I sometimes write for Mother’s Day, but this year I found myself shrinking from the idea. I usually look forward to the day with anticipation, but this year, the idea of being celebrated doesn’t bring gratification. Rather, it makes me feel something more akin to shame. As I look back on the past year of motherhood, I don’t see much worthy of celebration. Instead, I see a lot of impatience and irritability, short tempers and harsh words, tears and frustration. No, I’m not describing my two year old. I’m describing myself.
The past year has been filled with lots of joy. Adding our third child. Seeing his sweet smiles day in and day out. Seeing my older children grow and bond with each other and dote on their baby brother. But it has also been filled with a lot of struggle for me personally. Often, this job pushed me farther than I wanted to go and asked for more than I felt like I had to give. The long winter months when all of my children mysteriously decided to stop sleeping. Countless sibling squabbles. Endless messes. All of it often left me frayed physically and emotionally.
We hear a lot about the power within us, particularly for women. Self-actualization is the gospel of our day. We just have to tap into our inner strength. We just have to think positive and then positive things will manifest in our lives. All that we need for strength and happiness is within.
What an attractive lie.
Even in Christian circles, we can dress this up with a little religious language and call it truth. God wants you to discover your own strength. God wants you to stop holding yourself back. God wants to unlock your potential. God has a special plan for special little you. We can treat God like a magic genie who puts us center stage.
In actuality, the God of the Bible is never interested in nurturing the delusion of our inner power and strength. The woman who trusts in herself? The one who depends on her own strength? The lie calls her empowered, but God calls her cursed. The lie promises she’ll be a flourishing tree, but God tells her she will be like a dried up bush, thirsting and dying in “parched places,” in “a salt land where no one lives “(Jeremiah 17:5). Talk about some harsh imagery.
If I’m honest, some days of motherhood, I feel like that bush. The world tells me I’m enough, but most days, I feel like I’m never enough. Never enough patience. Never enough grace. Never enough energy. I can feel dried up and spent and buckling under the weight of of my children’s relentless neediness.
I keep trying to scrape up my strength, but God just keeps pressing on my weakness. He keeps wounding my pride. He keeps bringing me to the edge of myself and pushing me over it. But if wounds from a friend can be trusted, surely those from my God should be held dear. He is too kind to puff me up, too good to let me believe that I actually have what it takes.
God’s purpose for our lives isn’t to build our self-confidence. It’s to destroy it. And He will use our motherhood to do it.
Everything the world promises, He flips on its head. We cannot get to life without going through our death. We cannot get to glory without going through our humility. We cannot get to strength without going through our weakness. The world tells us that weakness is shameful, something to be overcome, but He tells us it is something to be embraced. It is not the strong in spirit who are blessed, but the weak, the needy, the poor (Matthew 5:3).
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man…but blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5,7-8).
I’ve often prayed this verse over my children. It has become a sort of vision statement for my motherhood. How I long to see them be like that tree, planted and rooted in Christ. Yet, how often I forget to be that tree myself. How often I try to put down roots into the thin and deficient soil of my own strength and righteousness. How often I wander in salt places and neglect the stream of living water.
Motherhood will show us just how shallow the well of our patience and self-control and peace and graciousness really is. Even the exalted, fabled, maternal love will falter. Even it has limits. On its own, this weakness is a shameful thing. But in the hands of our God? It is transformed into beauty. It is transformed into power. Why? Because it leads us to a well of living water whose depths cannot be plumbed, a love whose limits could never be reached. It pushes us toward the One who, unlike us, lacks nothing, whose strength is never depleted by the neediness of His children. Only magnified.
I don’t have what it takes for motherhood. Not even close. But my God does. So, I want to live by that well. I want to plant myself by that stream and send my roots deep. Blessed is the one, blessed is the mother, who does.