So many things about mothering are harder than I thought they would be. So many moments that didn’t sound hard in advance, didn’t sound hard at the time, and didn’t even sound hard when I was trying to explain them to my husband through tears. There are just so many opportunities to be surprised by your own weakness.
It wasn’t that I had a low view of motherhood coming into it – I knew it would be hard. I guess the thing that I didn’t realize was what kind of hard it was going to be. I got on this treadmill expecting a hard work out of running, and I had good shoes. I was ready! What I was not prepared for was being pelted with potatoes while I was running. I didn’t realize that the real struggle of motherhood is not the using of my own strength, but rather the exposing of my weakness.
I don’t think that this is unique to me. There is a reason that you hear mothers so often talking about being burned out, being tired, being lonely, feeling lost, being discouraged. There is a reason that women so often turn to doubting their worth as a mother or as a wife. There is a reason that we are so quick to feel inadequate, so quick to feel like we are doing the wrong things, and so quick to want to give up. There is a reason that we are so vulnerable to stupid fights about mothering methods, so quick to be threatened and hurt.
I also believe that this is, at least in some ways, unique to motherhood. Hard work is a part of every Christian’s life, or it should be. Challenges will face everyone as they seek to honor the Lord and lay down their lives for others. But the thing that really sets motherhood apart is our cultural expectations.
The things that we have come to believe about the value of life, the quality of life, the kind of work we should desire, and the kind of reward we should receive have been painstakingly imparted to us by the world. Our culture is a culture of self fulfillment. Motherhood is the business of self bestowing. Our culture is consumed with quick results. Motherhood is the long game. Our culture makes great pomp and ceremony over living your dreams. Motherhood is the business of making them sweet for others. Motherhood is not empowering, but it is powerful.
Back in the days of restrictive corsets, women would wear them every day, and through the years they would continue to tighten them so that they could look less and less like a normal and strong woman and more and more like a cake topper. I remember reading once about women who were so dependent on their corsets that they were unable to even sit up in bed without one. Through years of training they had disabled their abdominal muscles – slowly transferring themselves over to an exoskeleton.
I can’t help but feel like this has been done to us. We are a generation of women who grew up in a world that corsets young women with selfish desires, shallow ideals, visions of unattainable beauty, and a false understanding of success.The kinds of muscles that we need to be a mother at home with a bunch of kids are seriously out of practice.
How bizarre is it that a woman with a brood of little people growing up in her care, with her love can regularly wonder what it would be like to do something important? How is it possible that we can easily get discouraged and feel like this work – this work of being everything for other people – isn’t enough for us? What has gone wrong that we can actually feel hurt by a stranger counting our children or laughing at our pregnant bellies? We are simply finding that we are unable to sit up in bed without the encouragement of the world.
And this is what I mean when I say that the true challenge of motherhood is meeting your own weakness.
If you have walked away from the support and approval of the world – if you are acting in obedience to God but not with the smile of the world cheering you on- then this weakness that you feel is a sign of great obedience. Taking off ungodly expectations and desires and stepping into a role that you know God admires is making the decision to care more about what God thinks than what the world says. And while this will reveal all sorts of weakness in yourself, that weakness is only there because you have committed to a real strength – one that can’t be put onto you, but one that has to come from within, and by the grace of God.
The strongest women in our world today are those who are as a group feeling the weakest. It certainly doesn’t feel like a blow for the kingdom to spend another nine months in a brain fog. It doesn’t feel like we are fighting for the future of our country as we drive strollers with one elbow so we can hold one fat defiant hand while sloshing coffee on ourselves with the other.
But His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He loves the obedience of the widows mite – the offering of the littlest thing that is our everything. It can seem so petty and uninteresting when what you are putting in the offering box is giving up sleeping in. Or joyfully driving the mini van that you never wanted. Or spending Friday nights folding laundry and picking up board books. But God delights in that, and He delights in us as we obey.
Do we want to spend our time giving little things that delight our Savior, or trying desperately to please the world? The world might be pleased with us if we stood for hours in our stupid sneakers fighting for a woman’s right to kill her children, but they will never applaud us for being inconvenienced and actually carrying those children.
What we are failing to see is that this weakness haunts us so much when we want to rely on our own strength. But this weakness is His to strengthen. This weakness is the greatest offering that we can give – because it is the offering of obedience.