The rain drops steady, pouring over my children's trees and the turtle sandbox and the deflated pool. Thankfully, the July heat has abated for a day, even if the humidity has not. I watch the water fall, surrounding me with a soft white noise environment. Kipper and Tiger are entertaining the kids in the next room, and I'm trying, unsuccessfully, to analyze and bandage my heart. Lately, it seems to be raining too, struggling with too many thoughts and feelings and soul cultivation. It seems that God has been over-watering, even though I know that's not possible. I want to hear what God is really doing, but the constant dripping is starting to feel uncomfortable. Give me a brief lesson and wrap it neat, please, and let me get back to ruling my roost with competence. Despite all that I have been feeling, competence isn't one of them.
Since my summer course finished, my cravings for more time with the Lord and more time to study have been slowly increasing to meet that desire, albeit not full throttle as I do still keep three small children with me. Uninterrupted focus time doesn't happen very often. When it does, I want to hole up with a Concordance and read and write and not hear, "Mommy, he just..."
Honestly, I'm ready for a retreat: a spiritual place that permits me to run away and iron out these questions and ponderings and ask Him, "What was it you were trying to say, God?"
Sunday my heart overflowed even more and the water came out through my eyes. It's not easy experiencing these same sin struggles for six years, knowing full well what I should do and feeling frustrated at how sinful I am. Sometimes I allow myself to be as disgusted with my sin as I know God is. But, I fall into a pit when I then think God is disgusted with me. Was I worth the save, Lord? I wanted something different, something other, something "more" and now I'm feeling trapped at home. I can't seem to get this parenting thing and I'm feeling squelched. Why can't I just enjoy my life and live it? I want a job I can feel successful in.
Christian communities have been on this trend of "radical faith" where we give it all up to do something extreme, impacting the world and giving up the lie of "the American dream." It sounds attractive, tempting even. Before I had three, small, intense human beings, I carried hopes of birthing world-changing books and traveling and meeting with women and teaching. Now, my prayers have morphed into, "Please help them to appreciate one another and play 5 minutes without fighting." "Cultivate humility in her." "Soften his bitter temper toward his sister." "Please help me through terrible twos." "Please just get me through this day." And over all, let it be enough.
Because as mighty as mothering is, it feels like a job set in defeat. It's the most underpaid, under-appreciated, over-worked job I can think of. And at the end of 18 years, there's no guarantee it will "all pay off." I'd rather have a radical position where people patted me on the back and thought my ministry was amazing. Just being honest. But, I'm at home.
On top of all those doubts and frustrations, we are often combating the pressures of this world. "Oh, you're a stay-at-home mom?" Hmm... Didn't aspire to anything more, aye? And the church isn't much better; we applaud the charity starters, and the trafficking rescuers, and the Bible study speakers, and the ministry leaders, and those who are pounding the streets of our cities, meeting the needs of the homeless and drug-worn. We say, "Great job; you're doing kingdom work, you are." But a stay-at-home mom gets little accolade.
What if what's really radical to our culture is to minimize all the achievements and focus instead on doing one thing with intention? Can a woman do more than "just" stay at home? Probably. Should she? Not always. Depending on the age of the children and their personalities and the dynamics of the home, sometimes it's best to say "no." Ministering to other people's needs will cause my children's spiritual lives to suffer. After all, they are my first calling. There's no hard and fast rule; the line is different for every family and season of life and the Holy Spirit has to be the One to guide you toward those decisions. The question worth asking is this: what motivates you to say "yes" or "no"?
My natural tendency is to immerse myself in ministry, have college students over, join a couple Bible studies, write a book--basically, be the next Lifeway speaker, etc. I love mentoring and being mentored. I love studying, and writing, and all things discipleship. I adore time focused on worship, and God is developing a heart of prayer in this fix-it, take-charge personality. Lately, God has asked me to step back and push reset. Simplify. Do it for the right reason: because I asked you to.
I lead a women's Bible study at our church. I pray for people after our church service. That's it. Have I been asked to do other things. Yes, I have. Some of them I wanted to do. But I knew it wasn't in the best interest of my family. It's healthy for your kids to see you minister to the needs of others; as I often tell them, "it's not all about you," but neither should it be "all about the others." Children need reassurance that they aren't insignificant inconveniences to your real pursuits--something I have failed at from time to time.
And whether I enjoy it or not, find affirmation or not, my children are my primary ministry. Their hearts and minds are seeking, and someone reliable needs to be there to listen and answer. They need attention from me, they need love, they need training, boundaries, and truth. Our home's rhythm needs to carry a steady pace of security and balance and reassurance.
So, even though my heart longs for the mountain-top of "wow" ministry, for this season, I will remain in the valleys of ministering to three small people who are wrestling through their own doubts and ponderings, trying to grow up and understand the world around them. Because it's in these shadowed areas of fatigue and self-doubt that God refines my character and forms me more in His image. Because in humility, I have to recognize that I'm okay even if I feel insufficient and tired.
Despite what I thought God might have had for me, this life is my true life and I need to re-channel my passion and devotion into it.
"I've spent so much of my life valuing the radical above the ordinary. The most important jobs were the ones with eternal significance. The most important tasks were spiritual. Everything else had less value. As long as I was in ministry, I was safe. But what about now? Now I'm simple. I'm just another mom. Another woman at the ATM on a Tuesday afternoon, heading home to fold laundry and take out the trash. I have a deep-rooted fear that God is simply the Trophy-Giver, conferring honors on the hardest workers, And I'm not doing enough to deserve anything." (Micha Boyett, Found 71)
I am halfway through Micha's story of "questions, grace, and everyday prayer," and how she uncovers the beauty of receiving grace for where she's at: aligning the truth of God against the fears. Within these pages of confusion and Benedictine practices in a modern world--something I know little of--and insecurities, I've found a kindred sister. I am learning to let go more and more. It's okay to continue in a job you feel ill-qualified for. It's okay to persist even without the achievement badge of excellence. I can do this because I am leaning into the Lord. And in his eyes, it's a ministry worth doing.