The gospel of Mark records the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to be this: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the Good News.”
From that point, Jesus embarks on a ministry of healing, teaching, correcting, and training for his disciples, the Jewish community, the Jewish leaders, and even some on the outskirts of the Jewish nation.
In many of these interactions I am surprised, inspired, and comforted by his first step in almost every interaction: Jesus names.
From the woman at the well to Simon Peter at the last supper, Jesus spends his time on earth rubbing elbows and noses with sinners, tax collectors, and those who would ultimately fall short of the perfect life he himself lived.
He doesn’t leave them at their names, conceding a low opinion of mankind that they might stay stuck in their brokenness. Nor does he shame or berate them in their shortcomings, questioning how they even got there in the first place.
No, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, names the sin, the brokenness, the shortcomings and all things “human,” and then he believes forward.
He calls, “Now go and leave your life of sin.”
He urges, “When you turn back, strengthen your brothers.”
He inspires, “Go back to your family and tell them everything God has done for you.”
But it all starts from that tender place of naming.
What does this mean for mothers, you ask? Well… Everything.
We spiritually-minded moms long to “get it right.”
We research, we read, we ask questions and we understand that there are long-lasting implications to this mothering life. But so often we waltz right over this essential first step to repentance. We skip the tender naming, and instead launch headlong into muscling our way into perfect (or mostly OK) mothering on our own strength.
Why is naming important, anyway?
Aside from the fact that it was Jesus’s first move in many of his interactions while here on earth, we can understand now that naming has a few essential functions on our path to repentance from a more practical perspective.
First, naming reminds us of our humanity, and teaches us to accept it.
In my experience as a mom, and with my mom friends, I’ve seen a phenomenon where we know we are human, and yet we hold expectations of ourselves that would otherwise be reserved for Jesus himself. We expect that we can do mothering differently than the rest of humanity does their own everyday lives, and we run ourselves ragged trying to achieve this level of perfection on our own strength and limited sleep.
The tricky part here is that our standard of living is Jesus’s image of what it means to faithfully walk with God, but not on our own strength. Naming our humanity reminds us that we are in fact dust, we will certainly fall short, struggle, and be overwhelmed; and naming will remind us when these things happen just where to turn for growth.
Then, naming provides us with validation and allows us to have Biblical community.
I can’t tell you how many times in my mothering life I have wondered if I was the only one struggling with something. Whether it be some unnamed emotional experience of motherhood, or a real life practical question about baby sleep, potty training, or temper tantrums, I have often felt confused and in the dark despite the hundreds of “mom” instagram accounts I follow.
Some of the most healing conversations I’ve had as a mother are the ones where I wrestle out a description of an experience I’m having with my kids or in my own spirit, and a friend of mine exclaims, “Yes! Me too!”
Naming gives us shared language, allows us to invite our sisters, mentors, and friends into our experience and walk with each other through and out of it. When we don’t have names, our experiences live hidden in the shadows of darkness- undefined and insidiously tempting us away from our ideals and into the space where we might just believe the serpent whispering lies in our ears.
Finally, naming gives us information about how to map an appropriate repentant direction out of our broken place.
When we jump from humanity to striving for godliness without first naming the space of humanity we’re living in, we can make the mistake of trying to change our behavior in an unhelpful way. The shape of our brokenness will help us understand the best path forward into growth.
If you think back to Jesus’ ministry, he had lots of different kinds of conversations. Some were tender, some were forceful, some were vague, and some very direct. Jesus first names the experience each person is going through, and he maps a path forward differently based on where they are.
When we lash out in anger, shut down and escape, have an unloving attitude toward our family or friends, it’s important to spend some time unpacking where those behaviors are coming from. Just like the individuals touched by his ministry, we might need different kinds of conversations with our friend Jesus in the face of our brokenness.
Is this just plain ole’ sin? Or is it postpartum depression? Or grief? Are we lonely? Is our trust misguided? Are we believing the sneaky lies of the world? Has there been a fracture in relationship that needs to be repaired?
You see, when we give names to things, it helps us have a clearer picture of where to go. Just like Jesus tenderly comforts the woman anointing him with a broken alabaster jar of perfume, we may find that a more tender conversation with Jesus is the best path to growth out of our “life of sin.” Or, maybe we’re in a space where Jesus might have a more direct conversation with us, like he has with the Pharisees.
The first step of figuring that out is to give the thing a name.
Which is why I’m so excited to announce that I am launching a podcast with this very goal! The Motherhood Named and Known Podcast will be a space where I will use my skills as a licensed therapist and my heart of a friend to chat with moms about their personal motherhood experience.
My prayer is that these conversations would serve to help each mother name her own unique experience, and so lean into the comfort that comes with being truly known-both by our fellow moms and by our God.
This podcast will be comprised of interviews and practical resources to help mothers take the first steps forward from the things they named. I hope you’ll join me in sharing about the podcast next week!