I’m sharing this post as part of Sarah Bessey‘s syncroblog (with the prompt: I used to think____, now I think____) for the launch of her new book “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith”.
“You and I are sitting in a mess of half-unpacked boxes, aren’t we?
We have a few piles here and there. This looks like a homemade altar to me.”
-Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith
I used to think that my value as a mom could be measured in laundry loads, meals cooked, baths given and prayers spoken. I calculated my worth by the length of my skirt, the number of children I had, the hours I spent doing all the things godly mothers should do. On the outside, I was clutching my ideals like they were made of precious gold. On the inside, I was hanging by a very thin thread. I realize now that I had idealized motherhood and faith, and created this picture perfect image of what a good and godly mother should look like. It turns out that for me, she looked like a 1950’s housewife. And, I made it my mission to become her.
The thing about gold is that you have to dig deep and sort through a lot of rocks to find it. Sometimes what you thought was gold, is actually just pyrite or “fool’s gold”. Wikipedia describes pyrite as having a “superficial resemblance to gold”. And, I think that’s it. That’s the truth of it. I was chasing a superficial resemblance of what it looks like to be a great mom. I live in a part of Canada that is known as having a “heart of gold” for all the gold mines that fill the landscape here. And, I’ve been down there so I know: gold is found deep in the ground where it’s hot, dirty and dangerous.
Motherhood and faith are not easy. But, instead of climbing the jagged cliff of ideals and expectations, instead of white knuckling it to find some sense of self-worth and value, I know now that I need to be mining for gold. I’ve had to do the messy work of going deep inside myself, to discover that real gold looks like this: my worth is not connected to my work. I’m still doing the hard, sweaty work of asking questions and digging deeper, sorting through all the rocks, leaving the man-made ideals behind me, on the surface, where they belong. For so long I had kept my own golden ideals of motherhood and faith tucked neatly in a safe, little box. When exhaustion set in, the box started to break and crumble. I stopped baking bread and gave up skirts because you guys, winters are cold here in Canada. After my 7th child was born, my body was completely burned out. It was a desperate prayer over a pot of soup in my (holy sanctuary) kitchen that connected me to this important truth: My value is not tied to my tasks. Jesus loves me, just as I am.
I had a dream about Jesus once. In my dream, I was at a “love expo”. I went to each booth, one by one, asking for love. Everytime I did, I was ridiculed, spit on, abused. I left the expo broken and hurting. As I neared the exit, out of the corner of my eye I saw him. He was a simple man. His booth was so plain that I had skipped it. In my dream I heard him say the words: “I will take you and love you. You are mine.” He scooped me up in His arms and carried me out. It was a dream but I remember realizing in that moment, I was in the arms of Jesus and His love was unlike anything I had ever felt. It was deeper, higher, and bigger than I’d ever imagined. And that’s the golden truth: a godly mother is really just a mother who is carried in the arms of Jesus, by His love.
Earlier this week I was in a hospital waiting room. An older woman sat near me and began to talk with me and share a story. She had recently had surgery and been in hospital for a month. Her family expected it to be day surgery so no one was prepared for the long stay. She longed to talk to her son but he lived thousands of miles away and she explained that her crooked fingers just couldn’t manage the phone. She told me how, one day, as she lay in her hospital bed, she looked up and there, in the doorway, stood her 6 foot 2 inch tall son (the one who lives really far away). She said that he scooped her up off the hospital bed and into his arms and they both cried and cried. (Here come the water slides, am I right?) In that moment, I got a beautiful glimpse of what a good mother really looks like. You guys, a good mother looks like a little old lady being scooped up into her son’s arms in a hospital room. A good mother looks like a woman who loves and is loved.
Later that day I sat in another room. This time it was an exam room and I was shifting awkwardly in my bright pink gown. Recovering from burn-out is hard, man. But, recovering from impossible ideals, in my opinion, is even harder. (Also, pink medical gowns are super unflattering). I still have a long way to go to reclaim my strength. I shed some tears and wished (for the thousandth time) that I’d taken better care of myself during those idealistic years.
In Sarah Bessey’s new book: “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith”, there is this “Benediction” at the end. I loved every chapter but the Benediction is possibly the most moving thing I’ve read in a long time. I returned to it today and found this:
“I pray that when you are grieving and suffering, you would find peace and wholeness again.
God isn’t to blame. I really believe that; may that truth comfort you. I pray for you
to feel held and carried in your time of great need, because it will come if it hasn’t already.
You have a voice for lament as well as for praise. Cry out to God.”
There is still some lament in my heart. The rock sorting is so hard at times. But, I’m starting to catch some glimpses of authentic gold. So I keep going and I keep digging because I’m really certain that a good mother looks like the million different, beautiful, unique ways each of us expresses love in our own lives. I used to think that my value as a mom could be measured by my tasks. Now I think that being a great mom (and a great human being) has more to do with how we love than what we accomplish in a day. Most importantly, it has everything to do with knowing that we are loved.
So then, in Sarah’s own words: let us “Love Ferociously”.