Month: May 2016
Last week, we established that women are divinely designed, especially equipped, and completely and confidently called to pursue life-giving activities including motherhood. Which is beautiful and comforting and even inspiring to learn about, but what in the world does it mean for real life living and mothering? How do I maximize my divine design and employ my especial equipping 🙂 as I confidently and completely live out my calling??? What does it look like to have an undivided heart on a daily basis, at 3am or 3pm or anywhere in between?? Where do I even start?
And while I have yet to find the Motherhood for Dummies book that I think should answer these questions step-by-step :), Sally does a wonderful job at summarizing what she has learned from her own motherhood adventure to encourage us and give us practical ideas of just that. In the next four sections, she will have us journey through the facets of our undivided hearts, focusing on what mothering looks like in connection to our heart for our God, our heart for our children, our heart for our home, and our heart for eternity. Are you ready to dive in with me??
A Mother’s Heart for Her God
To maximize our life-giving calling as women, it makes sense that the place we should start would be at the source of life itself: our God. While we may not have step-by-step instructions specifically geared towards mothering, we do have an amazing instruction manual for living the Christian life through scripture, and I love that Sally uses the same principles we learn for living out our faith as ways to make the most of our mothering as well. She summarizes these principles into 3 core concepts that we can apply to others as well as our children to help them get to know our God: serving, discipling, and teaching.
- Serving: As we know from some of the previous books we have read, one of the main components of our faith involves serving others. This service involves humbling ourselves and putting the needs of others first out of a purposeful choice, not our of a lack of self or forceful obligation. It is an intentional decision and can take a variety of shapes and sizes from making meals to washing feet to paying a bill to cutting grass; if there is a need someone has that you are willing to meet through time, effort, or finances, then you are living out your call to service. One of the great and yet sometimes overwhelming things about motherhood is that there are endless opportunities to serve our children on a daily basis within our own home. Now before you balk at this suggestion, hear me out. I am not a proponent of co-dependent mothering, where the focus is always the children and whatever they want goes at the detriment of the mother, or spoiling children by giving in to their every desire and not teaching them about the concepts of “no” or “later,” but somehow over the years, the idea of a child needing a parent or serving our children as Christ served His disciples has become confused with these unhealthy parenting styles. Giving our children our time and sharing with them our lives is exactly what parenting is all about, as Christ modeled for us on multiple occasions (His time with the disciples, serving them through foot-washing and feedings, and inviting children to interrupt and spend time with Him throughout his ministry). Recognizing their needs based on their current level of development and seeking to meet them even if it means less sleep or not getting to watch the latest episode of my tv show or having to put my phone down for a moment so I can pay attention to his knock-knock joke for the 50trillionth time is exactly what I should be doing right now. And is it really that bad if I go beyond that and actually try to serve them beyond their needs and just set out to love them?? A resounding NO. Our God went way beyond our needs when He not only saved us from an eternity without Him, but also created an opportunity for us to live an abundant life in relationship with him and we are encouraged to do the same with those around us, but even more so to the little audience we have right within our home. One important note here: Service with strings attached is not service at all. While Sally shared an intense story of a mom who apparently did not really want to have children in the first place and was resenting their pull at her own life, I have found that many moms (myself included) have small amounts of resentment boiling under the surface that grows with every need or request or service for her children if not confronted. Could you imagine if Jesus said, “I guess I will wash your feet because I have to, but you better realize what a big deal this is for me.” If that were the case, I know it would change my entire perspective of His gift and His love for me. And yet, I do this all the time in my head and sometimes to their faces with my littles: Do you know how hard I worked to get that meal ready that you will not eat? Do you know how many nights I haven’t slept because you needed me? Do you know how many of “my” moments I have missed because I had to be with you? Do you know how long I was in labor to have you? They sound horrible in writing them out, but the raw reality is that we are human and these thoughts and feelings are real reflections of having to sacrifice our selfishness and choose to serve our children wholeheartedly as we mother them. While we can still teach them appreciation (mommy worked very hard on dinner so even if you do not like it, it is kind to say thank you), our service should come from an unconditional and giving place that does not involve resentment. When we show them what this true service looks like as we live with them each day, we give them a glimpse into how Christ loves and serves them as well.
- Discipling: Another component of living out our Christian faith is following the Great Commission, or going and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). Again, this commission applies to all of us regardless of gender or parental status, but we are given a unique opportunity to implement discipleship within our homes when we seek to make disciples of our little ones. As Sally shares, discipleship goes beyond just teaching morality, but is truly about shaping hearts to love and grow in knowing the Lord (p. 80). To do this, there are three practices involved: instructing, training and guarding.
- Instructing actually means imparting knowledge, so that our children know the basic tenants of our faith and values and have a foundation from which to grow. Just like we teach them letters and numbers and colors, there are spiritual truths we can impart as the basics of faith that they can them recognize and apply to the world around them (the grass is green; God loves me and has a plan for me).
- Training is showing our children how to apply this knowledge in our actions and everyday circumstances. This means looking for opportunities where the above-instructed truths apply. The example from our family that comes to mind is in combating night-time fears for my oldest son. We have always taught Him that God is our protector and takes care of us, but at night when he is scared, we have opportunities to live out this truth through praying with him, reminding him of God’s promises, and encouraging him that he can pray too when he is scared (and he does LOL).
- Finally, guarding means using your current authority (based on your children’s ages; if they are adults, this aspect may look more like making sure you are not being a stumbling block through your own choices) to protect your children from unhealthy influences, such as harmful forms of media, people, and circumstances. I love the word picture that Sally uses in this specific instance, where she envisions her and her husband guarding their children’s fountains, making sure that nothing gets in to poison or taint the waters (p. 94). Especially when children are little, this type of guarding is so important as their minds and hearts are still soft and easily influenced by anything they see, hear, or experience. By intentionally guarding what they come into contact with as well as teaching them how to guard their own fountain as they age is an important part of helping them grow in the faith.
- Teaching: As noted above, to effectively disciple those around us, and especially our children, we must teach them important life lessons and values to provide the foundation of how they see their own lives and values. When someone initially becomes a Christian, they want to know all they can about the Christian worldview, faith, and practices. Similarly, our children look to us to learn everything about life, from how to eat with a spoon to how to speak to how to interact with others and especially how to understand faith and life and the world around us. As we seek to make the most of these teachable moments, Sally imparts that we can focus these lessons on four main principles: teaching basic morality and what is considered right versus what is considered wrong, teaching basic theology and the foundational knowledge of God, teaching wisdom and how to critically think about life from God’s point of view, and teaching faith and how to trust God when we cannot see Him or feel Him everyday. Covering these four areas in teaching our children, as well as others, will provide them with a basic understanding for how they can view and live out their own lives as they move into adulthood.
When we serve, disciple, and teach our children (as well as those around us), we live out the calling God has for us as both women and mothers, and we truly become “life-givers” in every sense.
How does this apply to me?
Regardless of if you do or do not have children at this point in time, we are all called to serve, disciple, and teach others about Christ in meaningful, life-giving ways. It is amazing to me that mothering is truly an in-home/in-family version of who we have been called to in Christ anyway. So, how does this become personal and practical outside of the obvious?
For me, it truly deals with the heart of the matter (pardon the pun). Often, whether in my interactions with others but especially in my interactions with my children, I feel ill-equipped and inadequate to serve, disciple, and teach. While we addressed the equipped concern last week, I also need to challenge my insecurities and inadequacies when it comes to these spiritual dimensions of my mothering. From gleaning all that I can from Sally’s sharing, two points really stuck out that I want to apply as I move forward (besides all of the above LOL). Maybe they will resonate with you too!
- All that I can be is who I am… and that is enough! I just need to be intentional about being me! 🙂 As we determined last week, I am exactly who I am for a reason. God was not careless when He gave me Gavin and Liam; He was purposeful and intentional and specific. And the same goes for you and your own children or the special people that you have in your life. There is a divine reason you are in relationship with them, and this means God intended for YOU to be there with all of your strengths, weaknesses, and quirky components. Children and adults of all ages learn best by being shown, and so just by being me, I can teach my children so much about life and love and most of all, my God. But this means I have to be intentional and purposeful about sharing my time and my life with them; my shining and not so shining moments, and letting them see the real me even when I am unsure. When I do this, I give them the freedom and confidence to try it out too, to embrace who they are, and to use who they are in service, discipling, and teaching others. All just by being me. And just by you being you… just by being who you were created to be and sharing yourself with your children and the people around you, you can truly make a lasting impression with the unique gift of who you are.
- I need to trust God’s decision to use me and also to fill in the gaps between who I am and what they need! On p. 83, Sally shares a quote that I have underlined and starred and plan to post where I can see it all the time: “All that God requires from any of us is a desire to serve Him and a trust that He can make up the difference for the things we lack.” What a relief!!! Not only did He want me to be in the lives of my children on purpose, but He is also aware that I will never be perfect, and He already factored that in! This means I can do my best and trust that He will make up for anything I am missing (and then some). Which means I can rejoice in my amazing mothering moments, where I feel like I hit the mark right on, and trust that the not so amazing mothering moments, where I am weak or even hurtful, are being redeemed by my God who is bigger than me and an active participant in our lives whether we acknowledge Him or not. I do not have to waste the precious moments I do have (which are quickly flying by) on my inadequacies or my screw-ups because it does not do any good for anyone and He already has it covered (yay!!!). All I really have to do is try… or the cheesy cliche that is truly one of my favorites: Do your best and God will do the rest!!! 🙂
For this week then, our challenge is two-fold. First, I encourage you to take a look at those three areas Sally shared with us that portray our heart for our God to others and our children: service, discipling, and teaching. Choose one of them to focus on in the next month, to really be intentional about as you interact with those in your life.
For me, this is the training aspect of discipling. Since teaching comes naturally to me and I grew up in a house where servant leadership was the norm, it is really taking all of God’s truth and purposefully applying it in front of my children (out loud) that is something I am lacking. I definitely want them to take the biblical principles we read about at night or learn about in church and apply them to their lives, but I have not been super intentional about modeling that for them at their level. Even in the couple of days after reading this, I noticed multiple opportunities throughout the day (a sibling interaction, or a whining reaction to parental instruction, or even an entitled moment) where I can present truth and then follow-up with practicing the truth as well. How neat it has been to watch this step in action and I am excited to see how it continues as it influences my life as well as theirs!
Second, I encourage you to follow-through with at least one of the amazing ideas Sally provides at the end of each chapter to act upon what was discussed.
Whether you have children or not, these ideas are fantastic in promoting the love of Christ and sharing it with others. For instance, my mom and I discussed having a family-wide foot-washing on our next vacation to serve one another and build the love and intimacy that comes when we humble ourselves and care for one another in this way. Other ideas include starting a family devotional time with your children, using the ARTS acronym to strike up conversations about learning and applying biblical truths (this is so cool!!! p. 105-106), or look for an opportunity to willingly participate in an activity that is not your favorite, but is the thing your loved one always wants to do.
Then, above all else, have fun with it!!! Remember, by sharing ourselves and our time with those around us, especially our children, we not only invest in them, but we do so in life-giving ways that share the most important part of ourselves: our heart for our God.♥
Sugar and spice and everything nice right? 🙂 At least, this was the cutesy answer told to us in a nursery rhyme when I was growing up. And while it technically was focused on little girls and what they are made of, we all know there was some intent for this memorable line to be used to develop grown-up women into sweet, Betty Crocker housewives that cooked for and supported their husbands (who are getting dirty and working hard as grown-up versions of snips, snails, and puppy dog tails; I know there is a note of cynicism here and I am not against the cute nursery rhyme, I just know there is more to being a little girl and a woman then it portrays). However, now that I am actually living out being a “grown-up” (SCARY), I realize there is so much more to being a woman then the nursery rhyme wisdom imparts, especially when it comes to being a mother.
In fact, I have observed both personally and professionally that there is an overarching confusion in our current American society over what it means to be a mom. As our culture moves toward a unisex understanding of life with non-traditional gender roles and multiple gender identities, even the biological aspects of the female sex are being challenged and re-defined before our very eyes. And with all of these changes it makes sense that the foundation of who we are as women is becoming unstable and unknown as we search out true meaning and understanding among a multitude of competing perspectives.
Fortunately, as Christians, we can find a firm foundation in our Creator God and in the truth of our creation as both woman and mother described in His Word. I love that Sally challenges the current confusion by searching out God’s mission for motherhood and begins our journey with a rediscovery of the calling to be a mom that is first understood in light of creation as a woman and what we are truly made of.
What are you made of?
If you were to ask me this question point blank, I could give you a variety of answers. I could focus on the physical and describe that I am made of skin and bones and muscle and blood (gross). I also have a mind and a spirit that work within this body. I could focus on the psychological and that I have a tenacious and strong personality that is often more serious than fun but has some crazy moments mixed in to keep everyone guessing ( 🙂 ). I could give you my heritage from a regional or ethnic perspective, or begin to recount the challenges I have had to overcome that has shaped who I am today. Honestly though, I probably would not go back to the original creation and determine what I am made of in light of God’s creation. Which is why I am so grateful that this is exactly where we start in this posting. As Sally discusses in detail, Scripture is quite clear that we were created to work in tandem with man but with distinct abilities and giftings based on our biological and emotional differences. The implications of our creation are many, but I am going to discuss the two highlights that really stood out to me in reading through this first section:
- Divinely Designed and Especially Equipped: From the very beginning, God had a specific purpose in mind when he created women. Our female bodies and characters (even with all of their diversity) reflect a divine design that is especially equipped to give life and nurture life (p.27). The original female (untainted by sickness and death and our fallen world) had the capacity within her womb to grow and birth a new human life as well as sustain it with her body during those first formative years. She was also given specific character traits, such as being innately more relational, more nurturing, and often able to better simultaneously complete multiple tasks when compared to her male counterpart. I love that Sally points out that being a woman as well as being a mom (being fruitful and multiplying) was a part of the PERFECT core design in creation (p.21). I had never really caught on to this part in all my readings of Genesis, but had always gotten distracted by the whole “pain in childbirth” section of the curse. And unfortunately, this is often where we find ourselves today as over the years, sin and human nature have distorted this original creation through infertility challenges, personality differences, and relational difficulties that cause us to doubt and question our roles as women and moms. However, I truly believe that we as females still closely resemble Eve in much of our design and how we are equipped to inspire and nurture the lives of those around us (whether biologically related or not). By recognizing and maximizing this resemblance, we find a deeper sense of focus and purpose that resonates with our design and our Designer.
- Confidently Called and Completely Committed: Embracing our divine design and the special attributes we have as women leads right into understanding that we have thus been called to actually use them and commit to actually using them!!! This means recognizing that our bodies and characters, with all of our similar as well as unique components, have been constructed specifically to complement our calling: to influence this world in light of eternity and work towards building a life-giving spiritual legacy (p.13). Please know this does not necessarily mean staying home, having babies, and never getting out of the house again except for church. It means taking all of you, your female body and your personality and your gifts and your abilities, and using them for God’s work in the lives of others. This includes your children (if they exist), as well as the children and adults you come into contact with both within and outside of your family. You being you was not an accident, and God knows both your strengths and your weaknesses as well as your circumstances and still calls you to influence those around you for His kingdom. When we really understand and employ this, we grow not only in our calling, but in our confidence of our calling. We are also challenged to commit wholeheartedly to this calling, which I think is one of the biggest difficulties facing women and mothers today. Are we completely committed to anything these days, but especially our God-given calling as women? I truly believe this is why we have a stress epidemic sweeping our nation among women (and men too for that matter) as we are trying to “have it all” and end up only doing lots of things half-way. This was never God’s intent (a house divided will not stand; you cannot serve two masters), and instead, wants us to have healthy priorities and filters for how we live out our calling. This means looking at our priorities and ensuring that first things come first. If you have children and your family and home are not your first priority, you will constantly be struggling with an inner conflict (you may become desensitized to it over time, but it will still be there).Even if you do not have children but are a Christian and are not putting your calling first, you will experience this distress as well. When things are in their proper position, we experience the freedom and peace of knowing what is most important, and being able to filter out the things that drain us or take away from that which is priority. We can give our best to what is most important, and no longer fret about what is not. God wants us to give all of ourselves to Him, to use the innate abilities we have been given and live out our callings with undivided hearts, so that we can experience the confidence and freedom that He divinely designed from the very beginning.
So, what am I made of? I am a divinely designed female human known as a woman who is especially equipped both biologically and psychologically to cultivate and nurture life around me. I have been called to wholeheartedly use these attributes to influence the lives around me in light of eternity and build a spiritual legacy that will last for generations to come. Well, when you put it that way… 🙂
How Does this Apply to Me?
The above imparted truths are incredibly near and dear to my heart because I have always struggled with the concept and calling of motherhood for myself. It always seemed better suited for someone else, but not for me. For those of you that did not know me growing up, I was the least likely of all my friends to be predicted to be a mom one day. I was not the typical “girly girl” (I am still not); I was never really into babysitting, never sought out opportunities to be around babies or children, and focused more on my academics and career than anything else. So when I found myself desiring a family for the first time in my life and then actually getting pregnant, I also found myself having to face a multitude of fears and insecurities that I had kept locked away for years.
Maybe you were the exact opposite, and have always been drawn to children and babysitting was and still is your favorite thing to do. Being around littles ones has always been easy and fun for you, but now that you have children of your own, there is a different weight and pressure that was not present when you were babysitting. These little ones look to you for everything, and you cannot give them back to their parents because you are the parents! All of a sudden, mothering looks different than you expected, and there are fears and insecurities and challenges that surface that you were unaware of as well.
And your story may be a combination or nothing like the two above, but the fears and insecurities attached with motherhood and being a woman are real and experienced each day as we press on. This is why we need to move beyond just recognizing the truths above, and actually living them out and applying them to our daily lives. For me, this looks like the following:
- Written Reminders: This is a big one for me, especially when it comes to mothering. When I first became a mom, I was plagued with stress and pressure and guilt that were at times overwhelming. In addition to not having a clue of what I was doing, I so badly wanted to do it “right” that I forfeited much of the joy that comes in actually just experiencing it. I finally had to combat the thoughts that were holding me hostage, such as “I’ll never get this right” or “Maybe I am just not really mom material” and for me, the best way to do this is to write out truth and put it around my living area where I can see it multiple times a day. In my journal, I began writing out truths, like the ones we have read about this week, that I am actually intrinsically divinely designed and especially equipped to be a mom, even if my mothering looks different from someone else. I was created from the very beginning to be the exact mom that I am -just like you were created to be the exact mom that you are- and our mothering can look different and still be ok as long as we are both seeking the Lord for guidance and direction on how to use all that He has given us. I will never mother just like you, nor you like me, but that is obviously what God intended for our children to grow to be exactly who they are supposed to be. After writing this in my journal, I also wrote out similar truths for my desk, posted pictures reminding me of the importance of my perspective and heart position in the kitchen, and even created a graphic of written truth for the wallpaper on my cell phone. These written reminders keep me grounded in these truths throughout the day, and provide confidence and encouragement to recognize and live out this truth!
- Meaningful Meditations: Building upon the written reminders described above, I have learned that I must move one step further and actually integrate the truth into my core being. I have to go through and confront the negative lies deep within my soul, and this means taking the time and effort to meditate on the truths I am reading and experiencing around me. Much like taking the time to allow tea to steep and infuse into the surrounding waters, I take the time to meditate on these truths and let them work their way into both my heart and mind. Often, I pick one theme or truth that I am currently learning, and that becomes my meditation focus. These past few weeks, it has been the concept of a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). After reading this verse during a quiet time, I realized it was an aspect of both being a woman and being a mom that I had not been experiencing and had not been promoting among my family. Since then, not only have I created written reminders to prompt reflection throughout the day, but I have made special time to reflect upon, apply, and meditate on this concept as I begin my day, interact with those around me, and complete my day. There have been moments where I have been the complete opposite of gentle and quiet, but the meditation has revealed these instances in ways I had not noticed before and also inspired different courses of action that I had never considered. I am a living testimony that meaningful meditation is a must for moms!
- Powerful Prayers: Writing and meditating, while great, are both me-focused and occur in my own strength. And while there are days that these work, they will have absolutely no power if I do not plant them in God’s truth and promote them with powerful prayer. There is nothing that has brought me to my knees more than my marriage and my mothering, crying out on behalf of my self, my husband, and my children. When I discover a truth that God has revealed to me, I have learned that submitting it to Him in prayer is by far the best thing I can do. For instance, when I first became a mom, I tried to do it all; be a stay-at-home mom, carry a full-time teaching load, continue counseling part-time, and volunteer in ministry. Sometimes I could pull it off, but most of the time I was running from place to place, exhausted, overwhelmed, and wanting to give my best to each thing but really only able to give partial because it was all I had left. The disservice of this quest really hit me when my son started struggling with naps (aka Mommy’s time to work) and all of a sudden, my anger was uncontrollable. I “needed” this time and now I was not getting it because my toddler had decided not to nap. I remember telling my mom and my husband: “if I did not have work to do it would be just fine, but every nap he misses is more work for me later.” My heart was obviously divided, and I was torn between two masters of work and home. After I read Sally’s description of wholehearted mothering, it changed everything about my life. It was the truth I had been searching for, and I decided then and there to pursue an undivided heart. I was no longer torn about what needed to happen because I knew God had called me to love my family first, and all else would get what was left. This meant changing my priorities, guarding my time and not taking on too much (limiting my course load and counseling), and making myself completely available to my children, even during nap time. This change has not been easy, and there are still struggles, but this is where prayer has been so powerful. Many days throughout the week, I start the morning with a prayer version of Sally’s words on pg. 45, asking for an undivided heart and that I would “see my children’s care and nurture as God’s best will for my life” and begin “treating each day as sacred.” I will also prayerfully consider anything I add to my plate, from what courses to teach to whether or not to attend a certain event, and let God filter what I give my time to. By submitting these requests to God, I have truly seen His power at work in and through me and my family.
I love being reminded of all of the above, because to be honest, I feel like I often need someone screaming it at me! In the midst of living life and getting caught up in the challenges and struggles of family, friendships, ministry, work, finances, chores, AND mothering, I lose sight of my divine design as well as my calling and end up beating myself up for not being able to do it all, be it all, or even consider myself somewhat successful based on my own distorted sense of accomplishment. And when I lose sight of truth, I lose sight of my mission as a woman and as a mom, and as Sally describes, when we lose sight of our mission, the important people in our lives, especially children, are easily seen as “a time drain, a monetary expense, a career impediment, and a curtailer of personal freedom” (p.33).
With this in mind, I challenge us to take a true inventory of our current heart status. What does your heart look like? If you made it a pie chart of your heart, what would it look like? Would it be divided into multiple, competing sections, complete with different colors and drawing from you in different ways?
Or are you willing to commit to wholeheartedly seeking what God has for you in this time, setting your priorities according to His best will for you? There may still be different areas of your heart that require time, effort, and energy, but when completed under one master and with each area in its proper place, it can promote a sense of unity, freedom, and peace.
My prayer for myself and for you is that we would search our hearts and rid ourselves of any divisions that are causing division and pain. May we embrace wholehearted living and celebrate in our divine design and the ways we have been especially equipped to confidently and completely commit to the call He has on our lives… to truly enjoy and employ all of the wonderful and amazing things we are made of. ♥
“As I look to the needs of children today, I am convinced they need the same things from their mothers that I needed… They need not only the gentle touch of a mother’s hands, but her focus and attention on a daily basis. They need a champion and a cheerleader, someone who has the time and energy to give encouragement along life’s way and comfort in dark times. They need a directive voice to show them how to live. These needs are not frivolous demands. They’re a part of the way God designed children” (p.2).
In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it might be fun to read a book about mothering for this month. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not 🙂 , but being a mom is not exactly easy. Sure, some women have more natural nurturing then others and can make it look easy, but there is not a mother I have met that has not found mothering difficult at some point in her life. I know for me I often describe it as the best and worst thing I have ever done… because it truly is!!! As the quote above describes, children are designed to have genuine, distinct, significant needs that are best met by their mothers, but this puts intense pressure on those of us who have been honored with that role.While living out this role and fulfilling those needs is incredibly rewarding and I am reminded of its blessing with every little smile and sweet memory, it is also the most difficult thing I have ever attempted when it requires losing sleep, constant self-sacrificing, mounting insecurities, and daily challenges of my will and sanity 🙂
I am not the first mother that has ever struggled nor am I alone (there is some comfort in that) but I find that our current society has a tendency to either overplay or underplay motherhood. Either you have to be perfect at it (Facebook fake it right?!) or just do not talk about it often seems to be the standard. And God forbid you reach out and ask for help!!! However, this does not work for me (and I am guessing it probably does not work for you either)! I need other moms in my life, and I need to be able to share the real struggles we are experiencing so we can learn from, commiserate with, and encourage one another along the way.
I especially need moms that are a little farther ahead of me, so that they can give me hope and wisdom as I confront things they have already experienced. Many of these women are available in our churches and local communities, but for some reason (another posting), we do not always get the time or opportunity to connect, which means generations of moms, like you and me, are missing an important part of our own development and support.
Fortunately,there are amazing women like Sally Clarkson, author of this month’s book, who have gone before us and now have all of this mothering wisdom to pass on to those of us that have just begun the journey. Since her experience has been recorded and published in book form, we can tap into her many mothering lessons without having to find a time that works for both of our schedules or confirm childcare :). I am so excited to share this experience with you, and grow in our own mothering as we learn from hers!
Why I Chose this Book
When I found this book, I was in my fourth month of second motherhood (I had added my second little guy to the mix) and I was somewhat on the edge of losing it. I had decided to take even more time off from my career due to childcare conflicts as well as personal desires, and while this time off may sound lovely, it was also a struggle. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom but there is this looming pressure from the outside world to do more, be more, achieve more and not let your career go to waste while you are taking care of your children. So, if it isn’t always looking for another side job to still be “successful” there is always the method of over-booking, over-busying, and over-analyzing myself to make sure I am still being all that I should be and more (even though it is miserable).
At this particular time, I was trying to be particularly discerning about what I kept in my life and what I let go as I left the newborn-maternity-leave phase and re-acclimated to real life with but not completely focused around my children. And to be honest, I was completely lost. What should I do? What does it look like to be a mom with all of the other things screaming for my time? How should I answer? Can I really be all things to everyone and wear all of these hats and should I even try? How can I best maximize my time with my children and make the most of my mothering while still maintaining me and some semblance of sanity?
I longed for answers and encouragement and this book was like a warm hug from a sweet friend with a cup of hot tea attached 🙂 As I started to read, Sally spoke straight to me heart, to my concerns, my fears, my insecurities, my struggles, my desires… it was as if she had read through my unspoken thoughts and questions and then sat down to write me a personal letter. As I read her insights and understanding about motherhood as a mission, I felt many pieces of my own life and heart falling into place as I realigned my vision and focus with the calling before me. And ever since, it has been so refreshing to view mothering as a part of my life mission (and not just a biological obligation) that gives meaning to even the most monotonous of moment and allows me to maintain motivation, focus, and challenges me to view the miraculous among the mayhem. My guess is that it can do the same for you!
*One unique thing about this book versus the others is that I have not actually read it all just yet (I only made it through the first couple of chapters). So with that in mind, I will give the caveat that unlike the books prior, there may be some controversial material that I am not aware of (yay topics like mothering) or a stance on mothering that I or you do not agree with. I hope we can dialogue about that if it arises, but also view this as a learning point which means we still need to filter everything we read through God’s Word and truth and not just take it at face value. I will share my thoughts as we go along; please feel free to share yours as well!
I am not sure that this section should really be published anymore, since I have yet to keep to one in the past couple of months 🙂 However, it does give me a goal to work towards and at least gives you an idea of what I will be attempting 🙂 So with that in mind, here is my hopeful plan for how I will be reading and writing through this book:
Part One: A Mother’s Calling May 12
Part Two: A Mother’s Heart for Her God May 17
Part Three: A Mother’s Heart for Her Children May 20
Part Four: A Mother’s Heart for Her Home May 25
Part Five: A Mother’s Heart for Eternity May 29
My Hope for Our Experience
With each book we read, my overarching hope is that we will be encouraged and challenged to keep moving forward and to not just survive this life (although there are moments when this is all we can do), but to truly THRIVE. For this book especially, my hope is that those of us who are currently moms will be renewed and refreshed when it comes to our motherhood journey to benefit both ourselves and our families. For those of you who are not yet moms or do not plan to be, my hope is that you will still join us this month as a learning experience (possibly for the future) about motherhood and how we can best support the moms in our lives right now since it is often a difficult and lonely calling. Regardless of your current situation, I affirm Sally’s hope as well: that we will experience a “rediscovery of the traditional mission of motherhood [and] a rediscovery of what God had in mind when he first designed families” (p.2-3). ♥
***PS: I know we still have postings on the Strategy of Satan; I have not forgotten; they are in draft form at the moment and will be appearing soon!!! 🙂
Here we are at the finale of the Purpose Driven Life (I know right?! FINALLY!!! :)), can you believe it?? In the past 40 days (and a little bit more given some lovely outside circumstances), we have explored the answers to the important question of “What on earth am I here for?”and discovered that there are five specific purposes God has for us in this life. So far, we have discussed four of these purposes in detail and how we have been created to make God smile, to be a part of God’s family, to become like Christ, and to serve God and others. And while all of these purposes are wonderful and essential to fully experiencing all God has for us in this life, there is one more purpose to add to the fold before we are finished: we were made for a mission (should you choose to accept it 🙂 ).
Your Mission… Should You Choose to Accept it
I love this saying, as well as the Mission Impossible movies that go with it (surprise surprise). No matter which rendition you watch, the plot is the same: there is some seemingly impossible mission sent out from an important authority to a group of select agents, and these agents have to determine if they are going to accept the job and attempt the impossible. Could you imagine if Tom Cruise and the other characters thought about the mission and said, “Nope, this one is too hard and I am tired from the last one so I am going to sit this one out. A nice nap or vacation sounds much better right now. Thanks for asking though!” Of course not! Then there would be no suspense, no action, no investment in the movie and there would be no reason for any of us in the audience to get excited. No one would want to watch because it would be pointless and boring.
The same goes for us with our lives! As we end our purpose driven journey, we are given a similar choice with a challenge to move beyond ourselves and our relationships with God and other Christians to truly reach out to those around us who do not know Christ and do not experience truth and wholeness as we do. As Rick shares, when we determine in our hearts to follow Christ and live out the other four purposes summarized above, we are also called to the mission of telling others about Christ and spreading the good news we have found to be true. Much like in the movies, we are a group of select agents, equipped with exactly what we need to be successful, and we have to choose if we are willing to risk it all to complete the task before us. Yes, you get to be a super special secret agent, which means all of a sudden, your life gets to be a little more exciting and a whole lot more purposeful :).
In other words, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to share your story with the world and look for opportunities to tell them about the life and hope you have found through Christ. Rick calls this story our Life Message (Day 37), and explains that it consists of four components that give us a platform for sharing with others:
- Our Testimony: This is the story of how we came to know Christ. It includes what life was like before becoming a Christian, how we came to know Him as our Savior, and now what our life is like afterwards. Humans are innately drawn to stories (hence our love of books and movies) and so it makes sense that this would be one of the best ways we can share Christ with others.
- Our Life Lessons: These are the important truths we have learned over the years, also known as wisdom, that other people might benefit from knowing. Things like “learning not to worry about tomorrow” or “unforgiveness really only hurts the one holding on to it” or “you really can do anything you put your mind to” all fall into this category. Humans are always looking for answers to life problems, so we can use our own life lessons to shed light on these issues from a godly perspective.
- Our Godly Passions: These are the things that we really care about and that get us energized. There is a wide range of what you might be passionate about: it may be a specific cause or a people group or a food group or a sport or an art or anything else in between. These passions often give us something in common with others and provide a connection to be able to relate in other areas, like life questions.
- Our Good News: This is the hope we have in Christ because we have a reason for living in getting to know Him and the God who created us. People everywhere are searching for meaning, for a reason to live and thrive and do more than just breathe and eat and live till we die. The Good News that we have to share is that there is someone bigger than us with a bigger plan that we get to be a part of: we have a Creator who loves us, intentionally created us, and has specific purposes for us to experience and enjoy throughout all eternity.
For some of us, this may truly seem like a mission impossible sequel as sharing ourselves with anyone, much less strangers in another part of the world, sounds completely crazy. But I encourage you, especially if you are feeling stale or stagnant or bored with where you are in life and you feel like the other four purposes are right on, that you are probably at the place in life where a little risk and an attempt at an impossible mission is exactly what you need. The nice part about God is He will never force us to take on any mission (although there may be natural consequences for saying no… Jonah and a whale comes to mind :)), but He will invite us to join Him and the adventure is totally worth it!
How Does this Apply to Me?
If this mission seems a tad overwhelming or daunting, I promise, you are not alone. Sharing with others about Christ is a big task, but much like anything else, we can still bring it home with a personal, practical application that starts with smaller steps instead of trying to take on everything at once. One way we can do that is by being intentional about living out the five purposes we have covered in this book each and every day.
To do this, Rick encourages creating a life purpose statement (Day 40) that sums up what the five purposes mean for you in a clear and concise way. This statement can provide focus and direction for all that you do in a meaningful way without requiring the reading of an entire book everyday 🙂 . He describes that to create this statement, we can ask and answer these 5 key questions (p.314-316):
- What do I want at the center of my life?
- What kind of person do I want to be?
- What do I want my contribution to be?
- What do I want my communication to be?
- What do I want my community to be?
Compiling the answers to these questions, we should be able to create a simple life statement that reflects who and what we want for our life and gives us the direction we have been looking for. While Rick shares several examples on page 317 that are comprehensive and directly describe each of the purposes and answers to the questions above, I found that they were a little too wordy and formal for my current stage in life. So I encourage you to really search out and develop a statement that fits who and how God has created you to me.
For me, I can answer all of the above questions: I desperately want Christ and His love at the center of my life, I truly want to be an inviting and loving person where people can experience grace and acceptance while at the same time being encouraged and challenged to grow and achieve the best in life, I want to be able to leave a legacy where those I teach can then teach others and the people around me have more hope and understanding after having known me, I want every thing that I do and every word that I say to reflect all of the above, and I want this to be evident to those both within and outside of the church. And while I love these answers, it is way too long for me to call to memory in quick moment, so I have summed it up in this simple statement that I actually have posted all around (including as the wallpaper on my cell phone):
Love Generously with an Undivided Heart.
If I can do that, if I can seek to love those I come into contact with (especially my husband and children) generously (unconditionally) with a heart that is not divided (because a house divided cannot stand), then I will be living out my purpose on this life… and will experience an amazing peace and joy that wells up from within regardless of the external circumstances. And when I fall short, which happens all the time, I still have a goal to work towards and a direction with which to guide whatever efforts I have left 🙂 And I have an awesome purpose that infiltrates and radiates all that I do!!!
With all of the above said :), there are a variety of challenges we could take from this segment (and the book as a whole) to apply all that we have learned. Feel free to choose working on your Life Message or creating your life purpose statement, as these are both incredibly important. However, for this finale, I want to focus on Day 39, where Rick describes the importance of finding balance in our lives. As a counselor, this lesson is near and dear to my heart, as I have personally experienced as well as professionally worked with burnout and compassion fatigue and all of the adverse consequences that come from an imbalanced life. God never intended us to operate in an imbalanced state, but wants us to truly thrive by looking to Him and putting into practice the healthy steps to maintain and achieve balance. These steps include (but are not limited to):
- Walking through life with a spiritual accountability partner or small group. This means being real and honest with someone(s) outside of your immediate family (not a spouse either) and inviting them to speak truth into your life in both an encouraging or challenging way. I have a specific set of people that I have asked to hold me accountable, to pray for me, and to challenge me when my life seems out of balance from their perspective and I am forever grateful for all of the times they have come through for me!!! If you do not have an accountability/prayer partner or a small group, I STRONGLY encourage you to be on the lookout.
- Writing down your progress in a journal. To be honest, I am horrible about this but I really am trying to get better. There is something to be said about cataloging what God is doing in our lives and recording the good, the bad, and everything in between. Most importantly, I have loved recording answered prayers to be able to look back and see what has been answered and revealed over the years. Plus, if you are out of time or energy to journal on a regular basis, it can reveal an imbalance that you may not have noticed just yet. If you do not journal, I recommend trying it out, even if just for a season, and see the depth it can add to your life and faith walk.
- Passing on what you are learning to others. Humans have a tendency to learn better when they teach something to others. This is probably one of my favorite things about being a professor, as I learn my craft better and better each time I teach it to a group of new learners. There are even specific topics that I feel like I have come to almost master, recognizing there is always something new I can learn, because I have taught it so many times. The same goes for spiritual concepts; we learn them more when we share them with others and explain how we have learned them so they can potentially learn it too. It can also provide us a new perspective on what we have been learning, which could reveal any blindness we have been unaware of or confirm the truth we have uncovered. And who knows: maybe the one you are sharing with can benefit from the lessons as well. Again, if you find that you are out of time or energy or even people to share with, then it is probably a sign that imbalance has occurred and it may be time to re-evaluate and re-calibrate!
Our challenge then is this: Looking at the above options, what is one thing you can add to your life to move towards balance today??? For me, it is getting back to journaling. I have definitely been imbalanced in the past month, and I know because my journaling and writing (obviously) has not happened. In seeing this as I finally have time to write, I realize that I need it back in my routine to really cement the lessons I am learning and help ground me for the week. Hence I am back at it today… and will hopefully be able to keep it going in the days to come.What about you? Do you need to find a someone to support and challenge you and vice versa? Do you need to take that step to share with others what you are learning? Do you, like me, need to break open that journal and review, renew, and refocus (from Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald and the January Book Club)? Whatever it is… I encourage you to do so!
And just in case you need a little extra motivation… I am going to end with this statement from Rick that I cannot seem to get away from 🙂
“God wants to redeem human beings from Satan and reconcile them to himself so we can fulfill the five purposes he created us for: to love him, to be a part of his family, to become like him, to serve him, and to tell others about him. Once we are his, God uses us to reach others. He saves us and then sends us out” (p.282). This is my mission and THIS IS YOUR MISSION too… should you choose to accept it. ♥