Is anyone in need of grace this week? I know I am.
I needed it this week when my three-year-old clogged up the toilet for the 10th time, and my five year old decided to try to flush it down. I needed grace when I first heard the sound of the water gushing, rushing, flowing over the sides of the toilet bowl all over the tile on the bathroom floor. I needed grace when I frantically waded in my socks into the half-inch deep water on the floor and lifted the back lid of the toilet to see what in the heck was going on. I needed grace when I realized I needed to turn the water OFF and had to get down on my hands and knees in the toilet water to reach the knob to turn the water off. I needed grace when I went through every single beach towel we had to mop up the mess that had flowed all the way into the other room around our baby grand piano. I needed grace when I looked at the clock and realized we had been home only ten minutes from ballet and had only ten minutes to leave until swim team practice. I needed grace when I realized my husband was out of town and got to miss out on clean up duty altogether. And I needed grace with my kids when I started yelling at them in the midst of the toilet flow for all sorts of random things, things that had nothing to do with the toilet. I was yelling just to yell and doling out consequences left and right, making mountains out of molehills. I was also in need of grace the next morning when I tearfully apologized to my children for yelling instead of laughing, for losing it instead of loving them through it, for yelling angrily instead of waiting patiently for the flood of emotion (and toilet water) to cease.
I was a momma that needed grace this week, and lots of it. And if I was a betting woman, I would bet a lot of other mommas out there this week are in need of grace too.
Sometimes I think that one day, I am going to wake up and have outgrown my need for grace. Have perfected patience. Have gotten self-control down. Have learned how to completely hold my pride in check. Sometimes I think that one day I will never have to stoop down again in tears and repent to my children for being such a lousy mom because I’ve finally grown into the perfect mom, or at least a mom who can go at least a week without seriously blowing it in one way or another.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Ann Voskamp, one of my modern-day mom heroes, at a conference Jason and I attended. We were able to visit together for over an hour, and I asked her all sorts of questions about raising kids.
She said lots of wise, grace-filled things throughout our conversation, but one thing in particular stood out. She was talking about how the cross of Christ intersects daily life as a mom, and she said made the comment, “As mothers, we have got to teach our children that we will never outgrow grace. It’s not like at some point if you have walked with Christ long enough that you one day outgrow your need for the cross. That your children are at one level at the foot of the cross, in need of grace, and you are at another, higher, loftier level. We are all at the same level at the foot of the cross – great sinners in need of great grace.”
As soon as she said those words, a burden of great guilt lifted off of my shoulders and was replaced with great grace.
She is right – who am I to think that I will EVER outgrow my need for great grace? Who am I to think that one day I will graduate from my need for the cross? That I will be in less need of grace than my children?
Moms, listen to me: one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to let them know that we are on their same level when it comes to grace. Our need is just as great as theirs. Our sins just as weighty. Our falls just as steep. We will never rise to the level of perfection but stay at the foot of the cross with them as long as we are their moms.
Doesn’t that take a load off? It certainly doesn’t mean that I can sin now with a clean conscience or without any conscience at all. But it does mean that I do not have to be surprised by my sin. And it does mean that I know the road to reconciliation with my children when I have blown it for the tenth time in a row that day. It means that I meet them at the foot of the cross on eye level, knee to knee, hand in hand.
As much as I wish it was so, my children do not need a perfect mom. They need a repentant mom who is willing to lead them to a perfect Savior, not only when the toilet is overflowing, but especially when the toilet is overflowing.
One of my favorite quotes comes from FB Meyer. He says, “Again He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the stain which His love dare not pass over. He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stooping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls. And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the scepter over hearts and worlds.”
How do we survive the end of school? In our filth, we humbly let Christ do the filthy work of cleansing our soul again…and again…and again. Knowing even if we are surprised to be in toilet water again, up to our ankles in filth, He never is. It’s why He came – not only for our children but for us, their moms.
“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 9:19-23
I don’t know about you, but this week, I was Tired. With a capital T. Yesterday, standing in line to pay for my lunch, I asked the checkout lady if a drink came with my meal, and after she answered “Yes,” I asked her the very same question again twenty seconds later. And I can honestly say I had no recall of asking her the very same question or her giving me a response just seconds before.
That’s what happens this time of year to all of us trying to survive the end of the school year: we lose our minds, lose our energy, and lose our stamina to even ATTEMPT to cross the finish line. I’m all for giving my girls perpetual “mental health days” from now until the end of the school so we can just stay in our pajamas, play Legos, and drink coffee (or watered down juice, depending on your age) until 3pm.
When I start feeling this way (usually twice a year during the month of December and the month of May), I have to remind myself to live within the Rhythms of Rest.
Here’s what I mean:
We are a people desperately in need of daily bread. Not once-a-week bread, or once-a-quarter bread, or once-in-a-while bread, but daily bread. And if I have learned one thing about myself in the past thirty-seven years, it’s that I can’t go one day without the bread that comes from the Bread of Life Himself.
Actually, let’s be honest, I can go one day. I can go a week. Or a month. Or a season. But while my body lives, my spirit starves and my flesh takes over. I become sickeningly selfish, angrily impatient, and degradingly demanding of Jason and the girls.
All it takes for me to get off of the rhythms of rest, devotional living, and daily surrender is one day. That’s it. That’s why the Living Word of God is deadly serious and literal when He says, “Give us each day our daily bread…” (Luke 11:3, emphasis mine) and you must “take up your cross daily and follow Me…” (Luke 9:23, emphasis mine).
None of us, not one of us, can go one day without feasting on the Bread of Christ, made available to us through meditation on His Word, yielding and depending on His Spirit, and wrestling and resting in prayer.
We turn inwardly to feast on ourselves and our flesh faster than the blink of an eye. How is that even possible for those who have walked with the Lord and lived in dependence on Him for so many years? Think of it this way: how long could an infant go without his mother’s milk? One day would be too long, even cruel, wouldn’t it?
As followers of Christ, while in many ways we are to grow and mature from drinking spiritual milk to spiritual meat, we are never to outgrow our spiritual posture of daily dependence. We are always to remain like infants, safe and secure, desperately dependent upon our Father’s Arms to strain and shield us from the attacks of the evil one and our own sinful hearts.
The sad thing is, during seasons of life when I most need the daily nourishment and rest the Word of God provides, it is often the first thing to go, the fastest thing I am willing to surrender. That action alone betrays my heart: when the rubber meets the road, I really don’t believe the Lord is my sole Provider. I believe I am. And the only one I really need to depend on for daily sustenance is…myself.
So when I feel the urge to stray, to chuck my rhythm of daily devotional living and check my email instead of opening my Bible and getting on my knees, I have to cry out: Oh Lord, teach me to stay within the rhythms of devotional living. Teach me to rest within the safe confines of time in Your Word and in prayer morning and night. For those boundaries You have established for us as Your people are the safest place to be even during (and especially during) the busiest seasons of life.
I read this week something that helped me tremendously:
“Crowds were thronging and pressing on Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.
Now, if that was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!…We must “shut the door,” enclosing and securing a sufficient portion of time for the fitting discharge of the engagement before us.
In the morning we should look forward to the duties of the day, anticipating those situations in which temptation may lurk, and preparing ourselves to embrace such opportunities of usefulness as may be presented to us. In the evening we ought to remark upon the providences which have befallen us, consider our attainment in holiness, and endeavor to profit by the lessons which God would have us learn. All this cannot be pressed into a few crowded moments. We must be at leisure when we enter the secret place.”
Come Boldly, David McIntryre in “The Hidden Life of Prayer”
What are your rhythms of physical and spiritual rest, prayer, and devotional living?
Do you need to make yourself take a nap once a week? Twice a week? Three times a week, in order to function as a normal human being who isn’t biting her children’s head off by six o’clock? Then do it. The never ending piles and plans of life can wait.
Do you need to begin the morning on your knees in desperate dependence on a cracked and well-worn Bible and end the day in grateful thanks or honest confession?
If you don’t have any devotional rhythms, make them. And if you do, stick to them, no matter the intensity of the season or what obstacles are hurled in your way. And hurled they will be. Depend upon it. The moment you commit to daily, dependent living, a child will get sick, a crisis will flare up at work, your inbox will overflow, but resist the temptation to let everything go and stick to it. That’s when the rhythm becomes a ceaseless flow instead of an inconsistent stop-start-knee-jerk reaction to life.
Think through your weekend. Think through your week. How will you rest? How will you live in daily dependence? I am praying for you to be strengthened with power in your spirit as you live dependently on the Holy Spirit, drawing much needed rest and nourishment from His daily bread.
And doing that, my friends, is not just how we survive the end of the school year, it is how we thrive during the end of the school year, come what may.
I did something on Sunday I have never done before. Not in seven (almost eight) years of mothering. I left my child. Completely forgot about her. Until we sat down at lunch. Forty-five minutes after church was over. I have never driven down the interstate as fast as I did that afternoon. I didn’t even care if I got a ticket.
When I walked into her classroom, the only people there were her teacher (BLESS HER) and the maintenance men. Literally vacuuming the floors of AN EMPTY BUILDING. Caroline looked at me and said, “Mommy! Where have you been?!”
Good question. Great question, actually. Because I had been all over the map that morning – arriving early to lead prayer, meeting and greeting people in our Sunday School class, helping friends find the right classroom for their kids, rushing out the door as soon as every head was bowed to make it to my niece’s baptism in time at a different church down the road. Hurrying to the family lunch to meet back up with Jason.
And that’s when it happened. I noticed the noticeable absence of my three-year-old’s presence. (Anyone who knows Caroline knows this is not hard to do; Caroline likes to make her presence known.) Running over to my husband who was standing in the buffet line, calmly spooning shrimp onto his plate, I asked, “Where is Caroline?”
“I don’t have her,” he said. “Don’t you?”
And I wanted to blame him. Really I did. Couldn’t I somehow make this his fault? His fault that we were all sipping on lemonade while our three-year-old was still sitting in the church nursery two whole neighborhoods and a fifteen-minute car ride away?
But the finger could not point to anyone except back at me. I had gone over my plans to make the morning work with my sister-in-law, with my mother-in-law, with myself. But not with Jason. I just sort of assumed he knew my thoughts. Assumed he knew that since I had the two big girls, he was in charge of our little girl. But clearly my plans had not been clearly communicated to anyone, including myself.
The only comfort was that a few months before, I had been with my sister-in-law when she had forgotten my niece. And received the dreaded you’re-a-terrible-parent-who-forgets-her-child phone call from the school receptionist. This, by the way, is not my sister-in-law who is related to Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie (see last week’s post, Easter Nest). I am pretty sure Ma Ingalls, nor my sister-in-law, Haley, has ever forgotten anyone for whom she was responsible. This is my sister-in-law whose house resembles Disney World and wherever she is, a party is sure to begin. With water balloons and an inflatable water slide or some sort of Disney character or entertainer to boot. But being the author of good times that she is, sometimes she forgets a thing or two if it’s not tied to her body…like one of her four children.
At least I knew I was not alone in my forgetfulness, and that alleviated (just a little) part of the pain from the walk of shame back down the empty church hallways, PAST THE DIRECTOR OF THE PRESCHOOL MINISTRY, with my three-year-old in tow. (I am fairly certain I will never be asked to volunteer in the preschool ministry again.)
Maybe all you moms out there need to be reminded that you are not alone in your crazy, forgetful, end of school, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off state either. Maybe you need to know you are not alone in your own particular failure or hallway walk of shame.
But I did learn something from Sunday’s episode. Actually, I learned a few things. Number one, take a deep breath. And number two, slow down. Did I put that in all caps? Let me say that one again: SLOW DOWN.
Slow down. And stop trying to be all things to all people. Which means that some people, or at the very least, one person, is going to have to be let down (at least, in your estimation). But the third thing I learned is that letting someone down is ok. Because you were never meant nor made to be all things to all people. Most people are probably more understanding then we give them credit for, and even if they are not, their world, and yours, will continue to go on turning, even if you are not at the very center of it. As a mom, you are supposed to be there, first and foremost, for your husband, and then for your little ones God has entrusted to your care. Moms, moms-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, relatives in general, teachers, volunteer committees, to-do lists, parties, plans, end-of-year-gifts, dirty dishes, dirty houses, dirty closets – they can all take a backseat. They can handle being let down or ignored (closets, not people) if it means you need to stop focusing on them so that you can focus on the little people in front of you. Because when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, when you and I are racing around to be all things to all people, our little people are the ones who get hurt in the process.
And more than the perfect end-of-year party, or end-of-year gift, or biggest and best recital arrangement, or cleanest kitchen or closet or house, what your children really want, is YOU. Your presence. Your full attention. Your emotional compassion and care and love instead of your emotional exhaustion and frayed nerves.
This is not a guilt trip; this is a gentle reminder. To me most of all. During this month of the year, what can you let go of? What can you surrender? What demands can you give up so that you can give in to the needs of your family and your children?
Because what our children need this time of year is not a mom who performs perfectly at the end of every day and every end of year event; they need a mom who is present for them in the day in and day out ups and downs of the daily routine.
Don’t forget that. Because in doing so, like me, you may just end up forgetting a child. And in all of our remembering this time of the year, we don’t want to end up forgetting what is really important after all.