The Littleness of Motherhood

I was chatting with Mom on the the phone the other day when she said, “Hey, do you remember that blog we used to write on?” It all came flooding back. I meant to write something on that blog! Of course this was probably a week  and a half ago by now, but in the meantime we have had a birthday, a holiday, a mini family reunion, and I have stared down the laundry with an unflinching gaze. There is always a lot to be distracted by, caught up in, and busy with. A lot of little things. And that is good!

The last few weeks I have been really focusing on the all-important issue of when to run the dishwasher. It’s true. If I run it after lunch, it is perfect. But only if I unload it in the afternoon, so that it is empty when I start dinner. Ideally, I unload it at the same time I set the table for dinner – right around 4:00. But if I do not unload it in the afternoon, things start going south, because then I can’t put the dirty things in while I am making dinner. If I didn’t unload it early, I probably didn’t set the table early, and if I didn’t set the table early, then probably everything will feel wild at dinner. When everything is wild at dinner time, well then, that is what happens.

If we sit down without drinks, or with silverware slapped at odd intervals around the table, then the chances increase by possibly 400% that we will also be correcting children for standing up in their chairs and grabbing pasta with their fingers. But when I run the dishwasher after lunch, unload it early, set the table early, and pour drinks before we get there, we find Titus standing behind his chair waiting for me to sit down, children using all the manners that we know they know, and a general calmness descends on dinner. When this all goes right, the children are more than capable of clearing their places and putting their dishes in the dishwasher – a thing I don’t want them to do when the sink is full of raw chicken juice, and the dishwasher full of clean dishes.

Organization and dishwasher running are not the only things that are little about motherhood. Your days are full of little questions, little answers, little puzzles, little problems, little concerns. Little disobedience. Big disobedience over little things. This can be very discouraging to any mother. What have I ever done that was important? What, in the course of my regular day, matters? Is this hot new system for containing playmobil really as big of an accomplishment as I think it is? What happened to me that I think this is important?

Even the temptations to sin are little. Getting huffy about water on the bathroom floor. Falling into full fledged worry over a diaper rash, a cold sore virus, or a teething baby. Stumbling into pride over potty training, homemade bread, or well dressed children. Getting selfish over a moment with your coffee. Feeling that somehow the smallness of it all justifies the sinfulness in your attitude. Feeling completely fine venting your little sin over your little problem, or indulging your little pride over your little accomplishment.

Because, after all, as we can all see, this is LITTLE. Can I not indulge in a little fuss? Can I not have a little harsh word? Who wants to spend their whole day focusing on something as little as an attitude? Who would ever think that my demeanor towards mopping matters? Don’t tell me that this is a big deal, because I know about big deals, and this is not what they look like.

I am sure that most of us are familiar with the wonderful verse in Luke, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).

The thing that I have been thinking about lately is that this verse isn’t just talking about the little things as though they are qualifiers for things that might actually matter. It isn’t telling us that if we are faithful enough with little things, eventually we will get a shot at something that might matter. I think that a more accurate understanding of this verse is that the more we are faithfully disciplining  ourselves, controlling ourselves, confessing our sins that are tiny, the more the little things we do are actually big. They are not little anymore, when we are faithful in them.

God uses faithfulness to transform the little. It will not stay little in the presence of faithfulness. Conversely of course, lest we ignore the second half of that verse, unfaithfulness also transforms the little. A little sin, unchecked, has big consequences. A little indulgence, a little anger, a little selfishness, a little ugliness, these are the things that destroy lives.

This should be encouraging! What we are doing day by day is actually big stuff. And not just in the “way down the road, someday, something about this might turn into something.” It is already something big.

As we all spend our days dealing with the little things, we need to see them as big things. Don’t make excuses or ignore your little sins. Don’t treat your little problems as though they are beneath your attention. Don’t be ungrateful for the mental and spiritual journey surrounding turning on the dishwasher at the right time. God tells us that the little things matter over and over. He tells us that He cares about them, that He watches over even the tiniest of sparrows. He wants us to see the little too. Not in some kind of weird, narrow focus that makes no sense. But with faith, and in faith, knowing that in the presence of faithfulness, the littlest things grow.

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46 thoughts on “The Littleness of Motherhood

  1. Amen. Motherhood is, I believe, the fastest track to sanctification that there is. And, the dishwasher thing continues to be crucial even when your kiddos are all grown up!

  2. Thank you, Rachel. I needed to read this today. I haven’t seen my job as little, but rather been overwhelmed by all that I need to accomplish with my children, in my home, to help my husband and in ministry. However, the resulting sins or temptation to sin is the same. Though you may have been speaking to helping guide, discipline and correct our littles in being faithful in the little things, that spoke directly to my heart… for myself.

    Your post may have been late to the blog, but it was right on time for my heart!

  3. Very good!! I like the idea of having everyone standing behind their chairs waiting for you to sit down for dinner. We have all boys, so it makes even more sense (at least to me.) God is good – so many encouraging promises for us! Thanks for pointing it out again!

  4. Oh goodness, you have so much beauty to pour into mothers. Thank you for this, it is a gift. I just ordered your book and can’t wait to read it.

  5. Not only did I need this encouragement today (and I REALLY did!), but I think that you’re a genius for setting the table at 4 pm, and I am going to try that one!! haha! What an unexpected little blessing to accompany that important reminder!

  6. Thank you for this post. Such a good perspective and reminder. And running the dishwasher after lunch. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of that. BRILLIANT.

    Congratulations on another boy!!

  7. I generally set the dinner table right from the dishwasher, too! Another little mannerly habit we instituted (after seeing some friends do it) is having the kids wait to eat until I (or the hostess if we are at another’s home) take the first bite. I can still see my mom just sitting down to the table to start her meal about the time my brothers were gearing up for seconds! I like spending the whole meal with my fam. (side note: we nix waiting for the first bite manners if the meal is buffet style).

  8. With you on the dishwasher after lunch. Sometimes, we can’t fit everything in there. Then there’s no way I can fit all the dinner dishes. Little things like that can throw it all off! LOL! Thanks for taking the time to post; we all appreciate it so much.

  9. I totally get the dishwasher thing. Many times I have regretted forgetting to empty it before supper preparations started! Thanks for this encouraging reminder.

  10. Thank you for reflecting on this topic. We can all think about all sorts of topics, but to reflect on scripture and its application amongst our littleness as moms is very wonderful.

    Did you crochet the beautiful little doily under the vase?

  11. Your post was so encouraging. But did you know that the use of the term “spastic” in this manner is very offensive to Australian and UK readers? I know it means something different in the US context but maybe you could consider using a different word in future?

  12. You can see right into my house, can’t you? Yep, I thought so. 😉 A perfect ending to a very imperfect day. Thank you for all of those kernels of wisdom! I particularly appreciated your insight into Luke 16:10. I will be adding that to my list of verses to have constantly running through my head during the day. :-)

  13. Thank you so much, Rachel, for this post. It’s really encouraging. I have a few posts from you and Bekah hanging in my kitchen and every now and then I reread them. This one will be next to those, and I will be encouraged many times. Thank you for that!
    And when will there be a book made out of these posts from Femina? 😉

  14. Right on Rachel! I’ve been convicted of this myself the past month, but oh, it’s so hard to put into practice! Just this morning, I yelled at the kids to be quiet so I could drink my coffee in peace. And then I read your post. Gloups. Starting over today! Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!

  15. A good friend “released” me from my practice of only running the dishwasher when it was packed full of dishes. Now I run it in preparation for when I need it empty, (like before dinner time). You can always do a light wash with fewer dishes and that frees it up for after dinner time too!

  16. thank you, thank you, thank you…for that reminder today. It’s so easy to give into the feeling that a little anger, frustration, raising of the voice, etc, is ok and justified. thank you for calling us to a higher standard.

  17. Thank you so much for the encouragement! Reading the article, I kept hearing myself saying “yes, yes…yes!!” then I got to the part about thinking these little things aren’t the important things and realized I was still saying “yes…” although more hesitantly (why is sin so hard to admit?). Perfect reminder at the perfect time. Time to go get that crying baby and sweep the darn kitchen floor. But with a good attitude :)

  18. Thanks Rachel. I always appreciate your perspectives on motherhood. But as one of your Australian readers, I wanted to confirm Deb’s comments above regarding the word ‘spastic’. It really is a very offensive word in our context. A different word in future would be much appreciated.

  19. Thanks for the encouraging words. I have a plaque in my house that says, “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realized that the little things were really Big things.”
    I would love to subscribe to the blog, but for the life of me can’t figure out how… HELP! :)

  20. Rachel, how you have time to tend to your family and offer such profound words of encouragement to other moms who are also in the trenches is entirely beyond me.

    But I am thankful.

  21. I often fall in to the lie of asking “What happened to me that I think *this* is important?” pridefully believing that I am too important to change diapers. God’s used this article to call my heart to repent. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Wait, in the midst of all of your very wise words you mentioned something about a perfect Playmobil storage system…….does it make me shallow that the main thing I am taking from your post is a glimmer of hope that such a thing may truly exist?
    Just kidding, your article was very helpful………but if you did have a moment to share any thoughts on Playmobil it may help me with many of the little things (literally) in my life!

  23. While reading this, I realized many of my little things are habits. And many habits have huge impact. Happy to have my eyes opened.

  24. This was so good for me to read today. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. I have read your book and what you say resonates with my soul. I am so grateful!!
    PS…I have ultrasound pictures with the same office listed on top. :) I love them!!!

  25. Thank you for the encouragement! I am staying at home with my girls for the first time this year and I have been amazed by how much I belittle motherhood. Thank you for articulating the significance of the little things–humbling and practical!

  26. Pivotal.
    This concept has been absolutely pivotal in my parenting.

    No. In my whole life.

    (Paraphrased from the pen of George Matheson)
    When we are young in faith, a thousand years seem as a day. We have eyes for the *big* things, and they seem within our grasp. But as we get older, we start to see the opposite . . .
    A thousand years are in a day.
    Little things become weightier.

    Indeed, the difference between viewing life through a telescope or a microscope.

    Thank you for a riveting discussion of this matter.
    Blessings!

  27. Thank you for this post! What a wonderful perspective on Luke 16:10. I am so often tempted to define “God-sized” purposes/tasks as those things that attract the most attention/praise from others or those things that bring me the most immediate personal fulfillment. Not always, but many times “dreaming big dreams for God” has been a nice way to describe my own selfish pursuits. I struggle daily to find joy in the “little.” What I got from this post is that “God-sized tasks” are tasks that we do faithfully, from a pure heart, and with desire to bring glory and honor to our Savior. Good stuff!!!

  28. It reminds me of the saying – the ordinary is what is extraordinary.

    Beautiful post. You really got to me when you described running the dishwasher at a certain point in the day determined how the rest of the day will unfold. It seems “too little” to plan such an ordinary action, but it’s actually a big thing (though not so big we need to make an idol out of our routines….but that’s a whole ‘nother issue!).

    Thank you for this reminder, especially about letting “little” sins and prideful attitudes slip by us unchecked.

  29. Please may you change the world “spastic” to something else, as Deb L suggested? In Australia and the UK it is an extremely offensive word.

  30. Another Australian popping in to say thanks for the helpful post and encouragement, but I also found the use of the word “spastic” offensive. I’d be really grateful if you’d consider using another word, would “chaotic” also capture the meaning of what you were trying to get across?

  31. Hello Ladies! I am sorry for the delay in answering the concerns over my use of the word “spastic”. For all you UK and Australian readers, rest assured that in the American usage this word is not offensive. This is one of the many delights of language, and of course one of the many dangers of international blogs (and blog reading too)!
    There are many things that could tastefully be said in ladylike English company (think “I’ll give you a tinkle” or “I’ll knock you up”) that would be breathtakingly awkward upon American soil.
    Either way, thank you for your concern and input, and please know that no offense was or is intended by my use of the word! And the next time I innocently use the word, just keep in mind that there are oceans between us – “two different cultures, separated by a common language.”
    Cheers!

  32. Thanks so much. Certainly knew that no offense was intended. So many Australians relate to your writing – your ability to remain playful and joyful through your patience, humility and servanthood as a Mum (oops, MOM!) in the midst of everyday chaos.

  33. This is off topic – though I was challenged by the actual topic. What I want to know is, may I have the pattern for the doily under your vase? I knit a similar one as a dishcloth, but the points were wider, I think, so there weren’t as many. I like the pointier look.

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