It’s hard to remember how or when it started, exactly. Maybe somewhere in between the pipe in the laundry room bursting and the children’s newfound habit of sneaking food from the table and making messes of it in the closet in the other room, or maybe upon the realization that I had, over weeks and months, developed a bad habit of not brushing my teeth until 1 p.m.; I really don’t know. All I can tell you is, it’s been a long winter.
And things is gettin’ a little crazy ’round here.
To the point where mama’s going a little, or maybe a lot, crazy.
I suppose small doses of crazy might be necessary for a Jesus-following mother in this strange world. But really, any more than what calls us to pack up all our belongings and move back in with the in-laws is really just plain dangerous in this household.
One of the pieces of premarital advice that my husband and I have heeded throughout the past few years is to date regularly. This only happens by the world’s standards once every few months; but we’ve made a point to date radically in our own home, to spend intentional time alone together even when things around us like broken pipes and dirty dishes and whining children beckon distraction. Some of my favorite “date nights” are hummus and bread dipped after late arrivals and long days with dim firelight and bags under our eyes. Saturday morning coffee in bed to the soundtrack of Thomas the Tank Engine playing in the next room is always nice, too.
But something that I haven’t been told before — and which is proving to be necessary — is that my relationships with my children require a similar maintenance schedule. Gone are the days when nursing in the rocking chair covers a multitude of needs. These kids have demands! Not only are they hungry, or tired, or in need of “soooooooomething” (that’s what the three year old whines, constantly) at virtually all times, but now they need attention, for Pete’s sake, and constant watching, and no-you-cannot-shove-graham-crackers-in-the-dvd-player-gosh-how-many-times-do-I-have-to-tell-you’s. And really, I vaccuumed popcorn and pancakes out of a bedroom closet the other night. Really.
They want to be cuddled, then they want to kick me in the face. They want to do it themselves and then cry as if abandoned, “mommy, HELP ME.” They want to make messes just so they can refuse to clean them up. And they want things “because he has one” and on, and on, and on. (Ringing true with anyone else? I’m quite sure I’m the only mother who has ever experienced this!)
Why is it that everyone expends all their energy encouraging new, sleep-deprived moms who don’t remember a word of it anyway?
But this thing that has happened recently, this thing that is breaking me down from the inside out, is that I am finding that while I love my children in a “I carried you literally inside of me” kind of way, I am not always in love with them. They exhaust me, and I’m resentful. They make demands on me, and I serve bitterly. They spill, and make messes, and make mistakes and it makes me angry. I hug them sincerely with intentional “I love you’s” but my words are not speaking the action there within. What I am not saying is, “I am actively in love with you right now, like this very moment.”
So I sputter apologies and repent and try to be better. And it all fails, because I am not taking the time necessary to “court” my children, to desire closeness with them. I am not taking the time to spend with them in love, in affection, in adoration. I am not taking time to pray for them, to pray with them. My flesh doesn’t want to spend any time longer than the bear minimum with them hanging at my ankles, clawing at my legs for attention. How can I even find the energy to pour into them this extra attention?
But I think to Jesus. I think to Jesus’ pursuit of us, what Scripture even calls a “jealous love” for us. I think to God’s woo-ing of us, His convicting love, His attractive grace. He is our Father, and still He courts us, pursues us, intends time with us, has a desire to be with us, tries to get our attention. Even after we are His, we continue to be the apple of His eye. How awesome is that?
And, yes, there is a place for discipline and for chastisement — a Biblical place, no less. But not when it is inflicted apart from Godly love. God has ample opportunity to smite me when I displease and fall short. But His nature is longsuffering, and the definition of that couldn’t have come to me sooner than it did this week at Bible study: to suffer long and remain kind.
This is the kind of love I want my children to experience from their parents, if not for the sake of my own sanity, then for the sake of them being led to accept and receive the love from a God who died for their salvation, a God who loves them even more than this woman who just halfheartedly surrendered her will to raise them up. I want them to taste, to see that God is good, and that He doesn’t condemn them for failing expectations or just figuring out who they are or just plain experimenting again with that glass to see if gravity will take it down any differently this time. He is in love with them, actively and with infinite kindness, in an always and forever kind of way.
And that is what this is about, by the way, this surrendering of my will. I had a friend tell me just the other day how, when you marry, half of your self dies, and when you have children, all of it dies. That’s what we should be telling new mothers! “Get ready: You’re about to die. But don’t worry, it will be in a good way. Promise” My sister-in-law is in pre-labor right now with her firstborn … I’m sure she’d love such encouragement!
So here I stand, on the boundary line of yet another limit I didn’t see coming, pushed to the brink by inconvenience and mental anguish and spiritual fist-raising and perhaps a small lack of Vitamin D. I know that to charge on over the line is to pursue the things of my own — my own agenda, my own to-do’s, my own life because, heck, I deserve it, especially after four years of “lending” my body to others to be used in various life-giving ways, all without nary a good night’s sleep. But I know that doing so will only ever bring more of this same baloney.
Yet I haven’t quite retreated from this boundary line; I guess I am still somehow enticed by a life that looks like pressing on to fill my own needs. The laundry pipe was fixed, I believe we’ve nipped the food-stashing habit, and I’ve regularly brushed my teeth first thing in the morning all week long … Which is to say that things are looking up. And it was 44 degrees today, so maybe I’m just being dramatic …
But I can tell that this issue lingers deep, this discomfort I feel with the level of exhaustion I carry, the amount of times per day I have to squash down anger, the sharpness of words that unfurl toward such small and tender souls. I am not content.
If God has chosen me specifically to be the mother of these children, then that means that each day new is a divine appointment; that each day together is one that He calls blessed. If God has chosen me specifically to raise these boys, arranged it perfectly in His time, then surely, there is to be more to it than days spent hiding from my own fears.
That said, I am looking for a reliable babysitter. Any teenager willing to work for free and for indefinite periods of time will do. Also, experience making beds and unloading dishwashers is pre-requisite. Willingness to learn massage therapy encouraged.