Survival Mode

If you have elementary aged kids (or a husband) who are into video games, then you are probably familiar with Minecraft.  On Minecraft, there are two modes of play - survival and creative. 

In real life, we do both. Create and survive.

This is never more true than right after one has had a baby.

It hit me the other day how far removed I am from new baby survival mode. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long - I just had a new baby a mere 3 years ago. Yet, change has slowly crept in day after day, and the gradual transition from being too tired to do simple things, like shower, has made room for more creative things - usually involving chalk paint.

Do you remember how it felt to struggle to get from one hour to the next? Some of  you are sobbing, “Yes! Since 3 a.m. this morning!” Hugs for you, dear one! I remember those first few weeks being marked by my newborn’s sleep schedule. Her cycle was sleep for 1-2 hours, nurse for 45 minutes, stare at everyone with glazed eyes for 15 minutes, then sleep again. So every other hour I was nursing and in between was chugging coffee, scouring the kitchen to find food to throw at my other 3 kids, choke down a few bites of whatever they didn’t eat and then fall into an exhausted heap for 20 minutes before it was time to nurse again. That was the routine. 24-7. For weeks.

I was in survival mode.

I definitely didn’t feel like I was creating.

Yet, as I sit here now, with all four of my munchkins out of toddler-hood, the air has cleared a bit. The sleepy fog has lifted a little. I think back over the past 9 ½ years of motherhood (6 of which I spent either pregnant or nursing), and I realize that creation work has been happening all along.

Obviously, there is the creative nature of this new person being formed within and then birthed from my own body, and the creation of food for that life, which is in and of itself a magnificent display of God’s glory and grace, but there were other miracles being created as well.

Our home and family were re-created. As we welcomed each one of our four daughters into our home, new relationships were created, new routines were formed, new love was birthed.

I also changed. I consider who I was when I first became a mother, and who I am now and am astonished at what has happened. There are areas of my life and heart that are completely different. While I was busy trying to survive from one sleep deprived day to the next, God was creating something in me. A transformed heart. A matured spirit. A new woman.

Sometimes, we are so weighed down with self-preservation, we completely miss the God-centered, creative work that is happening in our souls.

After I had my first baby, I wasn’t sure what to do with me. I was frustrated with the things I wasn’t able to do anymore, and struggled with the fact that I constantly felt like a failure at mothering. I wasn’t who I used to be, and I wasn’t sure about who I was becoming. So for years, I limped around, unsure of who I was and wasn’t.

Writer Erika Morrison poetically says it this way:

“Every now and again there are reasons why we outgrow our own clay container, we outgrow our former selves and the breaking to bits is a sign of those times…Who I was couldn’t support who I am becoming.”

This breaking in the early years of motherhood can be grievous. There is a losing of one's former self. But, in the midst of our inner turmoil, God is in creative mode.

Throughout my mothering years, He has brought sin and selfishness to the surface and created space to deal with it. I can't avoid the reality of who I am as it stares back at me from my children’s faces. When I yell at them, when I cry in despair at my own failures, I can see the grace of God reflected in their eyes.

It still pierces my soul with conviction and continues to push me towards repentance as I cry out with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me.” Psalm 51:10

I truly love to be creative. Please don’t read crafting into that statement. I don’t love to craft. Glue guns and popsicle sticks give me hives. But I do love planting flowers and painting walls, because color is beautiful. I love to dance around the house and write ridiculously revealing things about my heart - embarrassing as both of those things are - I can see the creation work of God in my soul and it compels me to rejoice in him and share it with others. I love to see objects be re-created into something new because that is my story. This is me in creative mode.

I don’t always do these things well, and I don’t always have the energy and time I’d like to give, but it’s there - this need to create. I believe everyone has this need, though it is expressed in different ways for us all. I believe it is instilled in us by God’s design, as image bearers of our creative Father.

There is God given substance in our souls that finds space to become in moments of creative expression.

It is common to feel that motherhood has squelched creativity or restricted it to mundane burdens, but I have seen the opposite. I’ve seen motherhood open an expression for creativity in my heart that I didn’t know existed. Motherhood helps us to understand the creative nature of God the Father, who created an entire world suitable for the survival of his children. Our survival is 100% dependent on the creative nature of God. He created phenomena like immune systems and the earth’s degree of tilt with our survival in mind. He also created miracles of grace and redemption for the survival of our souls. The things I create for my children are not nearly so astounding, but God shares his creative nature with me as I create space for my children to live and grow.

When I make time to be creative, I find me again. She may not be the same person I knew before, but her lines are familiar, just more deeply defined now. There is more character and strength than before. I’m still learning to be comfortable with this new me that has morphed from the early motherhood years, knowing she will continue to be changed.

Dear Friend, when motherhood leaves you feeling wrung out, and you are in full on survival mode, please take a moment to step back and see how the chaos of your life is the most beautiful work of living art. Right there in between the strained carrot stains on your shirt and the sink full of dirty coffee cups and milk coated bottles, there is art. And look! There you are, sleeves rolled up, creating this work of art alongside your Father - in exactly the way in which he has designed you.  

My prayer for you, new momma (and veteran mama's too, really), is that if you feel like you are stuck in survival mode, and you haven’t had energy to shave your legs, and your hair reeks of sour spit up, that you will see the beauty of creation that is happening right now in your soul. I pray that you will have eyes to see the marvelous things God is creating in your heart during these incredibly difficult days of mothering. You will not be the same woman when it’s all over. You are being made new, refined by the fire of motherhood, sanctified to resemble a little bit more the image and likeness of Christ. I pray that you will rejoice in the resplendent life God has handed you, even in this moment as your colicky newborn is shrieking in your ear. Hugs again, sweet Mama.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31