Guest post by Kerrie DeBerry. Kerry is a pastor's wife in South Dakota and a good friend of mine from seminary, she has 4 beautiful daughters.
It happened again. I’m in the most comfortable position ever, blanket wrapped around me, all tucked in and warm. You know that moment right when you’re blissfully on the verge of falling fast asleep. And then comes the cry “Mommmyyyyyy,” out of the depths…AGAIN. I had just rocked one little one back to bed after a coughing attack and tiptoed back to bed. It’s like those old cartoons where the character is resting peacefully and an anvil falls on their head. That’s how I feel. Nonetheless, I painfully peel myself out of position A and go comfort another child in the middle of the night.
I’m pretty sure you can relate if you’re a mom. Maybe your child has that special, God-given piercing cry. We joke that our third girl wakes up crying like she is trapped in a dungeon. Actually, that’s kind of what getting woken up several times a night can feel like—torture. As a mother of four little girls with the oldest just five this week, I have had my share of these moments. I know many people have it worse than me. I have some friends who struggle with this EVERYDAY, not just when the kids are sick or particularly ornery.
Discomforts like this tempt me in all sorts of ways. Actually motherhood in general has revealed a mountain of struggles I didn’t know were there. Not because my circumstances have caused me to sin, but because they have brought to the surface the sin already in my heart. The love of comfort might be the granddaddy of them all.
In that vein, God has been convicting me lately of how I can play the victim in my mothering. I just read from an author I love about how if we are sitting down at the end of the day recounting all the ways we’ve been “robbed” of something, that’s probably a red flag signaling deeper problems in our heart. I can often dwell on those little “thefts” when it comes to my children and all the work I put into them.
So I thought it might be encouraging to some, and to be honest, helpful for me, to think of some categories where I often feel “robbed” as a mother. But then to examine how Scripture speaks into those areas.
Robbery #1: Comfort/Time to Myself
It’s not only lack of sleep that bumps my comfort cup. For instance, not sitting down for a meal, having half distracted conversations, rushing most of my showers, minimal reading time, and a plethora of other comforts that were a given before. I can easily celebrate with my own pity party—with thoughts invited to the party like, “Can I just go meet someone for coffee or go out on a date with my husband without having to spend more time wrangling up babysitters and getting the kids ready than time I actually get out?” Motherhood is one big juggling act that is often physically and emotionally demanding.
I am becoming more and more aware of my love of comfort. The things I desire are not bad in and of themselves. But I am not entitled to them. I am giving something up, that’s the point. I’m laying down my life for others, monthly, daily, hourly and I need to do this without measuring how much “me time” I get back, or holding it against those whom I am serving. Jesus’ words are recorded in Matthew 8:20-“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” God Himself in Jesus Christ came to lay his life down including his own comfort and ease. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” He didn’t say “Well, I don’t mind coming to save you, but if it means pushing myself too hard or giving up my little comfort zone then never mind.” It cost him all the comforts of this world, even unto a death he didn’t deserve. In everything he did, his aim was to please his Heavenly Father. When I lay aside my desire for comfort, ease, or more “me” time and serve my children without calculating a return on investment, I am pleasing my Heavenly Father. When I don’t do this and I fail, I can look to Jesus who has perfectly obeyed in my place.
Robbery #2. My Plan for My Life
This is a big one, right? If I am able to nurse our fourth daughter until she is 1, it will have been six and a half years of being pregnant or nursing…nonstop. That is some serious hormones going on! God formed our family the way he wanted to, perfect for us and in his good timing. But if you had asked me ten years ago, this would NOT have been my ideal plan. Whether an unplanned pregnancy, not being able to bear children, a sick child, a needy child, wanting your career back, wanting your husband to change, or wanting things to be the way they used to be; all of these can challenge our contentment and seemingly disrupt our plans. And most days it’s just the plan for the day that gets threatened. “If these kids would just listen and do what I need them to do then I could actually get something done!” “It would be great if they could not throw a fit when we are already running late.” “If that baby would just sleep, ugh…” It could be anything. Your “plan” was ruined or hijacked. And I know for me, my response can be anger, impatience, annoyance, frustration, and even despair at times.
Yet, what God has in mind for those who love him is infinitely greater than any plan we could have concocted. Our perceived “disruptions” are actually opportunities. How will we respond? I have to daily fight with this. He knows when the child will have the fit, when they won’t sleep, when they half listen, get sick, or interrupt you. Not only knows it, but planned it! He wants you to simply be faithful in that moment. The temptation for us is always to see what we don’t have and conclude that this “thing” (e.g. child compliance) would ultimately round out my plan and make life better. But just like we observe in little children who want a toy when it’s being used but suddenly lose interest when they get it, what we want won’t ultimately satisfy. And it may be that our “plans” getting messed up is exactly what God wants in order to reshape our hearts. As Augustine said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”
Robbery #3. Joy
I can be crazy mom…a lot. By joy, I don’t mean simply putting on a happy face. I want deep down joy in my heart that is not shattered by my circumstances or how much sleep I get or how productive my day was, or how patient I am with my children. I want joy that seeps into every part of me, from the less frequent super-fun moments (it’s OK if this isn’t ALL THE TIME) to the more frequent monotony of wiping noses, changing diapers, doing laundry, making meals, working another job, balancing friendships, loving my husband, and getting down-time. Again, just like that ideal life or day we desire, we can think that joy is somewhere “out there.” If only I can get through this phase, then I’ll be happy. If only I can have more time to do this with my kids, then I’ll be happy. If I can just get this over with, fulfillment awaits.
Recently two thoughts have struck me about my Savior from Scripture. First, Jesus found great joy for 30 years living a quiet, obscure life, learning a trade, serving his family—doing the same things over and over again. He was content in God and filled with joy without every circumstance being perfect. We don’t have to experience something amazing or some self-made “victory” to experience joy. Joy comes from humility. Sacrifice is what it means to follow Jesus’ example—for the “joy set before him.” In mothering young children, humility looks like doing the same things over and over, sacrificing in a thousand little ways, being self-forgetful and being OK with not being noticed.
I have been discovering that humility admits that I don’t have it all figured out…and also not constantly pining to make it look like I do. It is accepting my circumstances and limitations with joy. It is not striving to just get through so I can do what I really want to do or be in a season that would really satisfy me. Because the next season will come. When we finally throw the diaper pail away, give our toddler clothes away and stop hearing “mommy daddddy come wipe meeeee” we will just be facing new and different challenges. So right now I want to embrace this season with all of my heart before it slips away.
In a favorite book of mine lately, “Treasuring Christ when Your Hands are Full,” Gloria Furman says, “Is that service to my child a sacrifice that brings its own blest reward in their well-being, the consciousness of serving God, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny? When a mother triumphs in the gospel, her bright hope in Jesus outshines any earthly gain she could have had from holding back from her child Jesus’ sacrificial love.”
I know I haven’t said it all. I know I miss things and there is so much more for me to learn. And in ten years I’ll re-read this and smile at how naive I was and how much more I had to learn. But whether you are sitting as your little ones are ransacking your house and laughing and playing, whining at your leg and cranky, or you have just tiptoed away from a sleeping baby, be encouraged. Motherhood is a difficult gift. Through tired, dreary eyes I hope you can see a God who is orchestrating all of your days so that you might find your ultimate rest in him.