I remember hearing, “Babies sleep a lot” and “All they need is food, diapers, and a safe place to sleep.” These sentiments contributed to my naive ideas about life with children. I knew life would change with the arrival of my daughter, but I couldn’t picture it. I entered motherhood holding onto an underlying belief that my life wouldn’t change all that much. I would be me—but me with a baby on the side. I know now that my former view of motherhood was much too simplistic. I saw it as a change in circumstances rather than a calling from God to minister, to sacrifice, and to show his love to the little people in my house. Because my initial vision of motherhood was incomplete, I created unrealistic expectations. Over the months and years, God has led me away from my small perspective, pointing me to a greater vision and purpose for this season of life.
I had plans. Plans for my passions and hobbies that I expected to pursue while my infant napped. Frustration bloomed as I placed those plans on the back-burner. Instead, I held my sleep-repellant baby for every nap and for hours at bedtime in an effort to settle her. Weeks turned into months and I began to realize life was not returning to normal as I expected. I thought, “As soon as she is a little more independent, I’ll have time for self-care, relationships, and hobbies.” This mindset is hard for me to admit because my deep-seated definition of a loving mother includes words like “selflessness” and “sacrifice,” but there I was, looking for the next moments I could snatch away by myself.
My daughter grew out of the lap-napping stage, and I fell in love with her toddler self, the always-wants-to-be-with-mom and please-come-play-with-me version. Even at her young age, I recognized her extroverted personality bumping up against my introverted self. I monitored my outward actions, using energy to make sure my inner frustration and exhaustion didn’t often come to light. I didn’t like how I felt inside, but God is faithful and didn’t leave me in my struggle alone.
Seeds of Change
The change began when I discovered resources with ideas about motherhood I had never heard before. One author and speaker in particular, Sally Clarkson1, spoke words of life through my headphones as I heard her say things like Motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to call on God and devise methods to make the journey a sustainable one. Or Motherhood is a ministry and a mission field; it requires that you daily put on the armor of God. I began to see my role as more than a caretaker. I remember one quote from Paul David Tripp that transformed my perspective. “Nothing is more important than to be one of God’s tools for the forming of a human soul.”2 As my understanding of my calling shifted, so did my priorities, thoughts, and attitudes. I found myself delighting in the presence of my children and soaking in the blessing of who God created them to be.
Seeing Their Hearts
Last week as I folded laundry in my bedroom, my four-year-old daughter came and nestled among the bed blankets. She popped up her head and asked, “Do you see me?” I looked at her for a moment before replying, “Yes, I do see you.” It was a simple question and part of a game she wanted to play, but it struck me. In the same way, children struggle to see their parents as people, do I sometimes look past my children’s humanity and only see the interruptions and work? If I’m not careful, this small person with big thoughts and emotions becomes a responsibility I watch out of the corner of my eye as I busy myself with other tasks. I take on no guilt or shame for focusing on things besides my kids, but when I’m with her, am I present or am I looking past her, eager to move on to the next appointment or to-do item? The same desire that resides in me to be seen and known dwells within her, too.
Last night I asked her to put on her pajamas by herself. She protested saying she needed help. I know she is capable of dressing herself, but in a moment of insight, a leading of the Holy Spirit showed me that her issue wasn’t with the pajamas. She desired my presence. I helped her change, and I saw her as a person who needed a moment of love and closeness. I felt something settle within me during that interaction. As bearers of God’s image, we want to be seen and known, but we also fulfill our purpose and calling when we take the time to see and know others.
Moving Forward in God’s Calling
Sometimes I wonder how my early days of motherhood would have differed had I understood that motherhood is a calling from God rather than a change in circumstances. I don’t expect that I’m done learning this lesson. Just as I am a tool of God in the lives of my children, God also uses them to sanctify me.
God is doing a work in me by unveiling my sinful spots and covering them with the blood of Christ. He has shown himself faithful to me and to my children, and I trust that His grace is big enough to cover my mistakes as I continue to learn the lessons of motherhood. I’m only four years into this journey and I don’t expect that I have it all figured out now, but I do find myself better positioned to face the coming days as I follow him. Because of God’s gentle leading, I approach each day of motherhood as a calling to serve. From that place of service, I am finding more delight and joy in the journey.
1At Home With Sally Podcast 2YouVersion Plan “Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles,” Paul David Tripp
Connect with Lisa
Lisa Dean is a writer, learner, observer, and Jesus-lover. She resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband, Josh, and two children. When she’s not playing with her kids, you can find her reading good books, sipping coffee, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen. You can find more of her writing at lisazdean.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lisazdean.