You’ve heard the expression “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” right? Well, momma, having young kids is exactly living in the midst of seeing the trees. There is just nothing like having tiny humans completely dependent on you to prevent you from being able to see the big picture, often in a way that can be slightly panic inducing. There’s nothing like watching your mini-me follow in your footsteps, trying to simplify for them lessons you are still learning yourself.
Between my almost 3 year old and my just over 3 month old, there are days when the best I can say is that my children consumed calories (what’s nutrition have to do with eating?!), I kept my living room from looking like an episode of “Hoarders”, the clothes we were wearing weren’t the dirtiest of the bunch, and I consumed enough coffee to keep someone three times my size awake for the next year or so. Some days, I don’t have much to show for my “work” hours, and yet I fall into bed at night insanely tired from doing… well, I’m not sure what exactly.
Other days, I’m tired from spending nearly every minute of every day caring for someone; preparing meals, cleaning up muddy paw prints, correcting disrespectful words, providing shelter for anxious hearts, pouring myself out for others’ benefit. And somehow, despite all I know I’m giving, I carry this wearying sense of guilt that I’m still not accomplishing enough. The laundry is clean, but still in baskets to be folded. The living room is picked up, but the floors aren’t swept. We ate vegetables at dinner, but I cooked them in the microwave. I read books at bedtime, but didn’t slow down enough to do all the voices. And between all that I’m doing and the weight of all I’m not, I start the day exhausted and grumpy, disinclined to give much of myself, but always feeling the pull to be poured out to emptiness.
And in this age of social-media-critiqued parenting, it’s easy to compare the trees around us to other people’s forests. Melinda’s mom spent “just $8 at Walmart” for all these crafty supplies that kept her two-year-old busy for 4 ours while she did yoga, made an organic dinner, and got a facial. Not pictured in the Instagram post is Melinda’s bedroom floor covered in five tubes’ worth of glitter glue (an activity that really would keep a two-year-old busy for four hours). Jack’s mom writes her own family devotions and sits her beautifully dressed children down “every morning” to have worship time together. Text not edited to include the fact that “every morning” refers to the last two mornings of vacation.
Even if I ignore other people’s lives, it takes everything I have to not get caught up in the rat race of child-rearing happening inside my own expectations. I tend to view parenting as though it were my sole job and responsibility. I want to parent intentionally, making each decision and disciplinary reaction based on my child’s personality and education. Forget the fact that I’m also in charge of meal planning and prep, laundry, housework, and oh yeah, my job. I forge ahead attempting to be a Jesus-spouting-Mary-Poppins-of-a-mother. Always calm, always in control, always prepped for whatever parenting challenge is sure to arise.
But kids have this way of reflecting our own circumstances back to us. My sweet Risa-girl’s bones are built of independence and firy passion. We are currently learning to make choices and express our feelings about those choices in a way that other people can reasonably respond to. I watch her whole body shake with indignation over being served milk in a blue cup, and not the favored “purple cup with stripes” and I can feel this visceral response in me … indignation over having this fight again when she really just ought to be grateful that I gave her a cup of milk in the first place! She runs to the fridge, yanks the door open, and strains on her tip toes to reach the milk on the top shelf. She just knows she can fix this problem herself. And I think, “I could be doing so many more useful things right now.”
If I just reach a little higher, stretch a little taller, I can reach my own milk. I force myself through the motions one more time, trying to achieve that elusive state of “completion” that does not exist for mommas, gritting my teeth, paying homage to the idols of Appearance, Pinterest, and My Inner Critic. Bleeding out to make it look like I’ve got it all under control. Those are my trees right now. Learning to wait patiently while a toddler takes ten minutes to put on her socks or teaching a baby how to sleep on a schedule altered by an hour. And in my Pinterest-inspired mind, that just doesn’t feel good enough.
But y’all, along with the first bite of forbidden fruit came entropy, and this whole crazy world spins on an axis of chaos. The shalom of Jesus comes from His Presence, not from my cabinets being stacked with clean dishes or my pantry full of homemade, organic snack options. No meal plan, closet of clean laundry, good night’s sleep, or heck, a day without time-outs for my toddler will produce the peace I’m longing for. Only Jesus can provide that.
I can hear Jesus saying to me, “I gave you these children. I gave you this work. I did not give you this guilt. Any of it. You’re tired from carrying around all this emotional baggage…how much lighter would you feel without it?” It’s as though He has applied a brake to my gung-ho-ness. “Be here now. Be present here. Pour yourself out here. And as you pour yourself out, my light will leak through your cracked and broken places. In every place you come up short, you fail, you don’t feel yourself enough for the situation at hand, My light will shine through. The only way to have more of Me, is to constantly empty yourself out. I’m applying the brakes here so you slow and see Me, so that you don’t choose isolation and wind up broken.”
I need Jesus so desperately to pull my eyes up, so I can look up through the branches and grasp splinters of sunlight cascading through, reminding me that there is air and life outside of this small thicket I’m in right now. Spending time in His Word I remember that love is “laying down (my) life for (my) friends,” that “the greatest of these is love,” and that “love covers over a multitude of sins.” I’m really not called to much more than loving my children, trusting that as I love them, Jesus’ love pours through me to them. As I constantly lay myself aside, His love courses through my little actions to make a big impact in my kiddos’ lives.
If I trust Him enough, if I truly believe my path has been ordained, that I’m living in the good works that He planned out for me to do, I can rest in His Presence by being fully present here. I can attend to my children’s needs. I can clean up one more mess, prepare one more snack. I can lean into being poured out. Because He fills the emptied cup. He pours His grace right in, and His light shines brilliantly through the cracks, and I obliterate those idols when I abide in the fact that Jesus is my Enough. He is my Measure, my Guard, my Fullness. I can lean into the sacrificial work of momma and wife and ministry partner, because He is fueling me and filling me, and He is guiding me through my brokenness to His completeness.
That’s hard to believe some days. On the days my life feels a mess, I wonder why Jesus gave me these two beautiful munchkins. But I just keep inundating myself with His truth, with His Presence, because He who called us is faithful. Even in the midst of the trees of unfolded laundry, dirty dishes, and unswept floors, when I can’t see the forest - somehow, He leads me to my rest.