Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Mother in Process, Clinging to Hope

[part 3 in a series...start with part 1]

A while back, a friend of mine wrote an inspiring post about how it’s easier to share about our struggles once we’ve conquered them. Jenny said:

Sure it would be easy to wait 'til I was dried, fluffed, and sassy to tell the story. But I think that we as Christians do that too much already. We want to wait until there is a neat bow on the story to share it. I want to wait until there is a bow...

But I share what I'm going through in hope, in faith that I will not always be this way.

So I am writing this series on motherhood; I am putting my vulnerable heart out there. Because like Jenny, I have hope that I will not always be this way.

The last 20 months have been the hardest of my life. Motherhood has been a dark road, full of ugliness as I am slammed day after day with the selfishness that pervades my heart. Again and again I am confronted with the nasty, painful truth about my self-centered desires and my pathetic weakness, my angry impatience when a toddler’s needs thwart my cravings for comfort, ease, pleasure.

I adore the belly laughs, the cheeky grins, the "squeezes." I can't get enough of the dancing, the singing, the moment of recognition in learning something new. But then…I’m enjoying some quiet time early in the morning, and the monitor pierces the stillness with agitated squawking a full hour before I expected to have to go upstairs. I’m trying to fix breakfast, and no matter how quickly I work, my reassurances of food coming soon only serve to escalate the whining. I'm witnessing firsthand where the phrase “blood-curdling scream” came from, and I have no way of knowing what he wants. It’s hard to know who’s more frustrated.

Discouragement threatens to overwhelm (and often does) when I see my sin only revealed and exposed, not removed or transformed. Many days I am miserable. It is an ugly thing to admit, that I could ever be miserable mothering a precious, beautiful little boy—but it is the raw truth.

The quote above from my friend Jenny refers to something Brad O’Donnell once told Nichole Nordeman:

Christians are somehow prone to talking more about where they’ve been instead of where they are. Very few people want to speak up while they are in process… They’d rather wait until their junk is resolved, so they can give a 'testimony' about the happy ending. As it relates to your writing, please don’t feel the need to tie it up with a bow at the end."
I am very much “in process,” with plenty of unresolved junk and no immediate happy ending in sight. I’ve learned that I am definitely not a fan of the newborn stage (and that my perspective is more common than I realized), and at various times over the last several months, my hope has been in many different things, especially Elijah’s growth. Sure that the next stage will be an improvement, I so easily get caught up in the mindset of, “I can’t wait until Elijah can [fill in the blank].” Most recently, I remarked that I thought I would be a new woman once I had a verbal child—I figured motherhood would be so much more fun when I could really communicate with my son.

I can’t tie this story up with a neat bow yet, much as I’d like to. But as much for myself as for my readers, I can’t leave the loose ends hanging in sin and despair. Bit by bit, however agonizingly slowly, I’m learning that my hope cannot be in that simple phrase “it gets better!”, in a future day when motherhood will be easier or more fun, when circumstances will change. My hope must be in the God who will sustain me in the meantime—and in His promise that it WILL get much, much better. Perhaps in a few months or years, yes, but even more so in eternity, when I am free from this sin-sick heart and can glorify Him like I was created to do.

In the meantime, I keep plodding on, muddling through mothering. I keep trying to point myself, and my son, and you, to the One who died to set me free from sin and despair—the One who alone can bring peace and joy in the midst of motherhood.

[tomorrow: conclusion to the series]


Anonymous said...

Maybe part of your problem is that you view being frustrated as "sin."

What's "sinful" about being irked by a toddler's whining?

Finding certain things frustrating and annoying, or being impatient, are parts of being human. Do you view every negative human emotion as sinful per se?

I've really enjoyed your recent posts on motherhood, but I must say that you've confused me a bit with this one.

Anonymous said...

I admire your honesty; it's rare.
But oh, how it hurts. I know
sorrow. I am going to guess that
intense pain and sorrow (prior to the discontentment of motherhood) are foreign to you...Praying that you will be shown the depth of God's Goodness to you--in a way that you have never fully realized before. As one whose heart has
been broken in countless ways,
I hope you will begin to savor
every day of this time in your
life. This is manna from Heaven
compared to the lives of so many.
I know--you already know that...
but I think it hasn't fully
soaked into the depths of your

Anonymous said...

I definitely identify with seeing my selfishness more and more. And I see this as a good thing. I'd never see it so clearly if I didn't have kids.

Can I encourage you with something? 2 Cor. 3:5 says, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God."

The fact is none of us are "adequate" for motherhood, even the gals who enjoy every minute of it. I know you know that already. :) But it's something I know I must keep in mind.

Kay Arthur says, "Our adequacy comes from God and God alone. And when we stop and remember this truth . . . then we'll have a heart for God. God as our source, our sufficiency, and hence our adequacy. Adequacy for any and every situation." Feeling inadequate isn't a bad thing, but only if it drives us to Christ vs. feelings of condemnation or comparison. It sounds like you're striving to do this already, but I wanted to encourage you with the scripture and the quote, because they encouraged me!

Brenna Kate Simonds, Living Unveiled said...

I've had similar struggles, but I, like Anonymous #1, don't allows jump to the conclusion that it's my "sin". I think it's a whole complicated combination of things that begins with the fact that we as a society struggle so much with connecting and supporting each other.

Zoanna said...

I am praying for you, Amy, as I pray for myself, that you will come to appreciate the joy that exists in suffering as a mother. I don't know how to articulate it other way than to say that it comes from Christ. Someday your little guy will thank you . I know it's really tough right now to wonder if you are making a difference, but you ARE! God sees! Thank Him not only for the privilege of being called "Mommy" but that you can call God "Daddy!"
He is Your very present help. See Elijah as if he were Jesus in a diaper. Surely He cried in his preverbal state and Mary didn't know what to do for him. But she had Abba to ask, "What do I do for this baby You've given me?" I'm sure in Mary's selfishness she didn't always remember Who she was pouring her life out for. Nor do we.

I can tell you from experience that it helps to practice seeing your baby as an adult, and to work on the skills he will need as an adult. ONe of those IS the ability to talk, not whine, so when he uses the socially unacceptable behavior of whining, speak to him without whining back (which is a mom's kneejerk reaction).

As for anonymous 2's comment, frustration is a euphemism for anger. It places the blame on the other person for my not getting what I want (peace and quiet, a complete thought, a bath, a hot meal, a nap, whatever). Granted, the child/person may well be misbehaving, but that doesn't excuse our response. The easiest and best way to get of frstration (anger/impatience/) or any other sin is first to call it what it is and then ask God to forgive you for it. I suffered more from my lack of repentance than ANYTHING else motherhood-related. O

Okay, 'nuff said. I restate: I am praying for your change of perspective and thank you for opening up in such a way that makes it possible to pray specifically.

Zoanna said...

I meant to write "easiest way to get RID of frustration."

Amy said...

Anonymous #2:
I am so sorry for whatever pain you have experienced. I am sure I probably could not even imagine the depths of the sorrow that has grieved you.

I can clearly see that your words were well-meaning and thoughtful, and they are absolutely true. However, they still feel like arrows to a wounded heart. In all honesty, comments like yours illustrate exactly why I was afraid to put up this series in the first place, and why I am now considering taking the whole thing down.

My pain may be different than yours in kind and degree...but that doesn't make it any less real. Your comments feel invalidating and hurtful.

Saying what's strictly true isn't always helpful or loving. Comparing our own pain to others' seems a fruitless exercise. Who among us has suffered like Job did--or like Christ? Yet telling a person that they should be grateful, that at least they don't have it as bad as so-and-so, doesn't make that person's pain any less real.

I am acutely aware (and grateful) that God has, so far, mercifully spared me from great tragedy and loss. He has blessed me far, far beyond what I deserve. That's precisely why, unlike those who have experienced understandably crippling loss, my pain in the midst of blessing is weighted with guilt and shame.

I’ve expressed in these posts that I feel incredibly guilty for not loving motherhood. I look in the mirror every day and hate the selfish, ungrateful wretch motherhood has revealed me to be. Do you think I don't feel like s**t for not consistently viewing my beautiful little boy as the blessing that I *know* he is?

I don't expect everyone to understand or be able to relate to me. But I do ask that they not invalidate my experience. However absolutely true your words are, and however gracious and gentle you obviously tried to be, it feels like, "shame on you." And I've experienced plenty of shame already.

Zoanna said...

I hope my words didn't land like "shame on you." If so, I am really, really sorry. You KNOW I am well-acquainted with postpartum depression and feeling like a wretched mother and have nothing but understanding and compassion for you. I cringe thinking that my printed words were among the 'well-intentioned but hurtful" ones. I'm so good at that, it's embarrassing.

God forbid! I am only try to offer hope. I don't believe for one minute that everyone who is called to something by God loves every minute of it. EVen pastors who love their congregations don't like everyone or don't complain to God about the whining, and they probably feel less than ideal as pastors for having such thoughts that are less than compassionate.
We mothers tend to put an extraordinary amount of guilt on ourselves for not measuring up to the "ideal" , whatever THAT is!

Better days are coming. I know I enjoyed age 3 and up much better when mine were growing. That's okay! As a teacher I am not drawn to pre-readers; it's not my style but I don't feel guilty. Relax and just say, "I love my boy, but I am looking forward to a time that's not so hard." It's OOOOOkayyyy:)

Amy said...

Zo--no apology necessary--your words weren't at all what I was referring to. thanks for the encouragement.

Megan said...

I, for one, am GLAD you're writing about this. I came across your blog from a friend's about a year ago and was sort of in awe with how perfect your life seemed. Hard-working husband, cute baby, great house, plenty of money, thin body.. you seem really perfect. :) It's almost refreshing to hear that you aren't always 100% happy. I feel like I can empathize with you!

I hope that doesn't sound backhanded or rude. I really just mean that I admire your honesty. It is SO NICE to read something raw and not sugar-coated or overzealously fakey. Thank you! I think you're really great!! :)

I hope it gets better. Maybe a new routine? Or a babysitting swap?

Jennifer said...

Dear Amy,
There is much I want to write in response to this, but maybe it's time I wrote my own story.

Thank you for sharing, for spurring me to share. Watch PeaceLedge for posts about this. I've been open about my own experiences in person, but here in the electronic world I've hesitated, partly because of not always knowing who my audience is. Now is time to open up, I think.

Blessings to you, Amy. You are precious.

Amy said...

Megan - no worries, I understand what you're saying. I've felt the same way about others! Everyone else's life always looks so great from the outside...someone once wisely told me that it's not fair to judge your insides against another person's outsides. If only I could remember that... Anyway, I'm glad you're clear now on the truth that I and my life are most definitely NOT perfect ;)

Jennifer - I'll really look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

A repentant Anyonymous #2 here:
I'm very sorry, Amy. I see how
you must have felt at my comments,
though I truly was feeling more
impressed with your honesty than
anything else! I am sick inside
to know that my one critical remark so damaged you. Again,
I am sorry. At times in my
life when I haven't been able
to shake a time of despair,
tough words have seared me, yet
have encouraged me at the same time. I hope you will forgive me for hurting you...I in no way desired to make you feel even more bogged down in misery. And, while I can not find the strength to share my own stories of anguish, I hope you'll believe me when I say that I have been at the darkest bottom of the deepest pit in the last couple of years. And yes, I admit, that when one of my sorrows was long term infertility,and now
health problems in our one miracle
baby, it did make your honesty about selfishness being the root of
your pain, harder for me. Still,
I should have said nothing at all
and I am truly sorry. I'm hurting
and I'm human, too, Amy. Lest I
fall into a darker hole myself
right now, I ask you to forgive
me. I won't ever comment again
and I pray that you will continue
your heart-felt transparency,
which is so sorely needed amongst
Christian women. I know from your blog that you are a beautiful example of Christianity in so many ways...Please pretend that I don't exist. I'm so sorry.
In His Love....

Amy said...

Anonymous #2: Thank you for your heartfelt apology, which I am glad to accept and forgive. I can hear the pain in your words, and I want to offer my own apology for any ways I have contributed to that.

I needed to respond to your first comment, not only for myself, but on behalf of any women reading this blog series who feel as I do and would react to your comment as I did. I had to ask my dear husband to help me temper my response so that I was not simply lashing out from a place of pain. Please know that my intention was not to hurt you with my reply, only to clarify my position and explain how, in a variety of situations, certain responses to people's pain aren't helpful. I do appreciate your tender heart and your desire to encourage.

I hate to hear you ask me to "pretend that you don't exist." I wish I could know you and understand more of your beautiful heart.

Anonymous said...

wow, I love that quote about Christians only talking about where they've BEEN instead of where they are. That really resonnated with me. How true.

I enjoy reading your blog and I'm also guilty of not updating mine as much as I should. Thanks again for sharing!