I tend to spend a lot of time in my head... analyzing, considering, thinking things over. Assess, assess, assess. That's exhausting.
Then there's the whole I-just-had-a-baby-two-months-ago-and-now-I-have-six-kids thing. I think this is the first time in a long time that I have felt the strain of having to stretch my time and attention between multiple children (the last time I felt stressed over this was when Nolyn, our second child, came along!).I'm all too aware of how each child is craving my personal time and attention (as does my husband, my house, and my friends) and I feel like I need several clones of myself.
This is a pretty accurate picture of what I feel like most mornings and evenings:
I'm not writing this post to complain or gather sympathy. The purpose behind this post is to let you know that parenting is not all sunshine and roses. You have probably figured that out by now, but I especially want people to know that my life is not rainbows and giggles because I know it can be easy to look at someone else's life, especially in the digital world, and think that parenting, patience, and perseverance comes naturally to them.
But it doesn't, I promise. And I have to remind myself of that regularly. I often wish I had the grace of my friend Becky, the wisdom of my friend Nanci, or the patience of my mom, but I have to remind myself that they feel or have felt all the things I have, and that grace, wisdom, and patience don't just flow naturally. It's not like they were born with something I don't have. In Christ, we are all on equal ground.
At the beginning of last week, I felt so beat down. I felt so hopeless. Hopelessness is the worst feeling of all. I don't think there are any feelings worse than that. I felt like God had abandoned me. That's what hopelessness feels like to me. Abandonment by the only One who can make things right. And when I feel like God isn't with me, this life just doesn't seem worth living. I know I can't do this life without Him, and I don't even want to try.
The truth was (and still is) that God had not abandoned me. He was with me, and He had actually been speaking to me in some really clear ways, but I was running everything through such a negative filter that His loving words came out looking more like condemnation.
When I read about Hosea's continual pursuing of Gomer through her rebellion and infidelity, I felt ashamed of my own failures rather than enamored by the God who loves me through thick and thin, chasing me down, wrapping me in His arms, loving me even when I am at my most unlovable.
When I read Colossians 3:12-13, rather than receiving the truth that God calls me chosen, holy, and beloved, all I could see is how I fail to have compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
When the Lord pointed at my heart toward my husband in that I don't just want to settle for a "really good marriage" but I want to have an awesome marriage in every area of our relationship, and He showed me that is His desire for my relationship with Him, I received it as condemnation. Rather than hearing my Savior say, "I want to have a fulfilling, beautiful, passionate relationship with you, Mandy," instead I assumed that He was shaking His divine finger at me, shaming me for settling for less.
My sisters in Christ were so helpful Wednesday night as we gathered together. They reminded me that I struggle to see the Lord clearly. I'm battling a mindset I've had since I was a kid that God is out to get me, that He's just waiting for me to screw up, that He's upset because I have to keep learning lessons over and over and, hey, when is Mandy just going to get it together?
And there Jesus is in the midst of this trying to show me He is passionately in love with me, and I'm taking His words and actions and twisting them.
Maybe you're in the same place. Maybe you're looking around at your life and thinking that it's a mess, that God can't possibly love you. We all need the reminder that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. He did this while we were still far from Him, still in rebellion. When we were God-haters and sin-lovers. He didn't wait until we had it all together to lavish us with salvation because He knew that would never happen.
Maybe life feels too exhausting to live, to function in, because hopelessness is pressing in. But that's a lie from Satan. There is hope.
When I feel hopeless, getting out of bed, teaching children, making meals, and tending to the home seems useless. The monotony of it seems pointless. I feel like I'm going no where. Spinning my wheels.
But when I know God is with me, for me, pursuing me, helping me, loving me passionately in every second... it makes the days worth doing. Even when I want to stay under the covers. Even when my body aches. Even when frustrations come. He is my strength. He is my hope.
Yet I realize I often am clinging to something other than my Savior. I'm clinging to my desire to "have a good day" and I'm trying to micromanage it. I'm wrapping my hands around what it looks like to "be a good parent" and I feel like I'm failing. I'm feeling pressed by the demands of family life and I feel overwhelmed rather than just holding on to Jesus and allowing His grace, strength, and wisdom to flow through me.
Yes, often I am so busy looking at what I should be rather than Christ. I have this list of what it looks like to be a good mother, and I exhaust myself trying to be that, and I exhaust myself when I give myself a mental beating for not measuring up.
As I mentioned before in a post, I've taken bits and pieces from here and there and made an image, an idol really, of what a good mother looks like. And this idol cannot be pleased. Its demands can never be met. And I project that onto the Lord. Rather than receiving that He is pleased, that He loves me, that He is for me... instead I look at this idol glaring down at me.
As I poured out my frustrations to my husband the other night, he asked, "What is the truth, Mandy?" I knew that I could tell him what he wanted to hear. I know the words— My God loves me. My righteousness comes not by my own effort but in Christ alone. He is not out to get me. He is pursuing me. He has no abandoned me.
But sometimes it is so, so very difficult to believe. That is the work (John 6:29). And it is work. When this man asks Jesus what he must do to perform the works God requires, Jesus gives him such a simple answer. And there I see myself. I am trying to work out a long list of "to dos" I think makes me good and holy and approved. I am trying to put forth all this effort. But Jesus says, "Believe on Me, the One He has sent."
It's like Jesus has given me this beautiful coat. It's an amazing coat of righteousness. When I wrap myself in it, beautiful things naturally flow from me. Yet rather than wearing this beautiful gift, I instead try to patch together my own coat of righteousness. And that is exhausting.
Parenting is difficult work. It's sanctifying work. In the daily events of motherhood I realize how very incapable I am of doing this work. I am totally convinced I am screwing them up. I mean, I honestly have no doubt in my mind. I have told my children, "When you grow up, you will see ways I failed you. I'm just telling you now, I have no idea what I'm doing. I am totally winging this parenting thing. I really, really love you and want to do right by you. I wish I was perfect, but I'm not. I'm just telling you now that I have made mistakes, and I will make mistakes. One day you will look back and think, 'Man, my mom was nuts,' and I want you to know that you will absolutely be right. I hope the fact that I love you and that I'm pressing into God to show me what to do will be enough. Hopefully you'll forgive me for where I have fallen short, and you'll learn to press into God to heal you in those places where I have hurt and failed you."
As I said, parenting is sanctifying work. As I parent, God is parenting me. He's showing me things. He's working out my salvation. He's digging into me and rooting out lies and ickiness as He fills me with His love and truth. And folks, that don't look purty.
I need grace. I need grace to get me through each day. I need His grace so I can lavish grace on my children, and I need His grace so my children can lavish grace on me. Because we all need grace. None of us will survive without it.
So when I woke up this morning, every bone in my body dog-tired, and every muscle wishing it didn't have to do its job, I reminded myself that God is the giver of strength. In the breast feeding, diaper changes, rotating children in and out of the bath tub, in the meal making, in the book reading, in the discipling of little hearts and minds..... He is my strength. I may hesitate to roll out of bed and yearn to crawl back in it, but in all the moments in between my crawling out and crawling in, and even in those moments spent snuggled under my sheets, God is with me, loving me, holding me, walking with me and giving me what I need in each and every moment.
And that's true for you too.
(Excuse typos... I'm not editing this!)