Running on Empty
“They’re wearing me down!” I said to my husband.
Except that “said” isn’t very accurate. It was more like “groaned with exasperation.” The ones wearing me down were our two boys, Ash (18 months) and Luke (3 months). I love them both, and I love being a mom. But motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
I’m speaking from my limited experience, of course. Others have done much harder things than this, and I’m truly humbled by their faithfulness. Still, motherhood is the hardest—and most joyful—road that I have walked so far.
The Trials That Stretch Us
Before we had Lukas, I remember one night’s conversation with my husband about the future. I told Doug that that I knew life was going to get hard, and that having a new baby would inevitably expose whatever selfishness had been hiding under the surface. I knew that I was going to be stretched beyond what I thought my limits were. I knew all of that, but I was still scared. I felt like I was standing at the starting line of a race that I hadn’t trained for.
Since having Lukas, those things have proven true. My selfishness has been exposed and I’ve been stretched in numerous ways: my heart has stretched to love another completely; my body was stretched beyond what I thought I could handle (thanks to 24 hours in active labor); my emotions have been stretched to deal with the extreme exhaustion caring for a toddler and a newborn with little-to-no sleep; my spirit has been stretched by the realization that I am weak and in need of profound help and profound forgiveness.
But in all of this stretching I have been sustained by Jesus.
I know this is true because he tells us this in his word, and I know that it’s true because none of that stretching completely broke me. I am still here—and not because I’m a survivor or wonder woman or Incredi-Mom or anything like that. There are many times that I’ve wanted to quit. But God has kept me in the race. He has put my feet to the pavement. And when I didn’t think I could take another step, he’s kept me moving.
Two Kinds of Blessings
Honestly, most days I find myself praying that the “race” will get easier for me. I ask God for an easy day with more sleep for me and with less fussing, less messes, and less tantrums from the boys.
My husband tells me there’s nothing wrong with asking God for that kind of day. He reminds me that God delights to give us all sorts of things that we don’t deserve—all the way from the grace of forgiveness to the grace of days without diaper blowouts.
But sometimes, when wishing for easier days, I fail to notice how God is at work on the “bad” days too. I’m so busy wishing that God would make the race easier that I’m not thankful for how he is already blessing me. He’s right there, sustaining me, strengthening me, carrying me along, and helping me to run the race set before me.
Yet I know the life that God has placed before me is a good race. And I know that some blessings are automatic, while other blessings take work. One is simply received, but the other is cultivated. But both kinds of blessings are good.
It goes without saying, but children are the second kind. They are a weighty, wonderful blessing; they bring lots of joy, but they also take lots of work. God uses them to grow us and to show us something of himself and the world that he has made.
You Can't Take the Running Out of Running
I was reminded of all this while reading Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic (my favorite book on motherhood). She writes,
“I think it is common to have this mental ideal of what your days as a mother are supposed to be like. We think that if we were doing motherhood right, then it wouldn’t be this hard. Of course there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, to make things easier. But that’s like improving a runner’s form. You still have to run, and it won’t be easy. You can continue training to the point that you are no longer puking in the bushes and all red in the face by the end of the first block, but you aren’t ever going to take the running out of running.”
You can’t take the running out of running and similarly, you can’t take the hard work out of mothering. You’re not necessarily doing it wrong just because it’s difficult.
Yes, there are many ways you can improve this or that aspect of what you do. That’s why mothers of five kids are much more efficient and capable mothers than I am. They have improved their form; they aren’t puking in the bushes. But they are still running. You can’t take the running out of running.
The Grace That Sustains Us
My selfishness only wants to race to be easier, because I hate the hard work of “running.” We all do, if we’re honest enough to admit it. But God doesn’t take the race away, and he doesn’t always make the race easier. He knows that speed only comes through practice, that strength only comes through lifting, that patience only comes through testing, and so on.
That’s why he sustains us in the race instead of taking us out of the race. As James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Right now, motherhood is one of my greatest trials. I know that if keep turning to Jesus as I turn from sin, he will use all of this to stretch and mold and shape me into the person he wants me to be. And I know that he will do this in you too. God will sustain you in your race; he will see you through to the finish, by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and the race that he finished in your place (Heb. 12:1-2), and by filling you with his Spirit that gives you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:13). For God promises that “He who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). And he will.
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to three. She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.