Missions can be lonely. Motherhood can be lonely. Put them together, and, well….double lonely. At least some days can be. There are days when my house is filled up with people from different cultures and worldviews; evenings with young people discussing the Bible and theology, sipping on coffee or tea I have prepared for them; older men praying with my husband and imparting wisdom to us. But as a mom most days are the same for me as they ever were before we became vocational missionaries.
I knew it would be like this. I even told people that my life would look very much the same as it already did, because my first priority is my children and our home. But I’m driven. And I used to be in vocational ministry as a single gal, so adjusting to being a mom and missionary has been harder for me than I anticipated.
Before I go on, I need to say that we like being where we are, we have been extremely fortunate to have built many sweet relationships, and God is at work. He is blessing the fact that we are here and our life is NOT terrible. I feel I must offer that disclaimer because I’m about to get honest about how some things are just very hard.
My personality type (ENFJ in the Myers Briggs) can be known for getting stuff done. The ENFJ’s of the world are empathetic go-getters, the life-of-the-party leader types. When I was single and doing college ministry at one of the largest universities in the country, that “M.O.” worked for me. But I’m not 22 and single with all the time in the world at my finger tips any more. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m 34. My children and our own home are my first mission field. But I have to be honest, most days it doesn’t feel like ministry. I wasn’t trained to view making PB&J, changing diapers, doing endless laundry and teaching small humans how to blow their nose as ministry. I was trained to lead effective Bible studies, to disciple younger women who would then disciple others, I learned how to share the Gospel in a variety of contexts, to be a counselor, etc. But, wiping the table five times per day, or let’s be honest, only once if I’m lucky, doesn’t always feel quite as compelling to the go-getter deep within.
When ministering to adults I experience meaningful conversation, mutual respect, results, closure, etc. As a mother, with my kids as my primary mission field, conversations are often centered around lego creations, play-doh, discipline for “potty talk,” arguments over sleep and food, and the nonsensical ramblings of toddlers. With my results oriented drive, I get worn down by endless laundry and endless dishes. I find myself thinking, Couldn’t I be in a meeting right now getting stuff done? Couldn’t I be in a counseling session with someone helping them grow? Couldn’t I be sitting in a coffee shop for hours on end prepping for Bible Study? Nope. I am in a different season of life now.
Lately, I have been pretty convicted about my negative attitude about it. I have realized that so much of the kind of day I have is wrapped up in my perspective on it. The more selfish I feel, the more I allow resentment to build up for doing what I think are menial tasks. The less patience I have with my kids, the less willing I am to support my husband in his work. And guess what? I am the one who ends up having a bad day because of my own attitude. And I miss out on more than just a good day. I miss out on opportunities. Ministry opportunities.
Since having my third child I have struggled in my heart with my “contribution” to the ministry. I’ve been impossibly hard on myself, and consequently my family. I’ve struggled because my focus has shifted dramatically. When we arrived on the Rez, I was basically working part time in a number of areas. I was seeing clients for counseling two or three days a week. I was leading a Bible study, hosting a young adult group in my home, teaching an emotional health workshop at the school, I was on a committee for a new website and planned special events. I was workin’ it!
But now, I have a new baby. I also have a history of post-partum depression which makes the first year after having a child a pretty vulnerable time for me. Like most moms I struggle with guilt and fear of failure, or more like terror of failure. By the end of the day I am dead-dog tired but sometimes I push through to get the last of the dishes done. Honestly though, a lot of the time the dirty dishes stay there overnight and I do them the next day, maybe. (This is embarrassing, btw.)
But then I get to thinking about wether or not this is where my value really comes from. Do I really get my worth from my accomplishments? Sure, I might feel a little better about myself when my house is cleaned up, I’ve had my time alone in the Word, exercised, and my kids are well fed. But that isn’t always a realistic expectation. Plus, I’m trying to learn one of the most difficult languages there is. The language that helped win WWII. It was impossible for the Japanese to break the code, and last time I checked Japanese are very smart people. In other words, THIS IS HARD for my mommy brain.
My pride is being found out and sanctified because, since I’m being honest here, I don’t always enjoy this season of life, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, and I fail a lot. Does this mean I’m not good at what I do? Uh, oh. This Iowa farm girl is trying her best at something and still isn’t getting it down right?! Guess what? I’m learning to be ok with that. I need Jesus just like every one else. I need to be saved by him and rescued from my sin every single day. We all benefit from knowing that we are imperfect and in need of a Lord and Savior. It humbles us and gives us such gratitude.
Even though I know the truth, that self criticizing voice comes back and whispers, If I just had fewer ideas about things, less ambition, less drive to be with people, maybe I’d be more content, right? No, I must turn to Jesus for creativity in this season of life. In a recent conversation with my counselor I was processing how there are things in motherhood that I am just not good at, and so I hold myself in contempt. She told me that introspection plus condemnation kills creativity and the ability to hear the voice of God. So that means honest introspection without self hatred can open up doors for God to work through me and creatively minster to my family.
I was saved by grace through faith, so I also live out my life and ministry by grace through faith. I discipline my kids by grace through faith. I stay at home and build into the next generation starting from day one. It is all done by God’s grace, the grace that helps me to change and grow.
I’ve been reading Gloria Furman’s book Missional Motherhood which has been a great encouragement to me in reorienting my perspective. We have also been listening to What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done which is also helping to redeem my thoughts about the work I do.