These pandemic days have me reliving my early years of motherhood. Though my children are older now, their never-ending company leaves me freshly aware of how much motherhood requires of me. As I try to pound out coherent thoughts on the keyboard, I do so with the sound of sibling arguments echoing in the background. I leave my home office, still distracted by a disjointed day’s work, and trip over Lego bricks and art supplies on my way to make dinner in a messy kitchen. They may no longer be toddlers, but there is nonetheless a resilient barrage of needs and words, noise and mess.
I often feel that motherhood has left me a shell of the woman I once was. I used to be smart, passionate, engaged in the world and in the lives of others, but now I’m regularly tired, distracted, with permanent circles under my eyes and a short fuse. Though I hoped to eventually turn in the diapers and midnight feedings and get my brain back, I still often find myself pining for that elusive woman with all the energy and ambition. It’s no wonder that motherhood has been called “a psychological big bang.”Motherhood propels a woman into a whole new identity, accompanied by an upheaval of her body, dreams, energy, and time, with a large dose of guilt thrown in for good measure.
Two Tempting Directions
When I find myself floundering in this fractured identity, my heart is tempted to go in two possible directions:
Some days, I look back at the woman I was and determine I must summon her return. I allow the resentment to linger until bitterness takes root; I snap at my children and push them aside and set out to make a name for myself, determined to define myself on my terms.
On others, I look to my children and silently accept that they are the sum of my life now. I hold up the call to motherhood, remind myself how important it is, and give it everything I’ve got. I read the blogs and set the goals and make the list and resolve that this will be the new me. I aim to find my purpose and identity in my ability to meet their endless demands and live up to my calling as Super Mom.
But in both cases, I fall into bed at night exhausted, either basking in the glory of my supposed accomplishments or (more likely) sulking under the guilt of my many failures.
A Different Identity
Jesus offers a different solution to my identity crisis: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”(Col. 3:3). God has called me to lay down my life and to find it in Christ (Mark 8:34—35).
I’ve often been told to look to Christ to see an example of how I am to lay down my life for my children. But while Christ is the perfect picture of sacrificial love, looking to him provides far more than an example for me to emulate. In perfectly obeying his Father’s will and laying down his life for me, Jesus secured a record of perfect obedience that is now credited to my account (Rom. 5:19), and he paid the penalty my sin deserves (Rom 8:1—4). In doing so, he has affected the most profound identity shift of all: instead of his enemy, he calls me his daughter (Eph 2:1—7; Rom 8:14—17).
God has called me to be a mother, yes, and with that calling comes an upheaval of my life that requires physical, emotional, and spiritual work. But first and foremost he has called me to live by faith in the new identity that he has graciously bestowed upon me in Christ. He has called me to believe that my life is hidden in Christ, therefore I am called “holy and beloved,”and am counted among God’s “chosen ones”(Col. 3:12). With the strength of the indwelling Spirit, I can now put to death what is earthly in me and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”(Col. 3:5, 10).
In his kindness, God has placed many circumstances in my life through which the Spirit can do this renovating work, including the sanctifying call to death that is raising children.
Mothering in Christ
So what about today? How do I walk out these spiritual truths with Lego bricks underfoot? How does my identity in Christ help me to grapple with the upheaval of motherhood? To begin, it helps me to stop looking to the work of my hands to give my life value and prove my worth.
As I look to Christ to discover who I am, and rest in the work he has already accomplished for me, I begin to experience freedom. I find the freedom to be honest about what’s hard and seek help and support. I find freedom to confess my failures, ask for forgiveness, and celebrate God’s abundant grace with my children. And I find freedom to enjoy this messy and beautiful life that’s been entrusted to me, knowing that every good gift comes from a good and wise Father who never stops working for my good (James 1:17; Rom 8:28).
This calling often leaves me feeling depleted, but I need not think back to the “glory days”where energy and time abounded. And I need not look to my children and beg them to tell me who I am. Instead, I can look to Christ and hope in a different “glory day,”when he who began a good work in me will complete it (Col 3:4; Phil 1:6). The one who calls me is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thes 5:24).