Motherhood: A Grace Period
Do you ever feel, as I often do, that the cosmos have a sense of humor? That the very things we are weak in, those are the things we somehow get an extra dose of to muddle our way through?
Without going into too much detail, I'm the kind of person that apparently gets pregnant just by breathing my husband's air. But I have never been a naturally nurturing person. Having five kiddos in six years has been incredibly challenging, humbling, and often terrifying as I lose all sense of control. I have other strengths: I can hang my picture frames level just by eyeballing them, and we all know I'm a better driver than anyone else on the road! But I never really imagined myself being a super mom. It has more or less been given to me.
I sometimes receive comments like: "God must really trust you, to give you so many gorgeous, sweet babies." And they are gorgeous and sweet. And they are blessings. And I adore them. But I also know several amazing women who long for babies, who are clearly more qualified in the nurturing department than myself. So I suspect that in my case, it's less about trust than about something that I need to learn.
Against all odds, it appears that I actually am learning, changing and improving along the way, though not in the studied, incremental, bookish kind of way. It's a more messy, chaotic kind of transformation taking place in my heart, something akin to "losing my life" and somehow "coming to myself," too. It's terribly uncomfortable at times because I don't entirely control the process: sheer grit rarely translates to results (read: potty training), I haven't found an owner's manual or any guarantees (read: teenagers), and there is no one to reliably evaluate my progress. So it often feels like I am muddling my way through.
Motherhood has been by far the most fulfilling, demanding, and expanding experience I have ever had. To be so entirely engaged with my kids' well-being tends to lead to both my condemnation and my redemption within the same heartbeat. In no other place is the gulf between who I am and who I want to be more transparent. Day to day and moment to moment, my weakness is revealed to me. But I believe that God is implementing this amazing promise in my life:
"And if Becca comes unto me I will show unto her her weakness. I give unto her weakness that she may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for her . . . for if she humbles herself before me, and has faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto her." (Ether 12:27, edited for personalization).
Notice where the first period lands: "And if Becca comes unto me I will show unto her her weakness." Period. Pause. Wait. There was a time in my life when I felt as if I was a small speck of a person on the page of my scriptures, right on that period. Waiting for grace. Feeling only weakness.
We had just moved to a new town for my husband to attend a full-time residency program. He was working three jobs on the side to support our family, and I was often at home, alone, with three very young children. This was when I found out I was pregnant with our fourth. I cried for weeks, and then ugly laugh-cried when I found out that I was already into my second trimester and didn't even get the benefit of the full nine months to emotionally prepare!
It was during that time that I was called to serve at church as the president of the primary program, administering to all of the children and their teachers. Holy moly. "Where was God's grace now?" I wondered. Where was this divine aid, this saving power? Are the requirements of the gospel too much? Is too much asked of us? Broken hearts. Contrite spirits. Humility. Bending, turning, rending. Is this thing called grace only for after this life?
David Bednar said: "Sometimes we mistakenly may believe that happiness is the absence of a load. . . . [But] the unique burdens in each of our lives help us to rely upon the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah." It is when we are beyond our own abilities that we lean into Christ, allowing a connection with Him to strengthen us until we can bear what we have been given. Christ doesn't shame us in our weakness. Nor is His grace all about a pat-on-the-head "I'll overlook it" kind of forgiveness. He empowers us, educates our desires, and fortifies our faith until our strength is born of what once was weak.
It was during this fourth pregnancy for me that I really experienced this strengthening aspect of Christ's grace. He enabled me to do more than I could've done on my own. Even now, I shake my head and cannot deny what He made possible. I began to feel a greater capacity to love and a better sense of humor. I was specifically prompted to improve a deteriorating relationship with my demanding one-year-old by quietly sitting down to keep her company while she was playing. And my new role as primary president was a great blessing as I served with some of the best and most valiant women of my acquaintance. Though nothing actually changed about my circumstances, I was given energy instead of malaise, and purpose instead of self-pity.
Nowadays, I get a glimpse of heaven's view more often. I may never entirely prevail against laundry or Legos, as it appears to be an unerring law of nature that it is much easier to create chaos than it is to create order. But I love these five particular kids more than I have ever loved my clean house, my own life, or anything in it. And I find that love makes motherhood infinitely more redeeming than condemning.
I still make a lot of mistakes and often long for a "do-over." But that's not how it works. Grace doesn't make it so that yesterday never happened. I don't suddenly get a new batch of kids just because I'm sorry for yelling at them yesterday. Yesterday did happen, but Christ's grace makes it so that I have the courage to confront my weakness with humility and the reason to trust in the changes that I am experiencing along the way. This grace period is His gift to me, afforded at great sacrifice. He knows I am learning on the job, and that if I turn to Him, seeking the strength that I so crave, I will lead my children to Him, too. Perhaps it's not so bad after all, that they see me grow, if it provides them a pattern to do the same.