It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that motherhood is hard. When my daughter was born just shy of two years ago, I certainly wasn’t shocked to find that I was sleep deprived or that my body changed. I knew that my clothes and furniture would get destroyed, I knew that it would be harder to be involved in things, and I knew that my kids would get on my nerves, etc. etc. But what you’ve probably heard in response to these things is that a mother will naturally rise to the occasion when the time comes. It will be hard, but somehow you’ll just do it. And it’s that often-used, well-meaning encouragement that I think needs to be challenged.
In a lot of ways, the mantra of maternal instincts is very true. I literally had no experience in caring for a baby before I had my own because, frankly, I find babies in general to be disgusting, exhausting, and terrifyingly unpredictable. Despite the fact that all these things are still true, not one of them has been able to quench the constant, urgent obsession with meeting the needs of my daughter or newborn son. I wouldn’t say that that makes a whole lot of logical sense (seriously, it’s unbelievable how gross and demanding they can be), so I’m pretty sure I can chalk it up to the existence of maternal instinct.
However, it has not been my experience that I have magically mastered motherhood by trusting in my instincts; nor have I been able to muster enough faith in myself – or even in the way God obviously equipped women for the role of bearing and caring for kids – in order to arrive at a place where I feel that I’m doing my job well. Our nature and design certainly helps us as we nurture and raise our kids, but it is not enough for me to consider myself a “good mom”. Not by a long shot.
The truth of the matter is that I do not have all that I need within myself in order to do this job well. I know that sounds harsh, but if you’re serious about Christianity, then you will find that this is true of just about every area of our lives here on earth. The story is not that we have all the pieces we need to excel as long as we arrange them the right way; contrary to popular belief, we are not destined for success as long as we try really hard and keep a good attitude. At our core, we are broken, sinful people, and nothing has convinced me more of that truth than the daily grind of motherhood.
So then how do we excel? Never mind that, how do we even survive motherhood when our days are full of reminder after reminder that we don’t have enough patience, or love, or wisdom to do right by our kids?
The “maternal instinct” mantra says to deny your feelings of inadequacy. It says that giving voice to those weaknesses will destroy your mental health and grind away your confidence. It says that it is better to speak life and success into your daily life in order to rewrite the story of your limitations. As a Christian, I have found that the exact opposite is true. The power is not in my positivity, but in my confession of my weakness.
At the beginning of the year, I resolved to end each day with a prayer of confession of all of the things I wish I had done differently or with more grace or with more energy in the day. I certainly don’t do it every day, but on the days that I do, let me tell you that the difference it makes the following morning is literally tangible.
And the reason for that is Jesus.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” // 1 John 1:9
Because of him, when I confess my shortcomings, I am not met with a wagging finger of condemnation or judgement from a God who expects better from me. Because of Jesus, I’m met with exactly the opposite: limitless compassion from a God who could not be less surprised by my failures nor more prepared to deal with them. In Jesus, God eagerly takes all my sins – along with all their shame – and nails them to the cross of Christ.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.” // Zechariah 4:6
His forgiveness is our guarantee, and one that we hardly avail ourselves enough of, particularly as exhausted, discouraged, and desperate new mothers. When I confess my failures, I remind myself that the solution to my irritability or downright loss of control is not to “try harder” or to “be better”. It’s to surrender more into the hands of God and trust that His Spirit is able to fill in the very large gaps in my own holiness. We may not have everything we need within ourselves to be great moms, but we have access to a generous God who will give us all that we need and more.
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” // 2 Thessalonians 3:5
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