Whenever you take on any kind of project, you will run into obstacles. This is especially true of things that will, by necessity, take a long time. Think of losing weight and getting fit. Think of getting organized, redecorating, or teaching yourself some new skill. The thing is, it is easy to get distracted, it is easy to lose your motivation, and it is easy to change your mind. Maybe you lose three pounds and feel better so you start eating cookies again. Maybe you decide the new skill doesn’t really suit you, or it makes a mess, or it is frustrating, so you give up.
But what if this long term project is other people? What if you started out all motivated having children, but now you are tired, frustrated, and feeling lost? In healthy christian communities there will be young people growing up with an admiration for the work of raising children. It is easy to stand on a hill looking out over all the landscape, and see the destination far away, in all it’s beauty. It is easy to see why this is a glorious calling. It is easy, because the view is clear. Many young couples start out their parenting journey with a clear, happy, optimistic perspective. They see, off in the distance, the heavenly city. They cheerfully say “Yes! Give us some children to take there!” Even the shadowy parts look pretty from the top of a hill. They just add shading! What a beautiful, textured view on the way to this heavenly city! They can hardly wait to get started!
One of the main troubles parents will face on this long term journey is discouragement. Because the truth is, once you set out on the actual work of walking through the countryside to get there, it isn’t always scenic. Sometimes those things that seemed inconsequential from afar become actually rather huge obstacles when you get to them. Sometimes, you get down in a valley and you can’t see your destination anymore. Because hilltop views are not what hiking is made of. Sometimes you just flat out don’t want to walk up that hill. Sometimes you realize that you were crazy naive about this when you set out, that you didn’t prepare adequately, that you aren’t enjoying yourself, and maybe even that you aren’t a very good traveler. That is what discouragement feels like. It feels like you haven’t glimpsed where you were headed in a long time. It feels like maybe you didn’t want to go anyways, or maybe that you aren’t skilled enough to get there.
I think we all know what it feels like when nothing seems to be working well. Suddenly all the kids are going through a fussy stretch at once. Maybe they have started back-talking more, or bickering with each other. New sin spurts from the kids often behave in a mother’s life like someone flipping over spiritual rocks. Let’s see what mom has under this frustration rock! We haven’t tried this one before! Let’s see what bounty of centipedes she keeps under here! Maybe we can rustle something out that will startle her as much as it does us! And thus you can find that one of the biggest sources of discouragement in your mothering life is yourself. Maybe you never pictured yourself as someone who would get seriously selfish about sleep. Maybe you always thought you would do lots of crafts with the kids when you had them, but notice your blood pressure rise at the sight of a glue stick, let alone scissors. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on what this feels like, because I imagine we all know too well. Some of you may feel like this mode is your only mode of mothering. Like you never do get a glimpse of where you are going unless it is the view down into another valley.
But low points and discouragement are actually a perfectly normal part of the job. We are human. This is hard. You can’t head out on a long journey over rugged countryside and expect the whole thing to be something like a fevered dream from the creators of My Little Ponies. The thing that distinguishes unbelief from belief is how discouragement and fatigue are dealt with. We are christians. God has provided for this. Faithfulness does not pitch a camp in the valley. It does not decide to settle down in the swamp because the hill is steep. Faithfulness obeys. It presses on. It trusts. It remembers.
One of the most beautiful things is how obedience and encouragement go hand in hand. Obey, and God will strengthen your steps. Act in faith, and He will reveal the path. When you look to God for direction, He always provides. We have a compass. We know the way. Sometimes, the way seems like an impossible scrabble on your hands and knees, but that is not the same thing as being lost.
Practically speaking, when you have a posse of little kiddos on your hands, there will be times when you don’t know what to do. There will be times when the little problems mount up into something a lot more intimidating. Faithfulness takes a step. And then another. Faithfulness recognizes that this is a tricky part, and begins moving to get through it. We have had times with our children where the feeling of need is overwhelming. But when we ask God for direction on each of the little things, not only is direction provided, but progress is made. Sometimes, you need to ask God to show you each little foothold. That is not a sign that you are failing. It is not a sign that you will never find your way out. It is a sign that you are still on the journey, still obeying, and that you know who to ask for help.
When discouragement comes on a mother, the temptation is to vent. To change the subject. To do anything but take a step. We might want to sit down and brainstorm about the itinerary for next week. We might want to tell ourselves that no one else is making progress either. We develop bad attitudes about the people who appear to not only know the way, but have gone so far as to pack snacks and raincoats. But none of those things are obedience. Obedience is bigger than discouragement, and the two can not live side by side. When you need encouragement, obey. When you are tired, walk. When you feel lost, remember. The more you discipline yourself to overcome discouragement with obedience, the less discouragement there will be to overcome.