For many people (including myself just less than a decade ago!), the birth of a child can be the death of a dream.
Having a new, small person in the world who is almost entirely dependent upon you for their well-being can certainly be a complicating ‘life factor’. Research is truly just beginning to show what seasoned mothers and grandmothers have known for generations (even if they haven’t been telling you): children need their mothers, and not just in infancy.
Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash
This is no moderate inconvenience – becoming a mother is in many ways a radical redefinition of life, right down to your body chemistry. It’s an irreversible alteration, and for the Christ-following woman, it is also an enormous spiritual responsibility, and one that most just try to ‘squeeze in’ to their already full and overflowing lives.
I was married at 20, and gave birth to my first child exactly 9 months and 2 days later. When she gasped her first breath my heart ached for the beauty of our moment. I was shocked when we received her social security card in the mail. They sent this to us? They think we are responsible enough for this? As if ‘they’ had any say in the matter: the Lord had entrusted to us a gift.
I was delighted with my new little ‘accessory’ – this charming, darling little girl who would add a little sparkle to our life that would otherwise remain mostly the same – right? Her sweet birdie lips and apple cheeks thrilled us; but we were already happy and fulfilled, on a path toward ministry, chaplaincy, missions work, writing. Motherhood didn’t seem to quite ‘fit,’ but modern women can have it all – right?
As I began to live ‘normally’ again, I found that everything that had been normal to me was completely at odds with caring for my child in the way I began to realize that God was calling me to. When I wanted to ‘get my body back’ and work out the way I always had, my milk supply would dry up. When I packed our schedule full of activities and ministry while leaving no time for walks and baby’s nap and unstructured ‘face time’ hours, I had a profoundly fussy baby and a vague dissatisfaction and anxiety in my heart.
We had our second child not long after the first arrived, and while I was thrilled to celebrate my son, still I balked against the ‘new normal’ that God was calling me to, that I didn’t quite understand yet. I had my first serious season of post-partum depression, in part I believe, because I was racing back to normal, and not allowing myself or my baby to bond, rest, recover, enjoy. I ‘didn’t have time for sleepless nights’ and felt overwhelmed by a clingy baby who interrupted my life. How I wish I had known to slow, slow, slow down. If I could go back I wouldn’t push sleep schedules on him, I wouldn’t resent his need to be near. I would hold him and breathe deeper, and take more walks outside. God is a loving Father of redemption and restoration, and he turns the hearts of the children back to their parents, but it is a heart breaking thing to do wrong to your own beloved.
My son has been such a gift to me, and the more time I spend with him, the more the Lord speaks to me through him. Once we were out on a hike as a family when he was just shy of two. We were far from the city and it’s sights and sounds – but he suddenly stood up straight, with wide and bright eyes, and said “Train, mama!” His ear was so trained to the sounds of his favorite thing – trains – that he could hear it even faintly and from afar off. Instantly I was convicted that that was the way I wanted to hear from God – to be so trained and intent on hearing from him that I heard the faintest whisper in the distance if it was from that voice I loved.
Through this time it began to dawn on me that my children, my home and husband, were not just additional responsibilities on a very full plate. Perhaps, instead of being another responsibility, another fulfilling work – they were the work that God was calling me to.
At first that felt too small and quiet, like it wasn’t enough. Being ‘only’ a stay-at-home wife and mom felt confining, or maybe like a waste of an education and some of my unique ministry hopes and dreams. I grew up not wondering if I would go to college, but where? I wanted to do ‘big things’ – and I felt unsure about this new life path and if it could live up to the hype of my hopes.
But God in His great mercy began revealing to me what a crucial work it was, and what a beautiful thing it could be to devote my life to serving my family. Instead of wrestling to have it all and truly leading a fractured life, I could perhaps joyfully pour every ounce of energy, creativity, skill and talent that God gave me into being a mother and homemaker. This was incredibly freeing, as I suddenly felt relieved of the stressful Tetris-like game of trying to force the pieces of my life to fit. As I laid certain things down, I did feel the weight of others’ disappointments – even those that weren’t voiced (family, friends, professors – anyone that I suspected might be disappointed by my choices), but increasingly there was a deep conviction, shared with my husband, that God was the one to please, and I was seeing more clearly in His Word exactly what a Christian family could be.
I read in Titus 2 about the priorities for young women in the church, and how living rightly was actually adorning the Gospel of God. I felt the spiritual importance of raising my children up in a godly way, and was repeatedly drawn to the instruction of Deuteronomy 6. While I could perhaps keep trying to force my outside aspirations to work with the family God had given me, I began to feel like for me it would be extremely proud to think that I could accomplish all the lofty things God had challenged me with in his Word in just my ‘after-hours’ time. I thought I was called to many things, but here were God-given children right in front of me, with straight-forward instruction from the Bible about my life.
Through godly Christian writers and teachers like Sally Clarkson, I began to catch an enticing glimpse of what our home life could be: “Every day in each inch of space, each rhythm of time, each practice of love, we have the chance to join God in coming home, in living so that we make a home of this broken and beautiful world all over again. Love is enfleshed in the meals we make, the rooms we fill, the spaces in which we live and breathe and have our being.”
At the same time, my picture of homemaking and motherhood was growing and changing. Suddenly the Proverbs 31 woman and her diverse interests and skill sets were a thrilling picture to me. Maybe I could garden and teach my children about the goodness of God and His provision? Maybe I could learn more about natural health, or how to hand-make some of our household items? As our family continued to grow, I was inspired by all the areas that I could learn and grow in – budgeting, baking, home maintenance and décor, early childhood development, philosophy of education, etc. And most importantly, I had a deep and growing conviction that if I was to teach my children to know God, I needed to know him so much better! I could hardly keep up with all the things I wanted to read and I started making big efforts toward becoming the woman I knew I needed to be to serve my family and the Lord with excellence.
As I share these things it is with a bit of hesitance, lest anyone view this testimony as another weapon thrust into the never-ending and vicious so-called “mommy-wars”…but I hope instead to be one voice, suggesting – Dear Christian women! Have it all! But have exactly the Lord’s best for you and your family! Pour yourself into what is highest, what matters most for eternity. Consider with fresh, honest eyes what a deep-dive into biblical womanhood, motherhood may look like for you. Sometimes the very highest good, in God’s upside-down economy, looks on the outside like something rather pedestrian. But don’t concern yourself with whether a certain lifestyle will be gratifying – trust God and look to His word rather than society or your peers for inspiration in how to live a godly life. Hold your dreams loosely, and trust God to use your life and to walk with you in each step.
This truth is unpopular, but you are limited. By design, by the grace of God, you are finite in every way. The enemy of souls entices us to kick against the design of our souls and bodies, in a futile attempt to have and to be “it all”. In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren writes, “Resisting limits isn’t new for the human race. From the very beginning we’ve had an animosity toward finitude and boundaries. In their rebellion, Adam and Eve wanted to be “like God.””
But God uses us, in humility, in our ordained limitations, and he blesses the work of our hands.
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A dear mentor and friend has often said to me, “There is no quality time apart from quantity time.” I have been a mother for nearly 8 years and every good fruit from our life and home has been the result of much quiet, steady, patient investment. And still I get too busy, I botch things all up, I fail in my motherhood and homemaking efforts. Worse, I lose sight of the purpose behind all the hard work. But the Lord gives so much grace, and allows me to keep pouring my heart and soul into ‘professional motherhood’. It is so rich, rewarding, and profoundly fulfilling. I am seeing, as G.K. Chesterton wrote, that “the business done in the home is nothing less than the shaping of the body and soul of humanity.”
One day my preschool-age daughter got up from her nap, all eagerness and joy, and asked me “What beautiful thing are we going to make today?!” I loved that she viewed our homemaking projects as our attempt at making the world a bit more beautiful. That is how I see the work of home – doing what we can to make our lives, our home, and in one small way – the world – a bit more beautiful.
The Holy Spirit’s peace continues to confirm to me even in the challenging days that this work matters, and these eternal souls that I care for are precious to him.
Sometimes the death of a dream means the birth of a better one.
As I laid down my dreams, reluctantly at first and later with increasing intention and resolve, I was given a new vision and a new calling – one more eternally beautiful than what I could dream up – a life I was made for. By the grace of God, I have found my place of deepest loving impact and influence, and a calling in which I can grow daily to be more like Christ.
“But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.
To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness” – G.K. Chesterton.