“Enjoy every minute.”
“It goes so fast.”
“When are you due?”
Umm, six months ago.
People say silly things to new mothers. Even though everyone insists that the time just flies, after my first daughter was born I understood how a day could seem like a thousand years to the Lord. As my husband sauntered out the door to work, I would think, “Eleven-and-a-half hours. What will we do for 11 ½ hours until he gets home?”
“I wish I had your job.”
This from a man pumping the outhouse at the park while I pushed my daughter on the swing.
“Our jobs are remarkably similar,” I couldn’t keep myself from saying.
“You are so blessed.”
A casual comment from a fellow Walmart shopper, but that one got to me. No smart reply forthcoming.
Blessed is the last thing I would call myself in that moment, baby squalling in the stroller, stripe of poo decorating my sweater unbeknownst to me when I left the house. Thirty-five years of freedom weren’t dying gracefully. As a single woman, I studied, built a career, gallivanted around the globe with my friends. For the first three years of marriage, our hardest decision was which restaurant to choose on a Friday night.
I got the uncomfortable feeling from time to time that our life was too cushy, that a trial better come our way soon or we would stagnate. But since praying for a trial seemed a tad overboard, I decided to try an experiment based on Psalm 27:4 (NIV):
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.”
I determined that for the next year I wouldn’t ask the Lord for any of the items on my wish list. I would still pray for others, but for myself I would ask only for a greater glimpse of God’s beauty.
A heartbeat after breathing my lofty resolve, we received the biggest news of our lives.
“Okay,” my husband said, “okay,” and fled to the fridge for a beer.
I sat in frozen silence, tormenting myself with visions of all the screaming babies I had ever tried to hold. If I couldn’t even hold a baby, how could I keep one alive, let alone feel whatever I was supposed to feel for it? Yet after that final agonizing push, I looked into my daughter’s eyes and knew without doubt that I cradled God’s beauty near my heart.
That feeling buoyed me through the first six weeks until the day-in, day-out reality of motherhood hit. The books call it “cluster-feeding”; I called it serving as host organism to the cutest little parasite I had ever seen. But the every-half-hour feedings paled in comparison to the naps – or lack thereof. My friends’ babies napped for three-hour stretches while they cleaned house, stitched quilts, and wrote PhD dissertations. I just wanted a chance to pee, but my babe catnapped all day long – as long as I was holding her, that is.
“Can you imagine your life without her?”
This platitude, falling frequently from the lips of my well-meaning father-in-law, made me feel guiltier than the rest. Yes, I could imagine my life before motherhood, and for most of that first year, I longed for my former life with piercing nostalgia. I missed my husband almost as if he had died, feeling inconsolably homesick for the way things used to be between us, when I wasn’t too tired at the end of the day to hang out, or too resentful over how much more parenthood had changed my life than his.
Then one day, in the midst of all the cute sayings from well-wishers, I heard another voice speaking to me. The Spirit’s voice held no condemnation as He told me to end my mourning period, only urgency for me to welcome a new season, a gift from Him just like all the former seasons, each season a new chance to cling to Him.
When I sacrificed the comfort of nostalgia, I assumed that the Lord would meet me halfway and take my pain away. Instead, I found myself in limbo, no longer living in the past but not yet able to joyously accept the present. Five years of Bible college taught me all the technical ins and outs of sanctification, so I knew that the fruits of the Spirit should be flourishing practically in my here-and-now life. If the Lord is utterly beautiful, and gazing at Him is supposed to transform me into His likeness, why was I still so ugly?
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” John 12:25 The Message
Encountering this verse healed the wounds of self-condemnation I’d been inflicting on myself for months. Instead of wishing away my pain, I needed to lean into it as a loved one’s embrace. I hurt, not just because I am sinful, but because I am dying each day. Dying is supposed to be painful; even Jesus wanted the pain of death to go away, but He didn’t run from it. My pain wasn’t a sign of my weakness, as long as I was willing to keep moving forward through it.
The amount of time true change takes is an affront to our caffeine-infused society. I expected the fruits of the Spirit to bloom automatically, but the Father’s glory is not so small that it can only be displayed in the ripeness of mature fruit. We have to be truly dead before He can glorify Himself in raising us to life. His is the fruit-bearing, the awakening to love; ours is the burial, the reckless letting go, the front-row seat to the Lord’s beauty.