Lets play a game. Its called ‘How did you wake up this morning?’ It’s super fun. I’ll go first. I woke up this morning to the adorable pitter-patter of tiny feet coming into my room at 6am with the proud announcement, “I go potty mama!” My eyes flew open to see my grinning two year old naked from the waist down and smeared head to toe in her own poop.
I bolted out of bed shocking the 7 week old who, because he has a cold, will only sleep at the most perfect 45-degree angle that can apparently only be achieved by sleeping directly on my chest all night. I jiggled the baby, ran the tub, simultaneously scrubbing hair, nursing a baby and ordering the older 3 into clothes. I brushed hair, checked homework folders, threw bagels around and decided just to nurse the baby again because ANYTHING TO STOP THE SCREAMING. This is all before I’ve had a cup of coffee. Or brushed my teeth. Or put on a bra. Have I mentioned my husband works 24- hour shifts?
In the best of families (of which I count myself) the workload is shared, but moms possess a unique role. My husband jokes that I am the magnet of our family- everyone slowly gravitates to wherever I am. In a 3,000 square foot house my children are often within 6 inches of my face. And although most fathers I know bear the majority if not complete financial responsibility for their families, I hear over and over that in parenting, dad gets to be the fun one and mom has to be the heavy. No matter how much they work or don’t outside the home, most moms I know balance the checkbook, do the shopping, know where the wrapping paper is and how much is left, which is good because they are the ones buying the presents for little Johnny’s friend’s party this Saturday. They know to the minute how much screen time their kids have logged that day and who has on clean underwear (or underwear at all). Moms make the dentist appointments and make sure the kids’ hair is trimmed. Moms are the frontlines with the teachers, the coaches and the bullies. They filter out the bad influences; they have their radars up and ears to the ground. It is always the moms who feel the peer pressure from the devil’s spawn Pinterest to dice vegetables into whimsical shapes in the hopes they will get eaten.
So to keep sanity, we share kid antics over coffee with friends. We enjoy the exaggerated mom blogs and pass the links on. We laugh but the humor often comes with an undertone of disdain. I hear it in the world and I hear it in my circles.
It seems moms are sick of being the heavies.
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, wrote a book about his transition from an esteemed position at Harvard to taking his priesthood to live amongst the mentally handicapped. He describes exactly what I felt when I became a mom,
“Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment. In a way, it seemed as though I was starting my life all over again. Relationships, connections, reputations could not longer be counted on. This experience was and in many ways is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self- the self that can do things, show things, prove things built things- and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.”
Being a mom, to me, feels like this stripping down to my truest self. It exposes my nakedness, my selfishness, my neediness. It shows my incompetence. It highlights my lack of skill. Motherhood is showing me the outer limits of myself: my great capacity to care and to love. It reveals my quick temper and lack of control over my tongue. It shows me fierce and protective.
(Also: did I just equate raising children to living in a mental institution? Well. If the shoe fits.)
The heaviness started not long after conception, when our two bodies were asked to share one. Room grew scarce and I had my first taste of moving over and giving in. It does not get any better after delivery: waking up exhausted every morning and going to bed exhausted every night. Sacrificing big chunks of myself, if not all of myself, my ego, my pride, my time, my nails (which, by the way, are a total disaster).
It has also allowed me to see my barest self before God. Prestigious degrees, success in the workforce, a good reputation amongst colleagues can all give us the impression that we’ve figured this whole gig out. We can start to think we’ve really got our act together. But if one leans into parenting, embraces this stripping, the exposure of the ‘unadorned’ self we begin to see ourselves as we truly are: Broken sinners in need of Grace, cheerios in our hair, scrubbing poop off the sofa.
This being at the bottom of the totem pole is the heaviest of all. Sometimes the heaviness can become so heavy that it even blocks out the light. The heaviness can become a deep recess of isolation and loneliness. It can become sleepless nights and anxiety driven days. It can become ever-increasing panic attacks and bondage to the mantra that This Will Never End. The heaviness has been known to crush some under its weight.
However. And it is a big however. I base my entire life around following a Man who once said, “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So I have this inkling about Jesus that He does not want us to feel burdened. I have this little notion in the recess of my mind that He wants me to enjoy the gifts He’s given. And when I have an inkling about God I feel like I am in an empty room with nothing in it except the unbound end of a roll of red twine. And I pick up the end of the line and I pull it towards me, following it from room to room where it leads. This is how I learn about God. I read the Word or I listen to that Still Small voice inside that has something to say, and it starts with an inkling, with that red strand that I pick up and follow.
As I literally and figuratively strap the weight of my 7 week old to my body everyday, I see that the heaviness cannot be avoided- it can only be used. I’m forced to hold in one hand the truth of Psalm 127 that says that ‘Children are God’s best gifts’ and in the other hand I’m holding a handful of trash because my children could be surrounded by trash cans but assume that everything they are done with is of great personal interest to me. Not only am I burdened; I’m conflicted about my burden.
My red twine led me to the idea of God’s character. How can I trust God wants good for me in the form of inevitable heaviness if I don’t trust His character? I landed in Exodus where Moses asked God to reveal His true self to him. In Exodus 33:18-19, “Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you and I will proclaim my name the LORD in your presence.” And so for a few months I meditated on the following verses (34:6-7) where the LORD describes Himself and His character: compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, etc. But I kept getting stuck on Moses asking God to see His GLORY. Its clear that He wanted to know whom God was so why ask for God’s glory? I couldn’t get past it, not in small part because I have no idea what it means. I saw my red twine going in that direction so I looked up what that word Glory means in the text. And wouldn’t you know the first word used to describe the Hebrew word kabod is… weight? Dictionaries are quick to back it up that it describes a good kind of weight, an imposing, a splendor, an importance. Still, I felt tears prick my eyes when I read it for the first time. God knows what it means to feel heavy too.
And while I’m forcing you to take a ride on the Nerd Train, do you know what Glory translates to in the New Testament? A manifestation of God in luminosity, brilliance, brightness, and splendor. Reading that I heard Jesus’ echoing’s to His disciples,
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”
I felt a pang of something in my soul. I am God’s light. I have the power to give light to everyone in my house. I have the power to give or withhold that light. My role as wife, as mother, is not my definitive title. It is just parts of who I am. But if my heaviness highlights my importance, then I am vital in setting the tone of our household. Instead of giving light, I saw that sometimes I let the heaviness be a cloak. I let it dampen and shut out and shut in. Unchecked resentment manifests and my attitude seeps poison into my home. Moms bear the weight of being the barometer of the home, intrinsically aware of the atmosphere and vital in shaping it.
If we shirk this heaviness, if we distance ourselves from it, if we outsource it and distract ourselves from it, we can go through life relatively unchanged. But it is a travesty to leave this life unchanged. Not everyone is destined for parenthood and parenthood is not the only catalyst to strip us down, it just happens to be mine. Whatever the walk of life, those who walk in the footsteps of Jesus are called to death to self. Parenthood is used for people like me who have a hard time laying it down willingly.
I think that if we could see our importance, our utter indispensability in motherhood we could rejoice in the weight. The weight is non negotiable. The stakes are too high. The caring for a life and forming of a soul is no small thing and carries with it an awesome task. That’s when I found the whole red ball of twine: Just because it is heavy does not mean it has to be a burden. Life, motherhood, tasks, to do lists; expectations from outside and within, PINTEREST… can all be a weight. It is a weight because of the scope of its importance. It is heavy because it is a privileged responsibility. But the weight need not be burdensome.