Motherhood is messy…quite literally these days. Our twins are becoming very independent and as they’ve been mastering the art of “how to use utensils,” our kitchen has turned into something that resembles a cafeteria after a food fight. But, oh goodness they look absolutely adorable covered in yogurt, peanut butter, or whatever they can get their hands on!
Prior to having children I knew that parenthood wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. But just like marriage, we can’t really understand just how messy and difficult it can be until we stumble through it ourselves. I’m not talking about a “mac n’ cheese all over the floor and dried in your hair” type of mess, although that may or may not be a weekly (daily) occurrence in our home. I’m talking about the mess that resides in our own hearts and lives, as we come to terms with our humanity and the reality that we are all a work in progress.
When we first brought our twins home I quickly caught myself making a mental checklist of all my parental and marital shortcomings . “You didn’t play enough with the babies” or “the house is a mess” or “you need to clean those bottles in the sink” or “When was the last time you even cleaned the house?” After weeks of racking my brain, I quickly realized how these exhausting and unrealistic expectations were stealing my joy and my ability to be present with my husband, family and friends. And I quickly discovered that I was missing the point. Instead of allowing the challenges point me to Christ and even recognize how God was growing me through them, I allowed the difficulties to drive me towards my shortcomings, hence the mental checklist.
As a parent, freedom came with the knowledge that my children weren’t tallying the number of folded clothes each day or the number of times I vacuumed the house. They would, however, remember if I was present. Eventually, after weeks of self-reflection, I stopped in the middle of my checklist, got on the floor, and played with my sweet little babies. Although I’m not immune to bringing out that checklist occasionally, I’m learning to flourish in the mess as I walk in grace.
The danger of unrealistic expectations is that they rarely remain in just one area of your life. I recognize this in my own; sometimes I feel like a major failure as a Christian. When I begin to examine my thoughts of poor performance and the emotions tied to them, I recognize my inherent tendency for Pharisaical parenting, living each day based upon what I did or what I didn’t. However, our salvation isn’t based upon our works or daily performance, a truth we so easily forget. The beautiful thing about God’s grace is that it frees us from the “never ending list” of things we have to do to earn His salvation, His love, His grace.
Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha? When Jesus was invited into their home, Martha was focused on all the preparations and domestic work that needed to be done around the house. And where was Mary? She was sitting at the feet of Jesus, intently listening and soaking in all He had to say. When we function in a “works based mentality” it is like telling this Man that His death on the cross wasn’t sufficient. It’s like telling the man who bore all the sins of the world, “Excuse me, I get that what you did was very heroic, but I got this. I don’t need you.” By Martha making preparations her number one priority, she was essentially telling Jesus that what she was doing with her own hands was more important than the words coming out of His lips.
I have grown to see the purpose in my weaknesses, as they have become constant reminders of my need for grace. Instead of driving me to a mental check-list, I’m learning to let my shortcomings and failures remind me that I can’t do this on my own-I need Jesus.
When you start making a “why I’m a terrible Christian list” or “all the ways I’ve failed today as a mother list,” I pray that you will think of the work that has already been accomplished for you on the cross, through Jesus Christ. I pray that the story of Mary and Martha will come to your mind, and you will remember what Jesus said about the woman who chose to sit at His feet and just be present: “Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). I pray that when the messiness of life tempts you to start that exhausting mental checklist once again, you would be reminded of the work God is doing, the grace poured out for you, and the beauty He is creating in your life through the mess. Just like our life, the pottery making process is messy, but the finished product is exquisite. Trust that the Master Potter knows exactly what He is doing as He is molding you into something beautiful.