My friend’s face lit up and she threw her head back as laughter spilled out. Her sweet baby girl clapped her hands and bounced around gleefully as the van bumped down a partially paved road. I smiled and chuckled to myself as I considered again how strange it was to be riding in a car with a toddler who was not in a carseat. She sat snuggly on her momma’s lap reaching up occasionally to smoosh her momma’s cheeks between her dimpled hands.
We had been in Belize City for half a day driving from one place to another and I had just met my new friend and her beautiful family. Before the day was done, I would be completely humbled by this family’s generosity as they gave up their own bedroom to accommodate us, serve us dinner after a long day of work, and offer all they possibly could to ensure we were comfortable while we were visiting. I’d been informed that this generous couple lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods and worked daily to welcome youth and children into their community center, which was also their home, where they tutored them in various studies and skills and took every opportunity to present the Gospel to those overlooked little ones in their city. I was fascinated.
As we bounced along, I thought about how our lives were so different, yet marveled at all that this Belizian momma and I had in common. I listened as she talked in Creole accented English about the guilt she was wrestling with over going to work and having to leave her baby girl with someone else. I heard her voice tremble and watched her eyes water as she held her daughter close. Yes, it's true. Mothers everywhere wrestle with guilt. It is the guilt that plagues our best intentions. I recognized the anxiousness in her heart, as it resides in mine also.
It reminded me of another conversation I’d had the previous year with another young mother. Similarly, we were bouncing down a dirt road, this time in Haiti. This lovely Haitian momma held her two-year-old son in her lap and asked me questions about schooling. She wasn’t sure if she should put her little girl in the local school or homeschool. As we clung to the handles on the car door I shared what bit of limited knowledge I had from my own homeschooling experience, thinking all the while “We mommas are all so alike.” We all want what’s best and can’t stop asking what the best thing really is. We worry, we wonder, we wrestle and we hold our babies close and whisper prayers over them.
One of the things I love about traveling to other parts of the world is that it comforts my heart and encourages me to keep my head down and my feet moving forward. It reminds me of three things and I want to share these things with you in hopes that your heart will also be comforted and your feet will keep moving you forward.
First, we all need to take a deep breath and chill. When I see how other children in the world are growing up, I’m always reminded that I need to chill out. Seeing children growing, playing, and thriving, without the things I think my kids need, like grass-fed organic milk, organized sports and educational media, reminds me that we mamas can over-complicate raising children sometimes. As we pack our diaper bags for playdates with every possible item our kid could need in the next three hours, let’s remember to take a breath, be grateful, and let go of our mama-bear anxiety. Our kids are doing well and would probably do a bit better if we all backed off and let them play in the dirt a little more…without using hand-sanitizer afterwards even…you are doing a good job, Momma. Relax. Breathe. Give thanks.
Second, I’m reminded that motherhood is sacred. Jesus spoke about his love for his people as one who has the heart of a mother in Matthew 23:37. He longs to gather his people under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks. What a sweet picture of the love of Christ. He shows his love here in a nurturing and protective way. The work we are doing as mothers is one of the most basic and necessary work that can be done in this world. Every person needs to know that they are loved, wanted, and have a safe place to be restored and encouraged. Ultimately, they need to know they are loved by God, but they will only know his love when they experience it in the flesh. The first loving human relationship a baby has is with his mother. And this relationship is so powerful, studies have shown that babies who are in the womb know when they are unwanted by their mothers. The trauma of being unloved and neglected is something that can affect them from birth. Many who are walking around wounded and neglected simply need someone to share Jesus’ love with them as a mother would for her own children. They need the kind heart of a momma who can nurture them and show them that they are loved, wanted, cared for and precious. This is what Momma does, and no one can do it like she can. Furthermore, it is the true religion of the people of God to care for orphans. I believe that includes those who are abandoned physically, sure, but also includes those who are abandoned emotionally and spiritually. And I don’t believe that only those who have given birth to biological children are called to be mothers. One of the most effective and influential mothers in the world never had any biological children of her own, yet she mothered thousands with a heart full of love and actions guided by God’s grace. Mother Teresa’s life of motherhood was indeed sacred, deeply needed, and one of the most stunning reflections of Jesus’ love for this world.
The third and final thought I will share here is simply this. While motherhood is sacred, it is not exclusive. As I’ve talked with and watched other mothers in other cultures take care of their babies, I am always surprised that it feels like home. Though I’m in a foreign environment and miss my babies when I’m away, I don’t feel so far away from home as I spend time with these mommas. I see these women working hard to feed their tribe, get them bathed and in bed and I think, “Huh…so their kids fight them on this, too.” Turns out, toddlers are pretty much the same wherever you go. I have seen how toddlers in Haiti and Hong Kong, as well as Belize and Berlin, are all fighting for independence, trying to eat things off the floor they shouldn’t, throwing fits one minute and charming you with dimpled smiles the next. It’s comforting when their mothers also sigh deep breaths of weariness and smile apologetically at me with a shrug that is the universal statement for, “Toddlers…you know how it is.” I think this same shrug translates to the teenage years as well…
These encounters remind me that I am not alone as I mother my children. It also reminds me that I need the community of other mothers to encourage me to keep going. Yet how often do we seek community? Too often we assume that no one understands what our life is like. It is easy to feel alone in our houses next to neighbors we never talk to. I often wonder how many moms are sitting at home thinking that no one cares or understands the struggle, the weariness, the fear, the love for this tiny human that threatens to break your heart. I know I’ve done it. Loneliness is one of the most common ailments for moms, especially when she has little ones, and more specifically in American culture. Our obsession with technology and progress has created an environment that cultivates complete isolation. In many other cultures, people are highly social - physically, not just technically. They walk down roads together as they grocery shop or take kids to school. They stop and chat with friends, neighbors and relations as they pass by their houses. They spend hours sharing meals, letting household tasks wait until the more important work of relationship is finished for the day. This is not only beautiful, it is Biblical. God did not intend us to do life alone. We need each other. We need to make time for real face-to-face conversations about everything from potty-training to our deep need for Jesus and a nap. And as our babies grow taller and enter the busy, schedule-packed years of adolescence, it becomes harder to have time for meaningful relationships with others, yet our need for it remains the same.
My prayer for you and me today is that we would not neglect the sacred call of motherhood in our world. I pray that we would have the courage to offer the gift of motherhood to those around our own table, and those who have none of their own. May we offer Christ to all that need to know the love of their Heavenly Father. May we have hearts overflowing with love and actions brimming with His grace so that the ones that are unwanted and forgotten will no longer be. May we repent of trying to go it alone and embrace the friendships of the women that surround us, whether they be living next door, or on the other side of the world. And through all these things, may the Jesus that we’ve encountered do the work that only he can do in us and through us.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.