A mother is a key facilitator and keeper of our identity formation in Christ. Here's how four women are learning to embrace and appreciate their role as mothers in the nitty-gritty of everyday life based on figures set apart in the Bible.
Feeling Like the Runner-Up
A mom's life is filled with swirling emotions. Satisfaction, love, hope, and excitement can quickly change with a gust of overwork, depression, or disappointment. A busy mom can often suffer from self-imposed self-esteem issues. When most days feel like a marathon of unrelated frantic demands, we wonder if we are living below our potential. We start to wonder if our inadequacies are the reason life is so hard. I lived through one of those frustrating days and wondered if I would ever claim first-prize status again.
My parents had been invited to dinner. My daughter interrupted my cooking and cleaning every 10 minutes, insisting she would die if I didn't finish her new dress for the party tomorrow. Ron left for work in a huff. I couldn't solve my husband's work issues but I also couldn't let it go. I hurt for him and wished I could help.
My inferiority increased with a phone call delivered "in a spirit of love." The caller explained—in detail—everything she felt I was doing wrong. As if filled with all my pressures, the vacuum bag exploded and saturated the entire room in a dust cloud. I gave the old vacuum a proper funeral and trudged to the store.
The traffic jam shifted my "to do" list into late mode and did nothing to lift my spirits. The boys fought in the backseat and my mild headache graduated to a migraine. I rushed through the store and hurried to the end of a checkout line. The line snaked through rows of merchandise to the back of the store. I huffed and puffed and tapped my toe, releasing bits of dust that fell to the floor. I resembled the character Pig-Pen from the Charlie Brown comic strip. I was convinced the department store had applied to the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest lines in the world. I panicked when I remembered my overdue utilities would be shut off if payment wasn't made in 30 seconds. This, of course, was before smartphones and online payments.
Since I was too frustrated to talk to others who were aging in line, I wondered…is this the afternoon my son has a marathon sports event and attendance by parents is mandatory? All I remembered for sure was that Rambo had been hired to track down offenders. I was late to pick up Kenny from music lessons, my church committee had elected me chairperson of hospitality and the pastor had urged me to visit prospective members. My list of things to do was almost as long as the line that tormented my feet.
The cashier finally rang up my items and insisted I should move along. She didn't understand that I'd be happy to move along if she would only dislodge my checkbook from the moveable counter. Everyone froze when I yelled through clenched teeth, "I'm going crazy! Forget 911, call God!"
I've heard that life is an adventurous journey filled with experiences that will shape our inner souls. If that's so, why are so many of my daily routines plagued with the thought that I'm trying to run through sticky tar? Have you ever wanted to get off the pressured highway and turn on to some tree-lined side street with porch swings and the scent of cooling apple pies? I imagine soft breezes floating through lush green tree leaves and tickling blooming flowers of every color. I love it when images of lemonade and giggling children float across my mind. I dream of a beautiful home with every item organized and a schedule that runs as easily as the ticking clock in the hallway. When are my children going to rise up and call me blessed? In reality I'm boiling in traffic and wondering what I can do to make some progress.
When a crazy day breaks on our horizon, it's easy to feel like runner-up.
We assume we just don't measure up to the winner's circle. Even with a high-five from our family, we can feel frustrated and depleted. Do you ever have the nagging feeling that you've forgotten something important? We hug and love our children. We decorate for holidays and volunteer for PTA. We even set aside time to date our husbands. Yet in quiet moments we succumb to the feeling that something is missing or even worse…that something is wrong.
It's not long until another crazy day hits and we feel guilty because we can't be super moms. We lose our day-planner or too many interruptions sneak into our somewhat organized life. Within minutes we are standing in a room of vacuum cleaner dust and wondering why we just can't get it together.
I'll bet you've even had a day when you saw an old friend in the mall dressed to the hilt and pushing a stroller occupied by a quiet smiling toddler. You turn away so she won't see you. She must have it all together. Confident that she isn't capable of losing it, you look in the store window, spot a French fry clinging to your shoulder, and suddenly feel like second runner-up. Too bad you won't be there tomorrow when your friend has her runner-up day. Believe me, darling—no one is perfect.
What does the Bible say?
Sometimes the very thing that is supposed to bring comfort does a U-turn somewhere in our brain. Instead of taking comfort, we fall knee-deep in guilt. The Proverbs 31 description of a woman makes me wonder if I possess any of those qualities. Just reading the list can cause a river of tears as I blubber a prayer to let God know how much I honestly want to please him. Sometimes I even pray something profound like "God, it's my faults that cause problems. If I didn't have faults, I promise I would be perfect for you." Well, duh!
"But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
How am I supposed to be perfect when I can't get to church on time? I want to please God. Yet more often than not, my desires collide with my inadequacies and I am filled with regret. I am positive that God not only knows my life but he also understands. Yet when the drama heats up and life is overwhelming, I give into the thought that he's peeking around a cloud and shaking his head in frustration.
Jesus can be our example
Jesus illustrated the calm assurance of complete control. I can picture him quietly walking by the seashore and patiently teaching his disciples. The disciples were a blend of swirling emotions, inadequacies, and problems. Yet he took their love for God and transformed them into a powerful group of men.
God may have watched with great love and pride as Jesus took time for the children, sitting them on his lap and enjoying their playfulness. I'm sure he was proud when Jesus tediously and methodically taught principles to the often clueless followers who were hungry for God's message. Jesus had only three years to complete his mission, but he never hurried. Even when his dearest friend became ill and was destined to die, Jesus remained calm.
Jesus and his quiet ways seem unrealistic for today. We're addicted to overwork and emotional stress. Do you have days when you feel like your whole world is crashing around you and you're powerless to control anything? Take a deep breath and remember that Jesus can calm your emotions the same way he calmed the sea (Mark 4:39)
When I feel overwhelmed it seems like a good idea to call 911 for emergency help. In fact, I've wondered if I could check into the hospital with chronic Life-us-deluge-ica. It's wonderful to dream of three square meals, a nice warm bed, and a nurse insisting that I rest. Unfortunately, the hospital escape will not permanently solve the problem.
We need a God to love us wherever we are. He is big enough to love us in the middle of vacuum dust, covered in Vaseline, or with mud balls clinging to the sides of our rusty cars. No matter how you feel today, the reality of the good news is that God loves you no matter what your circumstances. When your child blurts out his potty needs in the middle of the Christmas play, God chuckles and loves you even more. When you offer to cut your husband's steak at a fancy business dinner, God smiles and sends his love to you. When you hold the hand of a dear friend as you pray for the souls of your children, God sends his anointing.
I've found that the best solution for my aching self-esteem is to know that in God's eyes there is no runner-up. No matter how many burp stains on my clothes, how many times I lose my temper or run late for an appointment, I am still number-one in his eyes. God doesn't make carbon copies. I am not required to be like anyone else. I don't have to clean like my mother or sing like my best friend. I'm not required to strive for the perfect goals of Suzy Homemaker. We are all original and unique and God likes it that way. My only requirement is to love God with all my heart and take care of my family to the best of my ability.
The next time you are overwhelmed with life and you feel like a runner-up, remember that all God wants is for you to be the best "you" possible.
I love Psalm 85:10. The chapter may not refer to my life, but this verse brings me joy. "Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed!"
In my mind I see God looking at my love and faithfulness. His righteousness covers my inadequacies and peace is delivered in the form of a kiss. In that moment I am free. In that moment I win first prize.
Debbie Jansen is The Mommy Detective. www.themommydetective.com