We mothers carry so much. As a friend handed Bjorn back to me after church yesterday, she commented how holding him is like a weight lifting class. It’s not just the physical weight of motherhood, though, it’s the work.
Sometimes I feel helpless as a mother. No, that’s not the right word. Unqualified. Insufficient. Understaffed.
As a homeschooling mom especially, we spend the first year or two explaining to people that we are qualified, and that we are enough. Our children don’t need different teachers. The position of being a mother in this culture is being constantly on the defense. I have had to defend my decision to stay at home with my children, my decision to homeschool them, and even the number of children that I have to total strangers on various circumstances.
I have been told that my degree is wasted as a mother. I’ve been told that my children would be better off with specialists for their education. (I have been told this by strangers. Ironically, when I sought the help of various specialists, they have told me that my kids are getting more from me than they’d ever receive from a specialist.) I’ve even had people tell me that mothers who have this many children are the problem with the world today. It hasn’t been blog readers who say this. It’s usually strangers. One guy I sat next to on an airplane. The homeschooling criticisms come most from random teachers who are still in college, or just out of college. Teachers who have been working for more than 5 years almost always support me whole heartedly.
And to be perfectly honest, I have so many more weird things about me than being the mother of a large family who homeschools. Friends, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
If you want to be a mother today, brace yourself. If no one has criticized you, there’s sure to be a blogpost out there in some form of an “open letter” telling you why you are doing it all wrong.
The criticism and lectures of motherhood begin in pregnancy. Every pregnant woman will tell you that everyone has an opinion on everything she should be doing from her eating habits to sex. Even strangers. It’s easy to feel the need to defend yourself, and present your side of every story.
Of course, most people don’t say these sorts of things. I happen to live in a community where having 6 children isn’t that strange, and homeschooling isn’t shamed. But you only need to hear one remark, one criticism, one time, and it becomes that ache that gnaws when you are working at your hardest.
Yesterday I left church with tears brimming in my eyes. My pastor caught my eye and gave me a firm hug. Before that, our other pastor saw me, and offered his encouragement. I suppose I love church so much because it’s such a safe place for me. I think back to our pastor’s wife, who suffers from MS. Through the years she’s been at our church, she has good months, but there have been dark times too. I remember a few years back, I asked her how she was doing. She had tears brimming in her eyes too, as she said, “I’m struggling, Gretchen. It’s been a hard week, and I could sure use your prayers.” There was no pretense in her. She has the bravest of smiles, but her incapability to pretend that everything is fine is one of my favorite things about her. I look up to her for that.
It made me feel like I never had to pretend when I’m at church. I can tell people, “It’s been a hard week, and I could sure use some prayers.”
Last week I suffered from 3 days of migraines. Harvest ended late Friday, and I finally got a great massage Friday night from the massage therapist who has been working on my neck as a favor to his daughters who are my friends. We have talked a few weeks about a treatment that would help my neck and chronic pain long term, though it’s not comfortable for him to scrap my muscles like that. Saturday I took it easy, but my shoulders ached like someone punched them hard. Knut knew I was at the end of my rope, physically, and helped out with the kids.
Some of my kids had a hard week as well. It’s to be expected the last week of harvest, but I do not tolerate disrespect very well. I tolerate ungratefulness even less. Arrogance and entitlement trigger my temper like nothing else. “I can’t do this, Mom” I can handle. “Mom, can you help me?” I can handle. Bickering, I can handle…for awhile.
During church one of my kids had to leave the service. As I went to talk with this child, and encourage, speak truth, fight alongside them, I heard words of criticism from their own lips that cut deep.
“You’re a horrible mother.”
Every time I tried to speak truth and life yesterday morning, I was battled with lies and hate. I knew this was a spiritual battle. This child knew where to kick me with words. Right there in that blessed church, evil words were spoken, too many, intended to hurt me.
Of course my child doesn’t get to name me. Only God can do that. My identity does not rest in their hands, it’s already decided in His.
But sometimes loving your kids feels horrible. Sometimes you can’t reach your kids. Sometimes there are no words. In those moments, it’s easy to want to fight to get your child’s attention. Fight to get the last word. Fight to prove your worth, knowledge, and status.
A very wise woman told me once that the Holy Spirit has access to our children’s hearts that we do not have.
I have learned that when I cannot reach my children’s heart, it’s usually because that’s when I’m supposed to back up, and let the Holy Spirit do his work. You see, I’m not enough. I’m not sufficient. I used to fear that I wasn’t enough, but now I know it. I know it, and I find comfort in it.
Because if I were enough, then my children wouldn’t need God.
If I were enough to meet all the needs of my children, they would have no need to look elsewhere for wisdom and comfort.
The other week, a different child declared that he/she was going to run away. In their frustration with our rules and expectations, the declaration to leave was made. I asked this child where they intended to go. They said they were going to church, where people listened and understood. People liked them there.
This poor child didn’t know that this pleased me like crazy. When upset, this child wanted to run to the arms of God’s people who had shared loved with them so generously.
Oftentimes, I’m not enough. Sometimes I need help from our community to reach my children. I’m not above counseling, or finding my kids mentors.
More importantly, I’m learning that my insufficiencies are put there by design as an opportunity to point my children to God. I can’t tell you how many times I will say, “Call out to God. Share your anger with him. Be brutally honest with him. He can take it, I promise.”
“Go spend a few minutes and pray. Tell God your side of the story. Tell him how upset you are. Talk to him. He’s listening. Open up his Word, and listen to him speaking.”
“Tell God about how you are disappointed. Open up his Word, and let him speak to your heart.”
One of my children said a little over a month ago, “Mom, hearing God talk to me isn’t the problem. It’s that his words don’t make any sense. He wants me to love people I don’t want to love. It’s like I have a hard time trusting that he actually has my good in mind, because it feels like he just has everyone else’s good in mind, because he wants me to love everyone else, and it feels like he’s forgetting about me.”
I love the honesty of children. Don’t we all feel like that sometimes?
There are some spiritual truths that my children will have to learn without me. There are prayers their lips will say that I won’t hear. I am not my children’s god. I cannot fix their hearts.
My children are used to coming to me with their troubles. I must train them to start to bring their cares to God. It’s tempting for children to think that God is an idea, but a mother is practical. Therefore God will limit the mother’s reach, so that the child has a chance to see the practicalness of God.
God is not just a philosophy, a story, or a set of rules. Neither is a genie, some Santa Clause in the sky, there to grant our wishes, and make our lives full of comfort and ease.
God is a Father. God is family. God is love. (The powerful kind of love, not the well-intentioned, weak kind.)
The sooner our children bring the cares of their heart to God, the better.
Satan will whisper a lie to mothers during this transition: You are failing.
You are not enough is true. But we aren’t supposed to be enough. That is not the same as failure. That is a servant doing her duty wholeheartedly to the degree that her master wishes. When the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts to stop lecturing, and start praying, it is a wise thing to obey.
Sunday afternoon I spent on my bed, sandwiched between Knut, and my 5th child, Ingrid. The bedroom was filled with piles of clothes, a thick covering a dust, and a very dirty carpet. The 3 of us snuggled under grandma’s quilt, and talked about her doll as my husband had his arms around me, and I had my arms around her, and she had her arms around her dolly.
I laid there, and looked up at the ceiling, smelled Ingrid’s sweet hair. It’s good to take a step back. It’s good to lay down and just hold one another. This is what resting in God’s promises looks like. With all the lies the enemy has thrown at me these last weeks, God has not been silent. Promises that he’s holding me have been thickly spread on my prayer life.
Sometimes he calls us to action. Sometimes he calls us to be still. As hard as it is to be still when I see the work around me that needs to be done, and force myself to lay down, and I hear the desperate need for correction and disciplining of my children, and I force myself to be silent.
Because when God does tell me to be still, and know that He is God, butterflies start to swarm in my stomach as I realize with great anticipation:
God is working. And if you’ve never seen God working up close in your child, with a front row seat that we mothers have? Oh, friends. It’s spectacular. It’s the most beautiful thing you will ever witness. I’m so thankful I’m not enough because my kids having God is so much better.