I remember sitting in a parking lot with one of my absolute dearest friends on the planet, outside a shopping strip halfway between where she lived and I lived in the greater Cincinnati area. We had just finished chowing down on some delicious Chipotle, and were getting ready to say goodbye.
I was nearing 9 months pregnant at the time, and still newlywed. Part of our evening had been spent talking about what we were struggling with at the time, which for me included the big adjustment of marriage, moving to a new city, and pregnancy. Yet, I remember telling her as we got ready to part, “You know what, though? I have never felt more like myself before. I’ve never felt so much like I am doing exactly what I was made to do.”
That is what being a wife and mother feels like to me. It brings life to places in my heart the way anyone else’s heart comes alive by doing what they were made to do. It is a blessing.
Yet, ironically, some of the most tender and profound aspects of being a wife and mother have also been the most painful.
I’ve said before, and I still believe this is true: if marriage is like a loofa, gently scrubbing away at the layers of my selfishness, parenthood is like a cheese grater. Not so gentle. It has been a struggle (still is) to come to grips with the loss of my privacy, my sleep, my time, my energy, even some of my desires.
When I was in my last month of pregnancy with Olivia, I had to quit work somewhat abruptly because I started to show signs of hypertension, and my midwives recommended I go on partial bed rest. During those long weeks at home waiting for Olivia to come, I would lay on the couch and watch movies and journal. I remember feeling like an Israelite, wandering in the desert, wondering when this would end.
One afternoon, I decide to watch Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” I remember being in tears as some part of me identified with Christ in his suffering in a new way. His endurance of great pain. And that was before the marathon 54 hour labor that brought Olivia into the world, a labor that caused me to connect even deeper with those feelings. Not because of the physical distress (that was intense but not unendurable), but rather because of the deep emotional distress of that long and difficult labor.
And that identification, in some ways, hasn’t stopped. There have been some hard seasons of parenting in the Rich household, and she’s only just now turning 3! In some of the more difficult times I know I have wondered why in the world people ever have kids (please tell me I’m not the only one…)
And then one day, I was reminded of these words, penned by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12:
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Jesus knew what his purpose was for his life here on earth. No person on earth has ever felt more fully alive doing what he or she was meant to do. He was fully alive in it’s fullest, most complete sense!
But that is not what caught me. What caught me was the words for the joy set before him. Jesus knew what difficulties lay ahead on his path, but he also knew that what was ultimately before him was great joy. He did not lose heart as he encountered difficulties in the life he led, nor in the death he endured. And he did so because of the joy.
He did not consider life’s difficulties a total drag. He encountered them with joy in his heart, knowing what it was ultimately producing!
I realized that I had been focusing so much on the painful aspects of motherhood. The things that I was having to let go of or deal with that were painful- patience, pride, unkindness. The list is endless, really. The rocks that need to be uprooted in my heart for a tender mother’s heart to grow. It’s easy to lose heart in the midst of the marathon when I’m focused on the immediate, sometimes difficult, circumstance. Yet I am instructed to look up and remember: Who for the joy set before Him…
And what joy there is to see young ones learn and grow! What joy there is in seeing my own heart learn and grow! What joy there is in being exactly who God made me to be! Doing exactly what He is asking of me in this moment! What joy there is in the journey, all the bumps and bruises included. They are not for nothing, I am reminded again and again. They are perfecting glory in us.