It was 3am.
I had already been up several times nursing our newborn when I heard my three-year-old daughter begin to sleep talk in the other room. I knew what would come next: my one-year-old daughter would be woken up by her big sister’s out loud dreaming and would begin her angry cries. This may or may not wake big brother, too, but hopefully not the baby again.
We were several weeks into this pattern, and I was more physically, mentally, and emotionally stretched and exhausted than I had ever been. Night after night of leaping out of bed to try to calm one child before another would awake, and just about the time that would end and I finally was falling back to sleep, the baby would begin to whimper for another meal. My husband was in the midst of a very busy travel season, so much of the time he wasn’t there to help in those midnight hours.
I truly didn’t know how long I could go on like that. But, I also knew that this was a season I was being called to by God. I knew that, yet again, He was using motherhood to strip away another layer of selfishness I hadn’t even known was there. I could either resist it and cave under the stress of it all, or I could surrender myself to the Helper, my God who promises to give me all the grace I need for every circumstance I face.
Motherhood has been, hands down, the number one tool God has used in my life to reveal my deep-seated selfishness. Almost from the moment I conceived my firstborn, I was surrendering the rights to the way I wanted to feel and the way I wanted to look. I was saying yes to the extreme pain of labor and whatever complications that may come along with it. I was letting go of unbroken nights of sleep, and the ability to shower when I wanted, eat when I wanted, and go wherever I wanted. I was saying yes to almost constant training, clothing, feeding, and nurturing. Basically, I was saying yes to laying down my life for the sake of caring for others who could do nothing for me in return.
Did I know this is what I was saying yes to? No, I wouldn’t have put it that way. I knew motherhood would have it’s challenges, but I truly didn’t realize just how many layers of self-centered thought processes were ingrained in me. Yes, there are incredibly beautiful aspects of motherhood. But the reality is, there’s a fight against my selfishness that tarnishes that beauty every single day.
So, I had (and still have) two choices. I can either,
1) Resent the many ways that motherhood presents the opportunity to die to self, or
2) I can embrace this as a gift from the Lord to make me more like Him.
The first option is miserable. The second brings overwhelming joy.
We live in a world that prizes independence, self-love and exaltation, and advancement of our own agenda. Children are seen as an inconvenience… for the proof of that we need look no further than the number of abortions that happen every year. Choosing to be “just a mom” is not prized, it’s pitied. It’s no wonder so many have looked at me, a young woman who stays at home with her four children, and said, “I could never do what you’re doing.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard it. Because considering others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3) is not worldly wisdom. It’s God’s wisdom. And unless we’re looking through the eyes of faith, it can’t be fully comprehended.
As moms, we have the incredible privilege of being like Jesus by serving rather than being served. He calls us to follow His example and be His hands and feet to the least of these. This isn’t a calling we can do in our own strength. If (and when) we try, we fall flat – just trying to survive the days and arriving at the end of them exasperated, frustrated, and dreading the coming morning. But when we cling to God’s enabling, supernatural grace, we find everything we need to do what we’ve been called to do. Our bodies may be weary, but our souls will be filled with peace that surpasses all understanding. In His strength we’ll continue to persevere in our child-rearing, clinging fiercely to Him and keeping our eyes on eternity rather than the moment. When we love and serve unconditionally because we first love Jesus and simply want to please Him, the service becomes joy.
Too often I forget the beautiful calling of radically selfless living that I’m called to as a Christian, whether in motherhood or any other relationship. But I’m learning, by God’s grace. The eternal vision grows as I fix my eyes on Jesus day after day. He is so faithful and gracious to forgive, to remind me of His love, and give me another day to live for His glory. He comforts me in the moments of feeling defeated. He renews my vision for motherhood as I lay my burdens at His feet. He brings delight to the mundane moments, opening my eyes to see the gift of little giggles, of wobbly steps, of hair to comb and beds to make. He gives “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” enabling me to look with hope and expectancy for what is to come. This is only by His grace. Selfless living can only be by His grace. But… that’s what He does. He does the impossible in and through imperfect people who surrender to Him.
My mothering is far from perfect. But I pray it is a greater and greater reflection of Jesus through what I do right and through the many moments of repentance when I don’t. Selfless living is a privilege as believers that is hard to fully grasp the significance of. When we take on the attitude of serving rather than being served, just like our Savior, it’s a picture of the Gospel that the world can’t ignore. Some may scratch their heads or call us crazy, but some really will want what we have: they’ll want Jesus.
Now to go kiss more squishy cheeks and fold a few more little pants with holes in the knees.