My energetic and precocious two-year old had gotten away from me more than once during our quick errands to the library and post office. Employees at both venues laughed and nodded and offered commiserating quips about the “terrible twos.” I forced laughter while wrestling my squirrelly toddler to the ground before he tried to scale the bookshelves or dismantle the carousel of postcards and mailers. What I really wanted to do was shout help me to any individual in the room that might be physically stronger than me. By the time I got back to the vehicle and harnessed my son into his seat, I was thoroughly drenched in sweat though it was barely 50 degrees outside. Nothing makes me feel more ridiculous than running through a quiet library trying to catch a shrieking two-year-old who thinks it’s all a game.
I sat in the library parking lot with my head on the steering wheel for a few minutes.
This is hard.
It’s been seven years since I have parented a two-year-old; I must have repressed some of those memories. I do not remember being this tired, this frustrated, this weak, or this aware of my shortcomings. Let me tell you, parenting is an absolute joy like none other in my life. Sometimes I look at my kids and I think my heart will explode because it can’t hold any more joy. But, parenting is also the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s not just correcting, teaching, feeding, and protecting. Parenting isn’t just structuring and setting boundaries (though it’s not less than that). We’ve also got the tremendous responsibility to shape our kids hearts and exemplify grace and the gospel that changes us. No pressure, right? Oh, sometimes it feels like so much pressure.
Later in that day of post office and library stand-offs, I found myself at the sink washing dishes for the third time while running interference between my kids who seemed to have made an agreement with one another to spend the evening bickering. My husband was tied up at a meeting, and the living room I’d straightened up minutes before was now a junkyard of toys, pillows, blankets, and blocks. I stood at the sink, hands in the dish water, and counted the minutes until bedtime, my bedtime. Then I remembered the loads of clean laundry piled on our bed, waiting to be folded and put away. The noise from the living room escalated. I sent one child up to get ready for bed and settled the other one in front of a movie. Returning to the stacks of dirty dishes, I tried not to cry. This is never-ending, Lord. I’ll be here tomorrow night doing the exact same thing and no one will ever know that my day was spent cleaning up messes that re-materialize moments later, fixing meals that end up smeared on the floor, washing clothes that will need to be washed again and again. I stopped scrubbing for a moment and put a soapy hand to my pounding head.
I see you.
It wasn’t audible, it wasn’t even a whisper. His voice is hard to explain. It was more like a sudden knowing, a memory I’d forgotten, a sliver of truth that surfaced and stretched out in my chest. I see you, He said. Attached to the remembered words was the story of the mother in the wilderness, the pregnant, conjugal maid who was sent away to die in the desert. He saw her, too. He made sure that she, and we, and all of us would know that He is the God who sees (Gen. 16).
He sees every way that we serve our families–when we are glad to and when we drag our feet. He sees the motives of our hearts, for better or worse. He knows the significance of a hard-won battle between mother and toddler, and He’s present when the mother fights tears of defeat. He sees when her anger is out of proportion with the offense, and He sees the moments of victory when she offers grace instead of a harsh rebuke. In her strengths and especially in her weaknesses, He is using motherhood to show her who she is before Him: she is a child who needs to be parented with grace and kindness and boundaries and Jesus.
You’re doing this for Me.
It was the second thing He reminded me of when I scrubbed the remains of an uneaten dinner off a plate. It’s true. I know it’s true. Unfortunately for me, it’s also forgettable. I keep expecting a shower of gratitude or an applause of some sort when I finally get to the bottom of the laundry pile. I want a thank-you note for all the meals I’ve prepped, cooked, and cleaned up. But that’s not what parenting or serving is about. Certainly I did none of those things for my own mother, though I am now having deep regrets about my lack of gratitude. My mother did all the things I’m doing now because she loved us and she loved God more.
The motive behind serving my family, cleaning up the same messes every day, negotiating a crisis situation with a two-year-old, or teaching a child about loving his enemies at school–the motives of my motherhood must be anchored in the glory of God, not the glory of me.
It’s a difficult thing to shift my thinking like this. The only thing I do consistently is fail at parenting, but there are tiny glimpses of eternity that aid in this mothering paradigm shift.
Changing a blow-out diaper when I’m trying to rush out the door to church is never convenient. Cleaning a couch cushion soaked in milk isn’t what I want to put on my agenda for the day. Explaining for the tenth time in ten minutes that children must stay in their beds during naps isn’t the way I want to spend my afternoons when I have so much work to do. Weaving gospel threads into a bedtime conversation when my bones ache with exhaustion isn’t the priority I want to have. But, this is motherhood. This is the gift that’s been given to me, the gift I yearned for for years. This is one of the ways I will serve the Lord who loves me in my weaknesses. I will change diapers for His glory, clean up perpetual messes for His glory, teach my children about Jesus for His glory, place boundaries and teach obedience for His glory.
I am here on this planet to know Him and to make Him known. In a strange and wonderful way, I get to know Him and make Him known in the exhausting, beautiful ministry of motherhood. It’s not my only job, that’s true. Motherhood is not my identity, either. My identity is tethered to the One who is scraping away the ugliness of my selfishness, revealing my own layers of ingratitude, and molding my heart into something that looks a little more like His every single day.
Right now he’s using motherhood to do this, to break me down so He can build me into the image of His Son bit by bit. Day by day. Mess by mess. Response by response.
The bonus gift is that His glory is graciously tied to our good. He chose to do it that way. Persevering in the trenches of whatever path of sanctification He’s set you on is ultimately for your absolute good. Washing dishes in anonymity, teaching children the same lessons daily, wiping noses and bottoms without thanks, and folding a never-ending pile of laundry can all be done as an expression of belief that God is being kind to us in our work because He is enough for us in our work. We persevere because He is enough for us and He is enough for our children.
So, mothers, fathers, workers, caretakers, teachers, pastors, salesman, nurses, ministers, servants–take heart. Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God which is also for your good. Lean on the truths that He speaks to us from His Word: He sees you. He sees your work.
His approval is the one we need, and in Christ it is the one we have.