wasn’t sure if she would ever want to have children. After two, she wanted one more — for a while. But that desire didn’t coincide with other factors, and now that time is gone. At 45, she’s thinking, “No, I don’t want to care at that level for a newborn baby again.”
And that’s fine. That’s why babies are primarily born to young women. It takes a lot of energy and sacrifice to bear and then raise a child to adulthood. For most women, there is a threshold after which you can cherish every such moment, and yet say, “That’s enough.” My wife has reached that threshold, but she’s so, so glad she made that decision twice. She considers the relatively short term pain and sacrifice to have been well worth the joy of having daughters. She wouldn’t trade them for anything. Indeed, some would say that she traded almost everything for them.
So pace yourself. Be gracious to yourself. Be flexible about standards. Give everything you have without expecting yourself to give what you don’t have. But learn where to get it.
You know, every now and then, even Jesus grew weary and needed some down time. Jesus knew what it was to be overwhelmed by the constant flow of needs and demands of others for whom He had accepted responsibility. What did He do to recharge and not lose sight of his mission?
“But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would OFTEN (emphasis mine) slip away to the wilderness and pray.” — Luke 5:15-16
“While the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and laying His hands on each one of them, He was healing them. Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ. When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place; and the crowds were searching for Him, and came to Him and tried to keep Him from going away from them.” — Luke 4:40-42
“When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” — Mark 1:32-35
What did Jesus do when He felt unappreciated, or even opposed, by those whom He came to serve? What would Jesus do when they acted, well, like babies?
“And Jesus said to (the scribes and Pharisees), “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, He said to (the man with the shriveled hand), ‘Stretch out your hand!’ And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” — Luke 6:9-12
In fact, in between the task of feeding the 5,000 (ever felt like that?) and walking on water, Jesus
“… immediately… made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” — Mark 6:45
Jesus even went on a retreat!
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days… ” — Luke 4:1-2
And though He was tempted there by the Devil, because He was following the Spirit, He could not be deterred, and…
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” — Luke 4:14
And He encouraged His disciples to do the same, with and without Him. There’s nothing wrong with getting away. In fact, to be a great mom, you must.
“The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.” — Mark 6:30-32
Jesus knew the stresses of being a frustrated mom.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” — Matthew 23:37
You can’t be who you need to be as a mother, or in any other capacity, if you’re not giving yourself time to be who you need to be as a daughter of your Father in Heaven, as the Bride of your Bridegroom, Who is Jesus. Don’t expect the perfect balance, but don’t feel guilty for shooting for it, either. Accept your humanity. If you have given your life to Jesus, God has completed you in Him. You only have to believe to benefit from that completeness.
One thing is for sure: nothing is satisfying in the long term when you are depending on your own righteousness, your own adequacy, your own sufficiency. You are not enough, to be sure, but you are not unusual, either. You have access to all the Grace you need or could want, which is sufficient, no matter your suffering or trial at hand.
“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” — 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Nothing is in balance, then, unless you are taking time to seek your Savior. So whatever else is before you, do what Jesus did. Get away whenever you can; make the time to recharge and remember your mission by seeking the intimacy of the Holy Spirit in your life. That’s the reason Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter.
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever— the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive [and take to its heart] because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He (the Holy Spirit) remains with you continually and will be in you.” — John 14:16-17
Seeking Him FIRST is the best you can do for your family and for yourself.
“For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” — Matthew 6:32-33
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