I have been in counseling via Skype for the past few months, with an amazing and loving counselor as my guide. I am beyond thankful for the ways God is using this in my life right now, so much so that I’ve begun recommending counseling to everyone I know. ;) (Stubbed toe? See a counselor!) One of the things that has consistently come up during our sessions is the need to accept the limitations of the body and mind, the brokenness of the world, the messiness and ambiguity of the human experience, in order to move forward in this current struggle with anxiety. This morning, after a string of nights fighting sleep battles with a one-year-old, God has been prodding a certain area of my life where I’ve fought Him and His lovingly given limits: babies.
When I first discovered I was pregnant with my oldest, I was 22, two months out of college, newly married, and terrified. I saw a large hurdle looming in the distance and now idea how I could possibly jump it. I felt so unprepared, so NOT ready. Nature and time carried me along until there was a newborn in my arms, and I made vows: I will do this right. I will do this well. I will not fail this little guy. EVER.
But I’m human, like the rest of us. The first time I felt like I had failed Jones, I was devastated — I had made a vow, and broken it. How does one recover from something like that? I had a hard time forgiving myself of anything I did that I felt could be wrong or a misstep of some sort, viewed through much confusion by my husband, who only saw a young mother devoted to loving and helping her son. He didn’t see the sky-high ultimatums I was giving myself, because I didn’t see them, either. I accepted them as what must be done, never stopping to think they might not be from God.
A second baby, and a third, and a fourth, provided me with opportunities to “get it right this time” — to somehow “do better” in the ways I’d felt I had wronged or failed the previous child. This included anything and everything, from sleep to eating to potty training to emotional health to issues of discipline. Vow after vow after vow. But of course, living in a broken world and a broken body, the vows could not be kept. And so I saw the failures pile up. There were a few points in which I realized I was heaping expectations upon myself that God was not giving me, and He was able to reach through the muck in those times to give me mercy I desperately needed. After the third baby, in particular, He showed me that living beyond my limitations, attempting to be a perfect mother to three kids, thinking little of self-care or what a mothering body might need, would lead only to destruction — of myself, of relationship, of our family. There was a breakdown and the realization that I needed lots of help and rest and grace.
Even after all that, with this fourth little bundle, I’ve still been caught in the “get it right” mind-trap, only I was going to “get it right” in the department of self-care. I was going to avoid a mental breakdown at all costs, which ironically, actually led me to the ledge. I was going to right all the wrongs, once and for all, because this was to be the last baby come from my womb — my “last chance” to fix things, make myself clean, win my favor as a mother before God.
Today, I was thinking about how my perceived shortcomings as a first-time mother have shaped the way I’ve mothered my other three babies — particularly how this mindset had blinded me my merciless view of myself as a mother, leading to anger, frustration, and an inability to accept the shortcomings in the people around me, as well. It’s led me to give more of myself than even God was asking; and quite ironically, when we “sacrifice” things God has not called us to sacrifice, there is very little fruit or righteous outcome. It’s rather a lose-lose situation. These things have hindered my ability to see the circumstances of mothering with any kind of logic or clear-headedness — I have only seen guilt, failure, and anger in my limitations. As I was thinking through all of this today, having done a lot of talking and processing about the human experience lately, about brokenness and limits and their appropriation to us by God, I felt a heavy sadness for my merciless view of myself. Then, in an instant, I saw God looking down on that terrified 22-year-old girl, and instead of seeing her shortcomings and her failures as a mother, I felt His deep love and tenderness toward me — His desire to help me and to care for me, to meet me in my needs.
I feel broken by that love this morning, the love He gave and continues to give, that I could not give myself. I cannot fully understand my strong desire to live beyond my limits, but accepting this ambiguity is perhaps the exact point, enabling me to lay my impossible standards and wrongful vows in His hands. I am continually reminded in this season that Jesus’s yoke is easy and His burden is light; so when I feel like my load is unbearable, I am likely carrying things He never intended for me to carry. Perfection in motherhood, redemption through works or acts of service to my kids, self-sacrifice to win favor, using my children in my quest to “get things right” — none of those are His burdens for me. I long to cast them off with finality. Jesus, let it be so.