Hope Bonarcher threw herself into motherhood, trying to do everything perfectly. But, as she became more and more exhausted, God began to teach her a better way
I really struggle as a mother sometimes…OK, a lot of the time. I became a Christian 13 years ago and within a year of my conversion was a newlywed and mother-to-be. I was not raised in the Church and have a pretty untraditional family of origin. So not only did I take my new life as seriously as a sobriety test, God cast me in what was, to my mind, the pinnacle role of any self-respecting child of God; that of (drum roll please)…stay-at-home mum.
I took on the roll with gusto. I stepped away from my career as a model and actress I’d dedicated nearly a decade to building, like it was a hot potato. When my babies came I nursed them exclusively; I became a mum of four, none of whom have ever touched a bottle.
We need God, our children need God and our children need to see us needing God
My husband travels for work and we didn’t live near family, so most of the time it was my job to provide everything my children needed, waking or sleeping, apart from finances. This included the right sleep training along with the perfect schedule and long walks around the park every day.
I curbed my diet when my children developed allergies to certain irritants in my breast milk. My eldest never stayed with anyone besides me until she was a toddler. I didn’t even leave my children with my own mother until I had been a mum for four years – by that time I had three little ones. I was actively choosing to lay my life down for my children. However, as I remember those early mothering years now, I’m reminded of Abraham. God wanted to know that Abraham was willing to sacrifice what was most valuable to him, but ultimately it was God who provided the sacrifice (see Genesis 22).
The fragility of motherhood
A few more years into motherhood now, partially sad and totally exhausted, I ask myself the age-old capitalist question: What do I have to show for my efforts? My children aren’t perfect. They fight and enjoy winding each other up. I’m not the perfect mother either.
This morning I asked my youngest if I was ever a mean mummy, to which he sweetly replied: “Like when you told me I’m annoying?” (Ouch). My marriage isn’t perfect. My husband and I quite simply don’t complete each other (sorry romantics). My house isn’t perfect. In fact, my blood pressure rises when I think about tidying. I anticipate how soul crushing it will be when it is back to its usual shambolic state within hours of all the wasted effort. Laundry is never ending, food shopping never ceases and meal preparation is regularly juggled alongside a stream of interruptions, tantrums and tears.
This is the honest picture of my life and, for all intents and purposes, my sacrificial attempts at whipping myself at the altar of Christian motherhood in order that I might be worthy and pleasing to God doesn’t seem to be working.
Do you know why this is? Because human beings (mums included) are fragile, needy people. We need to eat regularly, and sleeplessness quickly begins to impede our ability to function optimally. Fragility was built into humanity. Spiritually speaking, we need only one source of comfort and replenishment. We were designed to rely on God as our source of life.
Self-sufficiency, and the lie that we can be the all-providing source of all of the needs of any human, including our children, is so deceptive. We need God, our children need God and our children need to see us needing God. Though our needful state isn’t pretty, the blessed ugly, broken, inability is necessary to drive us to our true source, El-Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.
Learning to look to God
My well-intentioned but ineffective habit of driving myself to the point of over exhaustion comes from a worldly mentality. Dot all the ‘i’s, cross all the ‘t’s, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to please. Make master happy and he will accept me. But that is not the way that God works.
Take a look at the following excerpt from Isaiah, paying attention to what God told his people would have brought them ultimate help and satisfaction. Instead, they chased errantly after the ways of Egypt; planning, consulting and seeking safety in the familiar, performance-based ethos of the land they had been delivered from:
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’ But the only swiftness you are going to see is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!
One of them will chase a thousand of you. Five of them will make all of you flee. You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.” So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help” (Isaiah 30:15-18, NLT).
When I am finally tired of being a lonely flagpole, God is waiting for me to come to him for help
When I am finally tired of being a lonely flagpole, God is waiting for me to come to him for help. He wants to show me his faithfulness, love and compassion. He knows I need help in the mummy department. In fact, God has been with me every step of my journey; after all, he planted me here!
Christian mums’ utmost responsibility is to train our children in the ways of the Lord. Our hearts to serve and love our children are fashioned in the likeness of the very cloth our heavenly teacher used to wash his disciples’ feet. But obedience is better than sacrifice.
This longing to love and serve, protect and lead our little ones must flow from a desire to emulate the One who loved us first, while resting in the fruit of the cost he paid for us to come boldly to his throne. Jesus served from a place of dependence upon his Father, evidenced by time alone with him. His sacrifice covers us while our obedience glorifies him. I struggle as a Christian mum; I will let the evidence of my frailty drive me to the throne of grace so I can find his grace in my time of need, sharing the overflow with my family.