How to get through the hard moments, days, and seasons of motherhood...
If you are old enough to be reading this, I assume that you are well aware that not all of the days have been sunshine and rainbows and butterflies. Some days, in life and especially in motherhood, you may find yourself angry, sad, overwhelmed, numb, stuck… or some combination of unpleasant feelings that loom over your head and your heart like a dark cloud. In the midst of these moments, it’s easy to become fearful.
“Will it always be this way?”
“Where is my joy?”
“Is something wrong with me?”
“How do I get out of this funk?”
“Where is God?”
At the time of writing this, I am in one such place. It’s the year 2020… Your dad and I went into this year knowing it would be challenging. Tobias was due to be born in May, Daddy was finishing school requiring him to be working or at his internship 20+ hours a day, you were entering the toddler stage, and we were expecting some financial hardship. God placed on my heart in January a need to cultivate strength and capacity through deeply relying on him. I entered 2020 scared, but prepared.
But then 2020 brought more than we expected. The untimely and devastating death of Kobe Bryant. Raging wildfires in Australia. A global pandemic that has disrupted the fabric of the world we are accustomed to living in– masks, isolation, social distancing, fear, debates. Election year causing distrust in any and all information. Social injustices. Fear. Sadness. Fighting. Repeat. Each day it feels like the world just keeps filling up with more sadness, more frustration, more unrest, and more discord. Community is distant as we try to keep each other safe from this virus that seems to be elusive in understanding… No church, no festivals, no playgrounds….
I am tired...
Recently, as I lay down to sleep, I find myself being so grateful for the night time. The 2020 that I was expecting– hardship and all– has become more than I can bear sometimes. Some days I am overwhelmed with sorrow, numbness, frustration, powerlessness, despair. Some days I feel my heart having a full-blown adult-sized toddler temper tantrum to mirror the tantrums of my sweet 16 month old first-born. Some days I feel stuck.
These feelings beg the question, what do we do in these seasons? How do we make it through moments, days, or seasons of despair while simultaneously tending to the unending needs of the present? How can I teach my children about the light and life of Christ when all I see around me is darkness?
The Spirit keeps whispering these words on my heart:: "Time is passing..."
If this seems like a “doom-and-gloom” perspective, maybe it is. But it doesn’t stay that way. You see, the Bible is an amazing book, living and active (Hebrews 4), and able to bring us through all of the seasons– good and bad, hard and easy. I invite you to turn to the book of Lamentations and read the depth of despair that writer was living in. I can connect to it well:
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me."
Yup. That about sums it up.
But then he continues:
"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'"
Ahhhhh. Doesn’t that feel like a drink of water on a hot August day in Florida?
Remembering that time is passing is a remembrance that these seasons are not eternal. Remembering that God’s mercies are new every morning can fill us with hope that he has not abandoned us to despair.
The Bible doesn’t ask us to “get our act together,” and put on a fake smile before we enter the presence of God. Reading the book of Lamentations alone shows that God is not scared of our overwhelming emotions. He doesn’t reject us in the midst of our lament. Instead he makes room for it, he welcomes us in it, and then he shines a light into the dark place.
Lamentations is a “chaistic poem,” which is a Hebrew form of writing that has sort of a mirrored structure, which is supposed to point us to a central point in the middle of the text.
"For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love."
The lament of the writer of Lamentations points us to this beautiful message of hope. This is not forever. In counseling, this is genius and something all of us are trying to get our clients to recognize. You feelings are valid– they are real, and they give us information about the world around us. However, our feelings are not the end. There is strength in noticing and recognizing the weight of our feelings, but then there is also strength in the hope that these things are not forever.
Last night I felt my soul breathe a sigh of relief as I laid down in bed. Another day was done– it wasn’t the worst day so far of the season, but it certainly wasn’t the best. I spent much of the day being followed around by the dark cloud of lament. The dark cloud led me to frustration and anger, sometimes sadness, sometimes insecurity. In desperation for social interaction I drove to church last night in hopes to just wave at people as they walked in for midweek service. By the time I got there, everyone was already inside and I remained isolated and unseen…
But the remembrance of passing time brought me peace as I lay on my bed.
Sometimes we are told in times like these to “count our blessings,” and remember that “it could always be worse.” I suppose these things are true, but most of the time these platitudes just frustrate me and invalidate the difficulty of the feelings of the present.
I believe the scriptures call us to notice our suffering, notice the hardship.
“Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust– there may yet be hope.”
This doesn’t feel like the Pollyanna platitude to simply “count my blessings.” This feels like something deeper, something more true. That suffering and hardship does happen. Whether it’s the realities of our own personal lives (like having two children under 15 months and a husband absent more than usual due to finishing school), or the realities of the world we live in (social injustice, political unrest, and a global pandemic)… The kingdom of God has come and is coming, but there is still darkness in this place…
And… God is bringing peace. At the very least, we receive a fresh loaf of his mercies “every morning,” but this renewed hope each day can point us to the grander hope that someday his kingdom will come in fullness. Someday, we will be in a place with no lament. God has not forgotten us. We are not abandoned to this despair.
Time is passing. There is hope. Something new is coming.
So, how do we handle the overwhelming seasons of life?
Notice the feelings of lament and despair. Acknowledge them and give them a name.
Surrender the desire to control those feelings or get out of them. Oftentimes we get ourselves into a deeper rut by shaming ourselves, avoiding our feelings, and clinging to shallow platitudes that make us feel like our lament isn’t appropriate. Should we find points of joy and gratitude amidst the difficulty? Absolutely. The book of Philippians shows us that we can have joy and contentment within the struggle and hardship. But that searching for joy and gratitude is not an erasure of the difficult… There is a paradoxical duality in this Christian life… an “and,” rather than a “but.” We are living in a world overwhelmed with darkness… AND there is so much beauty and joy all around us. Don’t try to hold one truth without the other, instead assume a position of surrender where we can accept the grief, struggle, and hardship as well as all of the blessings we are surrounded with.
Sleep, and as you drift to sleep find solace in the passage of time that is marching us toward a greater hope. Tomorrow may be better than today (or maybe not), but there is an ultimate tomorrow that we look forward to in the midst of our sorrow. Moment to moment, day to day, season to season we are able to relish in the fact that the passage of time is bringing us nearer to the fullness of God’s kingdom. Each screaming moment will pass into a peaceful one; each exhausting day will pass into a night of sleep; each season of struggle will pass into a season of glimpsing the new humanity and new creation awaiting us when Jesus returns; and each life surrendered to the Lord will pass into a full realization of that new humanity when God restores all things to himself.
Repeat. We don’t have to be “cured” of our lament after one reminder of this hope. Faithfully come back to those messages of hope day by day, and one day you will be laying your head down at the end of the day with gratitude and fullness– realizing that the despair and lament has lifted (at least for a time), and joy will fill your heart.
“Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen…” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Scriptures for further study
2 Corinthians 4 (The whole chapter, but watch the end carefully for the exclamation point).