Saturday, August 20, 2011

Maternal Idolatry

"The journey of discovering what we're born for seems first to lead us to death. That is not a hopeless place, though. I suspect from it will emerge some clue about what - or whom -we'd be willing to die for." (-Jo Kadlecek, Woman Overboard, p.79). I want to be a good mother. I love my children. But would I die for them? There was a time I thought I had done so. I gave up a very promising career at the top of my field to stay at home and be mommy for them. I gave up physical necessities - I gladly accepted the physical tax of pregnancy and labor, even without medication with my youngest. For years I did not sleep through the night. I breastfed until my oldest was almost 4, and my 2 year old still nurses. I gave up any sense of doing something in the world that would interfere with these little ones. People have hated me for bringing them to worship at church. I have a new life, new friends, new activities, an entirely new way of being in the world. Surely I would die for them. I have already done so...

But there is a problem. No matter what I give up, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many books I read on good parenting or how determined I might be when I wake up in the morning, I get tired and fussy, myself. When my child has to be disciplined for the same behavior for the eighth time in one morning, when the almost 5 year old throws a temper tantrum, when the potty-trained toddler pees on the carpet four times one day, when the two year old wakes up and needs me to put him back to sleep twice in the small time I am taking to write this blog, when I'm just physically drained and in need of rest but cannot have it... I see that I have not died for them. Worse, I see that it doesn't matter if I did, because my death wouldn't even be enough for them. No matter what I do, I cannot FORCE them into an image I have created, no matter how good that image is, even if the image is of Christ. I cannot force them to receive the lesson that temper tantrums only make things worse. I cannot make them to be genuinely loving, humble, kind, and gentle. They are sinners in the need of a savior, just like me. There will be sins they struggle with well into adulthood, just like me. And because we are all in the same boat, I cannot be their savior, no matter how much I might want to do it, no matter how much I may give up for them, no matter how much effort I exert. If I really die, all that would really do is deprive them of a mother. They do not need me to die for them, and I do them a great injustice if I do.

BUT, when I begin and end my day in prayer, when I take 3 minutes to hide and give my feelings to God, when I focus myself with a centering prayer while pushing the grocery cart, when I saturate my mind with Scripture, when I trust in HIS death for my sake and my children's sake and I LOSE MY LIFE FOR HIM instead of for my children, then I have peace. Then I am suddenly effective again at being a mom. Then I have hope and strength.

Its funny - the outer actions of losing my life for my children and losing my life for God do not look that different. God has called me to be a mother. I have prayed over my calling, and I know that this is where God wants me at this point in my life (probably as much for my own sanctification as for my children's!). The decision to leave my career, that was for God. The decision to go without sleep, that was for God. The decision to give up activities, even at church, for the sake of mothering these little ones, that was for God. And when a decision has not been for God, I have not been able to sustain it with joy and conviction. I was not created for my children. I was created for God. And I do my children no favors where I confuse the two.

I think this is true for any calling. A pastor cannot MAKE a person or a church see the light. And a pastor does his congregants and community no good if he just up and dies for them - either physically or in the slow, daily grind of serving them for their sake. The activity might not look different, but doing it for God yields peace, joy and love for those we serve. Doing it for them yields frustration, despair, and hatred.

"The journey of discovering what we're born for seems first to lead us to death. That is not a hopeless place, though. I suspect from it will emerge some clue about what - or whom - we'd be willing to die for." I will die daily for Christ.