By the time I was 21, I had been thoroughly inoculated against any threat of marriage by the wistful comments of my married friends: “Oh, you can do that now, but just wait till you get married and have kids . . .” They painted an image of a small, constricted world with no scented candles (dangerous open flame!), no possibility of travel (too complicated!), and no orderly bookcases (kids destroy everything!).
When I eventually did get married and start a family, I was determined to prove them all wrong. I bent over backward to prove that nothing in my life had changed. Sure, we had a new baby, but we strapped our firstborn into his fifty-pound car seat for long road trips. We dragged ourselves through antique stores and spent Saturdays doing yard work together. We welcomed houseguests into our fixer-upper and fed them from the produce grown in our huge garden. We did it! Life went forward unchanged — except that I was exhausted all the time.
Today, nearly thirty years later, I want to pour that tired woman a steaming mug of tea, sit across the table from her, and whisper to her that no is not forever, but it can be a freeing word when we say it at the right time. I would tell her to get comfortable with uncertainty in the small details and to sharpen her understanding of God’s sovereignty over every season of life. Then I would offer three insights that I discovered on the job, but wish I had known from the start.
Lesson 1: Make the truth your home.
We have a choice to make every day as to whether we will dwell on the positive or the negative aspects of that day. Will we choose to focus on negative campaign ads, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, and the parts of our schedule we can’t control — or will we hand our anxieties over to the God of the universe? We might employ the apostle Paul’s language and call this taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
If this sounds impossible to you, then you’re on the right track. Paul was not a self-help guru, and while he knew where his bootstraps were and could employ them as needed (and so should we!), nowhere in Scripture do we get the message that Christianity is a self-improvement project. The discipline of our mind, emotions, and will is just one battle in the believer’s ongoing warfare, and God has equipped us with weapons that are effective for that spiritual battle. Psalm 1 describes the way of the righteous as a way that is steeped in biblical truth. God’s word is an object of delight and regular meditation.
During one long February of serial stomach viruses and lonely isolation with my four sick kids, I discovered that regular doses of gospel truth were far more effective than caffeine or a girlfriend chat. Even the Son of God, in his time on earth, used Scripture as a potent weapon against evil, and he’s our example. The point is to give the truth more room in your life than you are giving to the screaming banshees inside your head.
“In the endless monotony of laundry and food preparation, our hearts need a beautiful horizon of truth ahead of us.”
In the endless monotony of laundry and food preparation, our hearts need a beautiful horizon of truth ahead of us to energize our efforts. Love of Christ fueled by biblical knowledge motivates daily obedience and inspires a healthy longing for his return.
Lesson 2: You are more than what you do.
As believers, we embrace the truth that our salvation comes to us by grace, but when it comes to living the Christian life, we’re often not so sure. New mothers can be some of the worst Pharisees. Cloth diapers versus disposables, breastfeeding versus formula, eventually how we educate our children — they all become points upon which we divide and judge one another.
I chose to quit working outside the home after the birth of our oldest son, and since we homeschooled, my résumé went on mothballs for over twenty years. Whenever I allowed myself to “walk . . . in the counsel of the wicked,” I felt apologetic about my choice (Psalm 1:1). Maybe I really could “have it all”? Was I missing out by not having a career?
Then, listening to a different chorus of error, I would begin to define myself as a “stay-at-home mum,” making it the most important element of my identity. I was tempted to condemn the choices of other mums, and that habit of comparison built walls where bridges of understanding would have been so much more redemptive.
Finding grace to “delight in the law of the Lord,” to focus on who God is, enabled me to accept who I was (Psalm 1:2). Whether you stay home full time with your children or continue to be employed in some capacity, your “job” does not define you. You may prepare menus and grocery lists a month in advance, or you may do your best meal planning standing in front of an open refrigerator door. You may vacuum daily, preside over a miraculous two-day laundry turnaround time, and administer a color-coded family calendar on your kitchen wall. Or you may function so well on the fly that planning ahead feels like going to jail.
There is no formula for perfect parenting. You will never be a perfect wife or a perfect mother — but you may drive yourself and your family crazy trying to be. There was free and abundant grace available when God first saved you. Why should it suddenly be scarce?
Lesson 3: Build habits you can fall back on.
When you are tired, emotionally spent, or simply not paying attention, you will fall back on your habits. Strong spiritual practices give your mind a good place to go so that it can direct your heart toward its rightful Object. The blessing of strong roots is promised to the one who meditates on Scripture “day and night” (Psalm 1:2–3). As a young mother, I wanted to be rooted in truth, stable and reliable from day to day, so that my children would be able to make the leap from dependable parent to dependable God.
“When you are tired, emotionally spent, or simply not paying attention, you will fall back on your habits.”
Memorizing Psalm 103 provided praise words for a tired brain. Learning Psalm 91 reassured me that God would be trustworthy. Soaking in the truth of Romans 8 reinforced my trust in God’s persistent, never-giving-up love that would flow to me and my family. Truth from Psalm 1 was fuel for living a righteous life as a mother.
Motherhood is certainly not the only path to sanctification, but its challenges pushed me toward a deeper dependence upon God and the miracle of actual righteousness that the Holy Spirit alone can produce in me. For example, the habit of confession paves the way to clear communication with God and others. The habit of taking God’s new mercies every morning makes it a whole lot easier to extend grace and forgiveness to your family as the day wears on.
Someday your family will be full grown, and you will want to have grown full of wisdom in your prayers for them and in your counsel to them. Your journey of faith will continue. I know this because I am still a work in progress today, still grace-dependent, and still sticking close to truth as the only safe home for my heart and mind. For this and for whatever lies ahead, God has more grace than we can begin to imagine.