Last Friday, at the end of a full, exhausting, amazing, frustrating and overstimulating week, I sipped my morning coffee, opened up Facebook and was greeted with a memory from my feed that basically took my best efforts at just keeping it together, and obliterated them.
Two years ago, I was in a car accident which had left me with months of excruciating pain, daily doctors, chiro and physio appointments, and lots and lots of tears. Shortly after that, Noah (my then 3 year old) had an accident in which he fell nearly 5ft, face-first, into a concrete floor, snapping his jaw, and breaking it cleanly in two places (don’t even ask).
18 months after immigrating to the United States from South Africa, I found myself plunged into a season in which I was “working” from home (who are we kidding?) with a 3 and a 4 year old, in pain that was so severe that for weeks I could barely get out of bed or off the couch, at daily physio appointments that left me reeling, with a three year old who couldn’t eat, no money for childcare, increasingly crippling anxiety and, with no family nearby to lend a hand or do the things that families do when mothers can’t move, or spend all day crying.
It wasn’t ideal.
It was also completely disorienting: our lives had turned upside down overnight and I felt completely unprepared and ill-equipped to just take it all in my stride. I thrived on being the mommy who was pretty resilient, a pillar of strength, competent, completed her to-do lists, and quite frankly, whose needs didn’t intrude too much (at all) on the people around her. When that car hit ours and a month later, when my son’s face hit the floor, I morphed from that “powerhouse of a woman” (again, who are we kidding?) into “hotmess-express-mommy”, “mommy-who-just-cries-a-lot”, “mommy-who-is-always-in-pain”, “mommy-who-can’t-do-the-things” (any of them), and “mommy-who-always-feels-scared-and-anxious”. What a resume!
I had spent my entire adult life cultivating, maintaining and worshipping that superwoman (and later mom) idea/idol, and relishing in her strength, capacity and ability to be the helper. Now, she was gone - and all that was left was a mountain of anxiety, shame, fear and frustration as I navigated a season of life I had not planned or prepared for, could not control, master or see beyond, and all of it just shouted: inadequate, failure, not enough. Sure enough, the waves of shame, anxiety and fear came rolling in.
So not too different to the Spring of 2020.
Here’s what many of us tend to do when we’re feeling that kind of overwhelm, inadequacy, and vulnerability:
We turn away from the people (and the love) we need, and who need us more than ever. We choose busyness, distraction, to-do lists, screens and shallow.
Or we turn towards them, but in a mask and full armour. We choose posturing on social media, increased irritability, frustration and anger (because we aren’t in control or getting our way), pretending and being overbearing. (this is me by the way)
Both are a way that we choose darkness and isolation rather than exposure, light, and connection: being seen for all of our glorious mess, weakness and ineptitude.
Two years ago, during my impossible season, even though we were literally spending every single moment of the day together (for months), I started to realize that my inadequacy allergy (or simply my sin of pride) became a tendency towards masks and armor, and was cutting me off from my children when they needed me, and when I needed them most. I realized that I was also teaching them that doing was more important than being, unless we were being perfect, and to hide their pain and weakness from the people who loved them most.
I noticed that even though we had unending proximity, shared DNA, and the same last name, that we were heading down a path that was setting our family up for isolation (from one another and others). When we needed one another, or others most, we turned away and called it self-care. We started to see that we literally left everything we had and knew to build community with strangers on the other side of the world, we were failing to forge it in our own home.
That season taught me to embrace humility, to turn towards my children in my weakness, and to create space for them to turn towards me. I learnt that children have a remarkable capacity for compassion and empathy, and that they can minister generously and gently to the hearts of their parents (and others) if we give them opportunities and permission to do so. I learnt that childlike faith prayed the best prayers, and that I need to lean into “my grace sufficient for you, and my power is perfected in weakness” and that it can apply to a 4 year old too (they are actually the best teachers for this one!). I learnt that when I invited my children to sit in the front row of this battle, to walk alongside me, to contribute their gifts, their fishes and their loaves, that they would also be right there when God showed up, answered prayers, and proved his faithfulness. I learnt that my children would start collecting and telling their own faith stories.
Recalling that memory made me weep; It was the hardest season of my life. But what a sweet reminder of the grace that carries us, that is sufficient for us in our weakness, and that by it, we have hope for weathering the storm that brews around us today.
I am worried about the almost impossible burden of motherhood, in addition to all the other pain, grief and worry over COVID-19. I am concerned that in the wake of what truly is a heavy and exhausting load we have been given to carry, that we will turn to either pride or despair, posturing and pretending, that we will turn away in our (inevitable) failure and shame, and isolate the ones who need us, and who we need most.
As we stand on the edge of what may feel like a dark, uncertain and difficult future, may I invite you to consider God’s faithfulness in the dark and painful seasons of your life you weren’t sure you would survive?
In moments when pride, self-comfort, distraction, armor and masks feel safe and tempting, may I also invite you to consider spending your days humbly turning toward your children rather than away from them?
On days when you feel inadequate, when you have zero idea what you are or should be doing, may I invite you to remember that you were chosen as a gift and provision for them mama, that they were chosen for you and that his grace is sufficient, and that his power is perfected in all of your weakness?
When the hard and heavy burden of mothering during COVID-19 becomes unbearable, impossible and exhausting, may I invite you to remember that He invites his disciples into days marked by the unforced rhythms of grace and rest, and that the yoke he offers you is easy and light?
When isolation is the easier path, may I invite you to consider forging and leaning into life- giving and soul-restoring community, not just with your life group or faith community, but with your babies as well?
When hope feels far away, may I invite you to recall that all of your and their days have been recorded, that all of your and their hairs are numbered, and that maybe just maybe you and they were born for this moment in history, and for the glory of God?
I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about what I want my children to remember about this moment in history, and about what God wants to do or forge during this (pretty intense, and frankly seemingly unending) time together. As I do, I often think about how the people of God, as they traveled through the wilderness towards the promised land would commemorate the faithfulness of God with physical memorials that they would build together and then generations later, would remind them about who God is, and the things God had done. My prayer for my own children, and for yours is that somehow, somewhere, the memories of this season would one day tower over their lives as a memorial to first-hand accounts of the goodness, faithfulness, love and power of God through his people.
I am tempted at this point to provide you with a checklist because I know how much they satiate our anxiety and desire for control, but I am not sure how a checklist would ensure a change in the posture of our hearts. Turn towards the Lord, speak to your friends and your spouse, confess your struggle or your sin.
Turning towards your littles could mean putting your phone down and putting a movie on. It could mean turning the TV off and going for a walk. It could mean burning the schedule or instituting one. It could mean switching off the news or it could mean serving your neighbors together. It could mean becoming a human playground or it could mean instituting a daily house-wide quiet time. Whatever you do, do it not to avoid being seen, but because you ARE, and loved still.
“Now may the LORD of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The LORD be with all of you.” - 2 Thess 3:16