An Answer for the Guilt of Motherhood

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I think most mothers feel some level of guilt every single day.  I know that I do.  I have heard it said that guilt is just part of the job description.  Should it be? Surely God doesn’t intend for us to carry this heavy load.  Wouldn’t we be much better mothers if we were free from guilt?

But I have so many opportunities to feel remorse!

When my third grader can’t read. (I am a horrible homeschool teacher!)

When my baby wakes up and I can’t calm him. (Surely I should understand a baby’s needs by this time!)

When I yell at my eight year old and he hides in the linen closet and cries. (I am so mean.)

When my teenager yells at ME for outlawing the indiscriminate consumption of sugar. (I am so unreasonable and extreme.)

When my oldest daughter is stressed out because of the amount of house work she has to do. (I should be doing more of the work myself.)

When my special needs girl is crying because I am forcing her to do therapy (what kind of monster am I?)

When my two year old screams so the entire grocery store can hear. (I have failed at disciplining him and instilling a sweet and joyful personality.)

I have realized that all moms have times like these.  So if we are all universally dealing with the guilt of our motherhood failures, THERE MUST BE AN ANSWER!!!!

Let me take you on a journey of extreme guilt and perhaps you will recognize your own journey.  I have a daughter who was born after a more difficult birth requiring Pitocin.  I wrote all about it in my article,  “Birth Story, Part 3.” She looked perfect and beautiful to me, but the hospital staff was convinced that there was something wrong with her.  She had unusual facial features and two toes on each foot were partially webbed.  They continued to “find” more and more abnormalities in her internal organs that could have had serious consequences.  Yet in just two days, she went home with me; a healthy, happy and totally normal baby!

Or so I thought…until I received a call when Ashlyn was 6 weeks old. The chromosome analyses revealed that she was missing a piece of her 6th chromosome.  No one had ever heard of such a thing and no one knew what this might mean.

Chris and I were convinced that our daughter would be just fine.  She could grow up without physical or mental handicaps because God would show us exactly what to do.  I read and researched and read and researched some more.  Other children like her had been able to maintain higher than average intelligence when put on an intensive therapy program developed by the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential.  I opted to enroll Ashlyn in a similar program at the Family Hope Center. 

It required taking Ashlyn to the center every six months for an evaluation and to learn the home treatment plan.  Each trip would cost $5,000.  We weren’t able to take her until she was three or four years old.  I felt terrible about losing those valuable first years, even though I tried to institute the therapies at home that I had taught myself by reading their books.  We were able to raise and save the money to go to the Family Hope Center a total of three times in the 12 years of her life.  Each time the Family Hope Center infused me with great ideas and many wonderful therapies.

But there was a problem.  How could I possibly accomplish 6 hours of therapy with Ashlyn each day?  I found it a struggle to devote even two hours to her with all the needs of my other children, the house, and my husband.  Many times Ashlyn would be very uncooperative or sick, and we got nothing accomplished at all.  I watched the years pass by and her developmental delays became more and more pronounced.  The gap between her actual age and her neurological age grew wider and wider.

I took some comfort in the fact that all the crawling around on the floor she was doing was organizing her brain, and that someday she would eventually walk.  When that day came, her intelligence would be much higher because of the abundance of cross pattern crawling she had done.

What I didn’t know was that she was developing a progressive club foot deformity.  Perhaps it was because of her chromosomes, perhaps it was because of the lack of weight bearing on her feet, perhaps it was because of the poor position of her legs and feet while crawling.  Her large shoes created a crawling form never taken by a normal baby.  The handicap crept up on me and all of her healthcare providers until…her muscles and bones formed abnormally.

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She became unable to stand up or walk normally and may never be able to.

I felt like this, along with all of her other physical and emotional issues, were my fault.  Whenever I looked at her twisted and painful feet, I would feel deep sorrow and crushing guilt.  God had given her to me, and surely he had given me the tools to help her, but I had failed.  Failed not just in a little thing but in something that will greatly impact the quality of her life…her entire life.

Everyone who saw Ashlyn would always comment on how well she was doing, how much progress she was making, and what an amazing job I was doing.

But I never believed them.

Chris was always saying that Ashlyn WAS doing so well because of all the time I spent with her and all the good things I have done with her.  Without my intervention, he said, she would still be lying like a blob on the floor.

But I never believed him.

I continued to blame myself for her every deficiency.  Therapy was a chore, and Ashlyn was very often unhappy.  How happy could you be when the sight of you reminded your mother of her guilt?

OK, this is an extreme case of guilt, but I am sure all of you mothers (and fathers) out there can relate to some degree.  Does my guilt sound reasonable and rational to you?  Have I been a horrible mother?  Does God want me to carry this burden?

Nooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!

And he doesn’t want you to carry it either!

So let’s clear up a few things, mothers and fathers out there.  I am going to tell you some truth, and I want to open up your ears and hearts and BELIEVE ME!

When something goes wrong…it is not your fault!

When your child is not perfect…it is not your fault!

When the world around you is not perfect…it is not your fault!

When you are not perfect…well, that may be your fault, but it is ok!

God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that you would not be perfect, yet he gave you that child anyway.  He knew that you were the very best parent for that child.

You cannot save your child from their sin, their bad habits, or their circumstances.

You cannot heal your child; not their bodies or their souls or their spirits.

You cannot mold them and shape them into the person you think they should be.

ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT!

Sometimes God does those things THROUGH you in his time and his way and you may be totally unaware that he is doing it.  The closer we are to God, the more our minds are filled with his wisdom, the more attuned we are to his voice, the more he can flow through us to our children.

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The vague feeling of failure that most of us moms carry around is not from God!  The thought that if we were better parents our children wouldn’t be so….whatever it is that they are…doesn’t come from God.  It comes from the Enemy of our souls.  He knows that we are the perfect parent for our child and that God is using us in amazing ways.  He wants to make us ineffective in this most important calling.

It is true that sometimes we do things wrong and we need to ask forgiveness from God and our children.  If we are listening to the Holy Spirit, he will show us when these times occur.  He will convict us in a very specific way and give us hope that there is forgiveness and healing through him.

Here is an example:

Condemnation from the Enemy: If you were smarter, more organized, and more loving, your daughter would have walked years ago.

Conviction from the Holy Spirit: When Ashlyn was crying during her walking therapy today, you continued to push her.  You should have slowed down, looked her in the eyes, and talked to her gently.  You could have showed her that you saw and acknowledged her pain.  You could have investigated the specific location of her pain and asked me for wisdom as to whether she was just whining out of childish self-pity, or whether she had a real injury.

Condemnation must be answered with the truth.  Conviction must be answered with saying you are sorry and changing your behavior.

What is the truth?  You can find it in the pages of your Bible.  You can find it in the eyes of your Savior.  You can find it in the voice of your Father.  In his presence there is fullness of joy.  Joy because in his presence he tells you how beloved you are.  He shows you how in control he is, and how your little mistakes can’t derail his plan.  I have found that conviction is a rather small part of what the Father does.  The large part is lavishing his praises and love and encouragement on us!  Being in his presence makes me a much better mother than guilt and self-criticism ever did.  I wrote about how I try to get into his presence during a hectic mommy day in my article, “Grumpy Mommy Morning.”

Have you ever had this experience in worship?  Your heart is bursting with love for God.  Your gratitude is so deep that you can’t express it in words.  You have so many things to thank God for that you are glad you have an eternity, because that is how long it will take! You wish you could do something worthy of your wonderful God; singing, dancing, painting a beautiful picture, writing a 300 page masterpiece…yet all you can do is just stand there and let the overwhelming joy wash over you.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to feel that way all the time?  To mother our children out of that kind of joy?  Someday, maybe we will.

Have you ever thought that maybe God feels that way about you?  That being with you brings him overflowing joy that will last forever.  That he is so thankful for you and your life!

Blows your mind!!!  That’s what happens when you start listening to God’s voice.  He blows your mind with a new perspective that sends the guilt and shame packing.

Once I was sitting on my sofa, miserable with morning sickness and feeling like an awful mom.  God broke into my despair and said to me, “Thank you!  Thank you for being available to carry this child.  Without you, I couldn’t have brought this child of destiny into the world.”

THAT is the truth.

You may feel very imperfect.  You may be sure that you are messing up your sweet innocent child, and that they will need inner healing as a result of your poor parenting techniques.  But without you, they would never have been born.  They would have never had the chance to experience life, love, laughter, and sorrow.  They would never get to see the sights of this earth or heard the sounds.  They would never have gotten the chance to choose right from wrong.  They would never have the opportunity to try and fail and try again.  They would have never had the opportunity to be messed up and then healed!

So thank you mom!  Let me say a big “thank you” to you from God, your child, and the world!  Thank you for giving your child life.  Thank you for doing your best.  Your best is a wondrous reality full of deeply textured experiences.  It is not all sunshine and roses, but even the chance to experience sadness and suffering is a gift.  Thank you mom for that gift.

Did you know that God uses motherhood as a picture of abundant prosperity?  Is 66:10-12 compares the prosperity of Jerusalem to nursing and being satisfied at a mother’s breast and drinking deeply in her overflowing abundance.  Then verses 12-13 says, “I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you will nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”

God compares himself to a mother!  God is going to comfort us like a mother!  Ahhhh, what a wonderful, peaceful image that is.  Mothers – God is using you to show himself to your children.  Your nursing and cuddling and soothing is revealing to your child what God is like.  You may not do it 100% perfect all the time, but there you are, doing it and giving your child a frame of reference for the love of God!

This world is not perfect.  You may think you are doing a very poor job of protecting your child from the toxins in our food, the poisons on TV, and the bullies at school. Let me remind you that this world is not our home.  It is a hostile warzone, full of danger.  It is hard to see the warzone because it is disguised by the white picket fences and flower boxes of suburbia, but it is a warzone, nonetheless.  We are living here as missionaries, trying to show the love of God to those who will violently oppose us even as we love them.  We were created for a place much more beautiful and holy and perfect than this. But we are here because God has a wondrous plan.  To raise children in the muddy trenches of this harsh environment is difficult.

No, it is downright COUREGEOUS! 

Mother, you are a mighty and strong warrior!  If you and your family are splattered with grime, fight bravely on!  Your Champion has already won this war, and soon his victory will be evident to all.  He is able to keep your children safe.

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All of these pictures were taken on a trip to the Family Hope Center we took with Ashlyn in 2010. Here is an old cemetery seeming to encroach into the sacred boundary of a park for children. Yet joy and sorrow, life and death dwell together in surreal beauty. Joy that Ashlyn is alive and healthy. Sorrow because of the realization that all my best efforts cannot heal her.

And in the midst of this war zone, God gives us a little piece of heaven, our own paradise… if we can learn to abide in him and open our eyes to the beauty in the brokenness.

A few months ago I was talking with a woman whose sister was a teacher for 35 years.  She taught at an institution for severely handicapped and damaged children.  She told me that most of the children had been abandoned by their parents.  She would prepare classes for the children, because they were eligible for free education until the age of 21.  She would stand at the front of the class room and teach letters, numbers, days of the week, etc. to a room full of wheelchair bound children who couldn’t talk.  Some would never interact or show any evidence of learning anything at all.  She would try to organize fun activities and field trips for them since they rarely had visitors.  She would put on a parent’s nights to highlight what their children had been learning and usually, no parent came.

I marveled at the love and special grace this woman had to continually pour into these children and young adults with very little encouraging results.  It took me months of pondering this before I realized…this could have been Ashlyn.  If she had never had me as her mother or Chris as her father, if she had been taken care of by a collection of paid state workers, what would she be like right now?  Was Chris right in saying what he had said many times before?

“Without all that you have done for her, Anne, she would still be laying like a blob on the floor.”

Ashlyn is a unique treasure that God has given me.  And I am a gift to her; a loving mother who shows her how much God loves her.

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A new perspective sure does a lot.  In fact, that is the answer to the guilt of motherhood.  Get your eyes off of yourself and onto Jesus.

Why don’t you put on some worship music like David Leach Worship or Bethel Music and seek God for his perspective on your mothering career.  Let that guilt just walk out the door!

Special note to mothers who may have legitimate guilt over huge mistake that you have made in the past.  You may have killed your child, mistreated him badly, or abandoned him.  These are serious offenses, but not unforgivable.  Most of the major players in the Bible had grievous sins and were very bad parents!  Yet God forgave them and loved them and used them to bring untold numbers of people to himself.  Guilt is God’s mercy to bring you to him.  Seek God for that kind of forgiveness and transformation in your life.  Once you lay your guilt down at the cross, don’t ever let the Devil convince to pick it up again.  Jesus signed his name to your sin and died as the punishment for it.  It is finished!  You are loved and you have a future full of hope.

 

 

 

 

 

Are You in Over Your Head?

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Are you overwhelmed?  Does your life feel impossible?  Do you feel completely inadequate and incompetent for the task before you?  Good!  You may be in just the right place…to see God do the impossible!

I am very familiar with the feeling that my life is out of control, being a mother of many children!  I don’t often get to attend special conferences at my church, but I love to listen to the CDs of them at home.  I was listening to a CD of Lesley-Anne Leighton talk about her amazing adventures as a missionary.  God would regularly do miracles for her as she stepped out in faith.  For example, she was taken into custody by Chinese authorities (China is very hostile to the Gospel of Jesus).  She was miraculously released after she started speaking to the men in Chinese…and she didn’t know how to speak Chinese!  She would do training schools all around the world to teach people to live a supernatural life like hers.  As I listened to her teaching on this CD, she said she would share with us her strategy for living such a life.  That caught my attention and I listened carefully; so much so that I remember what she said 9 years later.  Her strategy was simple; she would follow Jesus wherever he led!  This meant that she would get in over her head and watch God do the miracles on her behalf.

A new thought began to dawn in my mind.  This was a great strategy for a missionary, traveling to hostile and dangerous parts of the world.  But I knew that motherhood was a dangerous and perilous journey as well.  Mothers needed miracles just as much as missionaries did!  I knew that I needed some!  And Lesley-Anne had just told me that it was actually a good thing that I was in over my head…because that is the place where God moves!  My courage began to rise.

I had felt in over my head since my second baby showed up and didn’t get the memo from his big sister on how to sleep.  He would cry louder than I had ever heard anyone cry, and deprive me of my sleep and almost my sanity! He continued these nighttime disturbances even after I became pregnant with number three.

I had felt overwhelmed since I had three little children and a special needs baby who required many doctors’ appointments and special care.  I had no one close by to help and my husband, Chris often traveled for work, being gone for days or weeks at a time.

I  had felt overwhelmed when I had three little children, a special needs two-year old and a five-week old baby boy AND Chris and I had to pack up our home, drive cross-country (praying the whole way that I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel and kill us all!), and set up a new home in Pennsylvania.

I had felt overwhelmed since I had seven children, home schooled, and enrolled my special needs daughter in a therapy program that I was supposed to accomplish by myself, at home.  The man in charge told me that Ashlyn’s therapy program would be fairly easy, only requiring 6 hours a day.  I thought to myself, “How can I ever do that?”  Yet I wanted to try, because I wanted her to be better so badly.  I also felt that God had led me to this program for Ashlyn AND had led me to home school all the other children.

I would wake up at 5 am each morning, immediately feeling nervous about the coming day.  My mind would instantly begin to churn with all I had to accomplish and the fact that it was nearly impossible to do so.  Life felt like a test, and I would pass the test only if I could accomplish everything I my to-do list.  But almost every night I would go to bed with tasks left undone and the feeling of failure.  There were a few rare days that I finished everything and thought briefly that I had succeeded…only to look back over my day and realize that I had plowed over everything and everyone who stood in my way.  My victory was meaningless, because I did it without love, and my children suffered.

Thinking on these past failures, I would go from being nervous to panicking!!!  Lying in bed in the morning, trying to work up the courage to face my impossible day, I would pray.

“Oh, God!  I want to love my children today!  I want to do therapy with Ashlyn so she can be well!  I want to do home school with my children so they will be smart!  But I have so many other things I need to do!  I should have been up hours ago!  There is no way I can do this.  This is IMPOSSIBLE!  I am in WAY OVER MY HEAD!”

Then one day I was quiet enough to hear the Spirit’s still small voice.

This day is not a test, it is a gift!  I want you to open your eyes and see all the treasures I have hidden for you in this day.  Let me bless you in the midst of your business.  You are right, my child.  Your life is impossible.  I designed it that way.  I never intended for you to live a safe, easy, comfortable life.  I didn’t design you to merely do the possible.  I am the God of the impossible, remember!  I designed you to do the impossible through me!  I can’t fully show my glory unless the situation is Impossible.  All that I do through your life is changing eternity.  So be at rest.  Be at peace. I AM in control.

That voice changes everything for me!  It immediately tears the veil between my crazy, earthy life and the Holy of Holies.  I can step out of the temporary and step into the eternal.  I can step out of my failures and step into the finished work of Christ.  My life takes on a while new significance when I realize that the Most Holy God wants to dwell with me and do miracles through me! And what could be more miraculous than living with so many children and having perfect peace!

Now we have eight children and a ninth baby that takes a lot of time and resources – a new business!  I have so many things to do at home, and Chris has so many things to do at our sign shop.  I try to help him at the shop and he tries to help me at home, all the while being mindful of our precious children.  We are busy almost all of the time.  What little “free” time we have is not really free.  We are so selective about how we spend our time, trying fiercely to follow Jesus and no one else.  There isn’t time and energy and devotion to waste on anything less!  It is going to take a miracle to raise our children the way we should AND make our business successful. Both Chris and I are sure that we are in WAY OVER OUR HEADS!  Yet we know that Jesus led us here and through him we are doing miracles.

I am so encouraged by Mark Batterson and what he wrote in The Circle Maker.“If you’ve never been overwhelmed by the impossibility of your plans, then your God is too small.”

So are you in over your head?  If you got into this situation by following someone other than Jesus, start following him now and just see what he will do!  If it was Jesus who got you into the crazy mess called your life, let your heart take courage!  This is his specialty, doing miracles through little you!  So relax, let go, and enjoy riding on his waves of grace…and expect signs and wonders to follow you.