Each season of motherhood brings lessons along with it. Over the past few years, our family has been stretched in unexpected ways. As I walk through the difficulties, I notice something shifting in me. It’s not what I anticipated, but as I see it emerge, I’m in awe.
I’m actually learning to love.
You might find that an odd way of putting things. I mean, we all love our husbands, and, of course, we love our children. We love our friends, and our grandmas – especially our grandmas. I’m not talking about the feelings we have in our hearts for the people who are dear to us. I’m talking about really loving someone.
The nitty-gritty thing about love is that it means letting go of self and relinquishing control so we can truly act on behalf of another. When you think about Jesus, who left heaven, took on the form of humanity, lived a life of sacrifice, and ultimately suffered the cross, you see the road love walks. Love isn’t a sad, sorry state of affairs, either. It’s for the JOY set before Him that Jesus endured the cross. Love inextricably winds itself in joy, and that joy always has to do with the beloved.
Real Love in Motherhood
So, back to motherhood. Much of a mom’s day-to-day life involves doing for others. Yet, we can sometimes begrudge this “burden” and even share that sentiment with those around us by way of complaining a bit. “Am I going to be the only one cleaning up the family room?” or “Did anyone notice the underwear and socks on the bathroom floor besides me?” While we spend hours cooking, cleaning, wiping, holding, teaching, and comforting, we may not always carry out these tasks in a spirit of love.
Also, motherhood wears us down. Some days take their toll more than others. We bear with whiny kids while we run around on errands and to extracurriculars. We struggle to get children to learn to do the things we know are best for them. These challenges can really drive us to the edge of our sweetness as moms.
As you know if you’ve been receiving my emails or reading my blogs and books for any length of time, my oldest has a very strong will. He’s amazing (I always have to add that caveat). Still, his willful stance can take all I have to offer. Sometimes I’ve allowed his attitude to draw up a response from me that wasn’t as loving as I would hope. Patterns developed between us that included power struggles, or me trying to coerce him into doing what I wanted.
Sometimes God does a work in our hearts that comes out over time. We witness the change in our interactions and are as surprised as everyone around us. That’s what’s been happening in my motherhood. For years I have worked on cultivating gentleness. In this past year, I’ve been led to see the simplicity and poignancy of what I call “loving strong.” What I mean is I show love no matter what the person in front of me is doing to “deserve” it. Simple, right? Easy? No. Not even close.
A few years back God gave me some key verses in relation to motherhood. Then He began to work those into my reactions and my soul. One is “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.” I started seeing how deeply my children needed to simply feel loved – despite behavior. Bob Goff says it perfectly: Love has the kind of power criticism only wishes it had.
An Abiding Heart
When I parented driven by perfectionism, I would overcorrect my children or focus on telling them about where they missed the mark. While my heart didn’t mean to criticize them, my message came across as one focused on behavior instead of their hearts. Thankfully, this wasn’t the overarching tone of my motherhood. In difficult moments, when their attitude went south, or when they were acting up, I sometimes defaulted to a more critical spirit seasoned with a dash of control-freakishness for good measure.
As God has drawn me into His deep affection, I find that love easily accessible to me. The source of our unconditional love as moms comes from the well of God’s overflowing love for us. As I shared in my post on overcoming anger, I can let my gentleness be known to all because the Lord is near. When I trust His nearness, I know I am safe, protected, and cared for. God is in the mix. Jesus hasn’t left me to deal with this mothering gig alone. He is in it – highly invested, giving me what I need, teaching me to love strong.
It’s been quite an experience to stand in front of my teen during a stereotypically hormonal moment, maintaining my calm while giving him a gentle answer – a sincere one – all the while feeling compassion and concern for him. In days gone by, I’d be verbally engaged trying to get him to see things my way, and more importantly, do things my way. Instead, with my heart rooted in trust, I can release him and love strong.
This stuff takes muscle and determination, but more than that it takes the depth of knowing how deeply loved we are as moms – and how deeply loved our children are too. Sacrificial, other-centered love is strong like a cup of Middle Eastern tea. You can’t love someone this much and this well without them being touched by it. But, first, you are transformed as you extend steadfast, unshakable love. Real love doesn’t try to change the other person. True love changes us as we pour into the places where someone else needs love the most.
Love Has Limits
In-the-trenches mama love has solid boundaries too. It’s not a doormat, a blind eye, or a get-out-of-jail-free card. God has boundaries. We do too. My limits are about what I will and won’t do. They express what I’ll stand for or not. I can say what will happen if someone crosses those lines. I can’t control another person – not even my child. I’m not meant to. God, who can control other people often chooses not to. Why would I think I can or should?
Love looks beyond the moment into the promise of the future. I know my son won’t stay stuck in the difficult days of his teen years. He didn’t get trapped in toddlerhood either. We all grow and change. I can hang on through any rough patch. God is giving me the moxie and the patience to do it.