I didn’t realize how much I value freedom until I became a mom.
As the mother of three small kids, I had a tough time bringing the concept of freedom into my new reality. My life was in constant motion every day. It felt like a pendulum swinging between delight in my role as a mom and despair at my unmet personal needs. I felt confused that a role so fulfilling could leave me feeling disconnected, unsettled, and constantly in motion but going nowhere. At a moment’s notice, my emotions could sway from one extreme to the other, the volatility and loss of control leaving me motion sick.
Let’s never pretend that this pendulum swing doesn’t exist. Being a mom can be so beautiful and tender that we think we might burst, only then to encounter moments so difficult and draining that we feel like giving up. We are blessed, obsessed, then over it and done, familiar language in the narrative of motherhood.
Motherhood does not have to be viewed as the sole purpose of our existence, nor does it have to be a series of stages we must endure. Riding that pendulum back and forth between idolization and victimization can create instability not only in our family life but also in our soul.
Getting Free from Extremes
So how can we get off the swinging pendulum and find a better place to land our feet—one that doesn’t deny the difficult reality of raising kids but does provide the stability we need to cope with it?
I didn’t understand the power of freedom in Jesus until I had lived without it for quite some time. I needed Jesus, but I mistook that need for other things I lacked—such as free time, more sleep, and personal space. If I could get those things back, I kept thinking, then I could get my life in order.
I eventually learned that to experience real freedom meant I had to make a jump, to get off the pendulum, constantly swinging from emotional highs to lows, and plant my feet on a foundation that would allow me to navigate the challenges of motherhood in a new way.
Landing on Our Own Strength
When we feel a loss of control, we tend to grasp for some type of security. Maybe it’s better boundaries, increased resources, acquiring more knowledge, or gaining greater efficiency. We build plans, set goals, make spreadsheets, schedule meals—all to engineer a better outcome than what we’re experiencing.
When the chaos of motherhood overwhelmed me, I took another approach. As a natural free spirit, I didn’t reach for plans or charts to help me gain control. I resorted to an attitude of independence. I rewrote the definition of freedom in my own language and on my own terms. I reasoned that if I could dismiss other peoples’ opinions, judgments, and expectations of me, then I could draw confidence from my amazing ability to not follow protocol.
I didn’t have to be a Pinterest mom or a room mom or a homemade-cookie mom because I was my own woman! Nonconformity was my default. That gave me a sense of freedom as a mom.
Even as I embraced that mindset, I still liked that Jesus said he is our foundation (Matthew 7:24–27). I even believed it. His Word made me feel good—an assurance that if the bottom dropped out on my free-spirit approach, I still had a backup plan.
But the truth is that I’d jumped from the pendulum and landed on my own manufactured foundation, a procurement of my own version of freedom. Yes, Jesus was in the picture, but I was viewing him as the safety net below me instead of the very ground upon which I walk every day. For me, free spirit was just a fancy title for pride, and it was a terrible substitute for security. I was no longer swinging with the pendulum, but I was standing on a foundation made of self—full of sin and starved of God.
Over time I started to recognize that there is bondage in the spirit of self-sufficiency, but in the Spirit of the Lord there is true freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Jesus offers everyone (not just moms) a new and better foundation for life when we seek him instead of ourselves. Instead of seeing motherhood and its demands as a barrier to our freedom, we can see it as an opportunity to grow in our dependence on God.
Finding Stability with Freedom
When I took myself out of the equation and really sought God as my foundation, I grew stronger in ways I would have never expected.
Instead of asking how I could become a better mom, wife, coworker, friend, or daughter, I set out to be a better disciple of Christ. As I prayed for wisdom and lived out my faith in community, my perspective on motherhood was renewed and my goals changed. I no longer wanted to keep only the good parts of motherhood while leaving behind the bad; I started to see it all as an opportunity for growth.
When we plant our feet on a foundation of God’s love, we find both stability and freedom. I still acknowledge that motherhood is both challenging and beautiful, but I have learned to see that wide range in light of God’s character rather than allowing the constant oscillation to destabilize me. Instead of being a renegade, seeking my own rights, I’ve found sustenance and power in a God who is greater, a foundation that is stronger.
Oswald Chambers references the example of Paul having been crucified with Christ when he writes: “His individuality had been broken and his spirit had been united with his Lord; not just merged into Him, but made one with Him. ‘. . . you shall be free indeed’—free to the very core of your being; free from the inside to the outside. We tend to rely on our own energy, instead of being energized by the power that comes from identification with Jesus.”
Our responsibility as moms who love Jesus is not to engineer stability on our own but to point our kids to a God who is enough. When we jump from the pendulum, our own instincts will not provide stability and strength. That comes from God, our foundation. We live grounded yet free, and work through the chaos of motherhood with eyes on eternity.
Sandy Hamstra lives in the city of Chicago with her husband and three small kids. She blends being a stay-at-home mom with leading in women’s ministry and engaging her community. She writes at FewerDeeper.com about clearing space for greater depth and is the host of Rooted Chicago on April 23. For more information, visit RootedChicago.org.
Copyright © 2016 by the author and Today’s Christian Woman