It’s Friday morning (for another hour or so…actually wait – it’s Saturday morning now – because, yet another day didn’t go as planned. And, I am leaving this note in my final copy, because that reality is just part of what I’m trying to illustrate in this post…) of one of the most chaotic weeks I can remember in recent memory. On Wednesday night, after yet another night-waking by one of our five children, I found myself so restless that I couldn’t fall back asleep. Of all the things I can count on these days, sleep is not one. Grabbing my pillow, I retreated to the couch so at least Kevin could get some sleep. Then, in what was my first truly alone and quiet moment for days, one tear came, followed by another, and another, until I just couldn’t stop them. Sometimes when the wheels of life seem to spin so fast, I don’t always find the outlet to decompress the weight of everything…and like a pressure cooker, things intensify inside until they come out – whether I’m ready for the mess of it all, or not. As I sat there crying, I couldn’t pinpoint one precise thing that was weighing on my soul – but I felt it all. And it was heavy. This isn’t how Christian motherhood is supposed to look, is it?
In my experience, motherhood has a lot of these moments. They can be difficult to talk about. For one – they can be so abstract and hit us out of the blue, making it hard to put our thoughts and feelings into words in the first place. On Wednesday night (or Thursday morning, technically), as I heard God reminding me to ‘cast my burdens on him because he cares for me’ (1 Peter 5:7), I sat there like a statue. I was at a loss for words and I didn’t know where to begin. Second, these parts of motherhood seem unmentionable, because of some lies we believe: that we should hide the fact that these overwhelming moments exist, that we’re the only ones who feel them, and that we should be embarrassed if we do. I can objectively tell myself that’s just nonsense – but it’s still a difficult thing to accept when the rubber meets the road, or when the tears hit the carpet – as the case may be.
Right now I’ll put my hand up and say that sometimes I teeter at the very edge of myself: depleted of rest, mentally overwhelmed, overstimulated by the noises of life (both literal and figurative), and feeling like a complete failure as I try to hold the pieces of myself and my family together. There are seasons, sometimes brief, and sometimes prolonged, where the barrage of needs fire away in front of me, in far too rapid succession for me to even feel like I’m making a dent.
This was one of those weeks. An out-of-the-norm business situation needed to be addressed, and one that involved a lot of chaos, planning and hustle to turn it all around. It was also one that left my heart aching with confusion and betrayal at how dishonest some people can be, and how their personal choices can overflow into the lives of everyone around them. I won’t dwell on this story, but I wanted to mention it, because from time to time we are all wronged, and it can be messy. Then there was the regular logistics of juggling the kids to and from schools, with extra arrangements because of our situation, a suddenly sick dog and unplanned vet trip, a pulled hamstring (note to self and others: consider your form before lifting an 84 lb dog into your vehicle), an ongoing string of horrible sleep, and the usual moment to moment urgency of everyone needing to pee, being hungry, spelling tests, memory work, birthday invites and deep chit chat about ‘why worms don’t have armpits’ – all at once. And all the while, while I’m pacing through one issue after the next – I’m failing. Over and over again, I’m messing up; outwardly, and inwardly.
In my frustration, I’m spilling things, dropping things, knocking things over. I even got my van stuck in the mud; it took a lot of wheel spinning, grass flying and a rescue mission from my husband before he realized what I failed to see in the chaos of the moment – ooops – I’d accidentally engaged the e-brake. No wonder I was going nowhere (yeah, that’s pretty bad, not to mention embarrassing). My point is, that the stress of everyday life can get ahead of me sometimes, and from there, things can go for normal, to bad, to worse before I know it. Nothing in my circumstances involved significant pain, loss, life or death matters or anything we’d objectively deem catastrophic; this was all the weight of regular life. Yet, I was overwhelmed.
So that night, during my tearful couch talk with God, I asked Him: What do I do? What can I do with all this stuff I feel? What does it look like to cast my burdens on you?
And then, the ironic truth began to wash over me – that I always seek out a solution that involves doing something. What do I need to do? What do I do about this? As though – If I just do this, or do that, do more – then maybe I can be better at doing x, y, z and can do more of q, r, s, or I’ll be able to manage the weight of life with more grace and patience. Patience is a big issue for me. I feel like I need to address everything immediately. Every need, now. I began to consider that maybe the beginning of my patience and grace with the tasks of life starts with a bit more patience and grace with myself. Maybe I can be more patient and gracious in the things that matter most when I only carry the burden of the things I’m called to carry. Maybe my resources won’t run so dry when I stop expending them where I’m not called to.
Doing more is not the answer. Maybe part of the solution was to do less….or do differently….but what does that actually look like?
Of course, then there’s the reality that my God, and my loved ones care more about who I am, than what I do. Doing will always be part of life – but as the saying goes, ‘we are called human beings, not human doings.’*
The reality of motherhood, is that who we are dictates the impact we have on our children far more than what we do. My children may not remember the multitudes of homework sessions we had, everything we accomplished, the grades they received, or how tidy my cupboards were – but I’m certain they will remember whether I was loving, patient and kind to them.
So, in the deep of this tearful night, I started the process of walking through the question of how I can cast my burdens onto the Lord. Like most projects of spiritual renovation, there’s no quick fix…but in that quiet, alone and tearful time of sitting with God, He began to knock down some walls to make room for some of His truth to settle in.
The next morning, with burning eyes and an extra large thermal cup of coffee, I set out to drop some of my little ones off at their Montessori program. During this drive, Johnny Cash’s words gripped me. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. It was the words of the Bible, as recorded in the book of Mark – but admittedly, Johnny Cash’s narration sounds a whole lot cooler than my own. (Side note: I am not affiliated with this audio version of the New Testament, and receive no compensation for mentioning it – but I really do enjoy it, particularly when driving!)
For the background context, I had just started listening at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel. What I love about Mark’s account of Jesus, is that it’s very matter-of-fact. He gives the straightforward picture – the action, the movement – what Jesus did. For someone like me, who struggles with balance when it comes to my own doing – this was the perfect part of the Bible on this particular day. And it just so happened that’s where my audio book was set to begin playing this day.
The beginning of Mark includes Jesus’ own baptism, his time of temptation in the wilderness, and the launch of his public ministry. In Chapter one, Jesus calls his first disciples, and begins teaching, healing, and casting out demons. Verse 29 says, “News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” In other words, Jesus drew a lot of attention, very quickly, and the people came seeking him in droves. His miraculous healings had everyone looking for Him. Verse 32 and 33 say, ‘that evening after the sunset people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door…” These were busy times.
When I try to picture this, I begin to feel anxious on behalf of Jesus and His historical experiences. As a mom, I know what it’s like to feel the bombardment of needs, coming from every direction. I know what it is like to have people lined up, crowded around me, wherever I may be – bringing with them their requests and demands. When I’m making dinner, trying to use the washroom, trying to do anything – the needs seldom slow down. And yet – the needs within my own home are often so trivial in comparison: look at this picture, I want a banana, she stole my toy, how do you spell ‘elephant’... Yet, the needs surrounding Jesus were important; life and death, even.
In his humanity, He must have felt overwhelmed. With the whole town at his door, in His face, all wanting a piece of Him, did He feel weakened from pouring Himself out? Did He feel the weight of the never ending needs around Him? Did He grow weary in His compassion? Did He cry?
The next portion of scripture had me thinking that He must have felt something along these lines.
These verses say:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1: 35-38)
It was this bit, that ‘clicked’ for me. As I heard this part of Jesus’ story, I related with Him just enough to see how His example could help me right where I was at.
In a nutshell, here’s what Jesus did when the needs around Him were coming non-stop:
* Jesus sought solitude. He got alone – by himself. He took some physical distance from everyone else. He found time for quietness.
* What did he do there? He prayed. We don’t hear the words he prayed, or what God answered back. But we do have a hint about this conversation that comes from knowing what Jesus did next…
* Jesus stuck to His calling. When His disciples found him, and tried to turn His attention towards the needs behind Him, Jesus decisively told them it was time to move on. He was very intentional about what to do next. He said they had to go somewhere else for him to preach, because that is why he came. Jesus spoke with clarity about His mission. The needs around Him had not vanished, but following His time of solitude and prayer, He made it known that He was sticking to the master plan – His calling.
While the needs around him were pressing, He was not going to stray in His mission. I believe this conviction was affirmed to him in His time of prayer.
In scripture, there are many examples of Jesus retreating from the hustle and bustle – to be alone and pray. This is an example for us to follow. As a mom, I feel like the needs never end. Any human being can feel this way. I personally feel it more than ever since I entered the calling of motherhood.
After hearing this passage of scripture that day, I felt like I needed to refocus on my mission at hand. I was focusing on the needs in my face – the ones that scream and yell – but letting the overall mission of my life drift.
The term ‘mission drift’ is one I heard for the first time a few weeks ago. Our Pastor had mentioned it during one of his sermons about our ‘core values’. He taught that we have to remain intentional about our core mission, otherwise we can drift away from it, subtly even, before we realize that we’ve begun to stray.
As I contemplated the overwhelming emotions of the week, it felt obvious that a large part of the burden I’d been feeling was from a kind of mission drift. I wasn’t aligned well with who I am supposed to be.
So, following Jesus’ example, instead of filling the moments that could be quiet with more action – more doing – I rested, and prayed. In my conversations with God, these are some of the questions that came up. As I continue to mull them over, I can sense the Lord reaffirming and reordering my priorities. Perhaps these questions will help you too:
* What’s on my mind that’s not mine to worry about? Am I carrying around some third-party pain, offence or burden that I can pray about, entrust to God, then release? Not every problem is my concern.
* Are my interpersonal boundaries intact? Am I allowing stress into my life by failing to safeguard my time and space? Can I say ‘no’ (or ‘not now’) to a request, or let go of the guilt (that keeps resurfacing) of already having said no to something? Sometimes people breach our boundaries in subtle or unintentional ways, and other times it’s more akin to a bulldozer. But, none of us are called to entertain or indulge every request or demand that comes our way. Firm boundaries are a must.
* Is there anything weighing on my heart that I can just give to God? When I feel wronged or wounded, and I know no apology will ever come, can I let it go, forgive, and be at peace? We need no newsflash or breaking headline to tell us the world is full of hurt. But, if God sees every wrong, is a God of justice, provides for our needs – do I have a trust issue when I assign emotional standing to the ways in which others wrong me? Am I putting my trust in fallible man to guard my heart – and then wasting energy when I feel let down? If so, my focus is on the wrong person; I need to look to my unfailing God, who makes rights every wrong, and never breaks my trust.
* What am I making more urgent than really needs to be? There are legitimate tasks we all need to do, but some actually belong on the backburner. Am I consuming my thoughts with tasks which belong down the pike, when I should instead focus on the ones which are ripe in time and season? Am I ordering my priorities wrongly? How can I prioritize things that matter most, even when the heat of life’s moments try to dictate otherwise?
* What’s the worst that will happen if X is not done perfectly? What’s the worst that will happen if Y doesn’t get done at all? Not everything I perceive to be important actually is.
And most importantly – after Jesus’ time of prayer, He came away with bold confidence about His calling….so…
* What is my calling here on earth, and in this season of life?
When the disciples asked Jesus to tell them what the greatest commandment was, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’(Matthew 22:37-39). While I feel called to do many specific things in this life of mine, the greatest commandment is my primary mission here, during every season.
If someone bluntly asked me – would you rather have it all together and get everything, big and little, done – or, would you rather be so close to God that you are able to love others like He did? The answer is easy. So easy, in fact. It’s a no brainer. But – in my day to day life this is not often evident. Within my own home, the pressures of meal-making, schedules, bills, piano practice and homework help can land me feeling frazzled. Yet, if I try to plow through one task after the other with the intent of helping my children, but the result is that I’m impatient, unkind and putting undue pressure on them – do I resemble Christ in the slightest? Even if I push my kids to achieve the best results on the tasks of their lives, am I losing the lesson of Godliness, in my own life, and in theirs?
I will admit – so so often, I have the wrong end-goals in mind. And I go about things by the wrong means. I let the needs in my face determine my time – and when I do, my attitude and emotions falter. I stray from the master plan.
I sincerely believe that ‘mission drift’ in my calling of Christian motherhood is a real thing, and it’s behind a lot of the stress I experience.
I believe I need to make a better habit of following Christ’s example – by intentionally seeking peaceful solitude with God, and letting Him help me to order my life’s priorities according to His will in my life, and in my family. “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him” (Psalm 37:23)
This might look like messier hair-dos, lazier meals, higher piles of laundry, a backlog of dishes and an amended to-do list.
It might also look like a lot more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). I’m signing up for that!
* Note: I’ve seen this quote numerous times over the years, often unattributed, or attributed to a breadth of different people. Truthfully, I have no idea who said it first, so I have not specifically attributed it to anyone. Feel free to reach out if you know who said it first!