Monday, September 5, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 1: Comfort

Eleven and nine years old and nearing half grown, my boys are like two feet that kick at the backs of your knees causing you to fall forward instantly. They keep me on my knees in prayer, not because they are bad boys, but because I want to get it right. And don't we all? Within every sincere parents' hearts is not there a boiling pot of desire to raise them well? Is not there the most acute sense of responsibility for these lives that were trusted to our feeble, human care? Often I tell God He's the one who gave them to me so He has to give me wisdom. If he doesn't, it will be his fault when I fatally blow it with them. And you know, I think in those moments, He must chuckle. After all, it was in fact Him who trusted these sweet little men to Jeff and I's care, and He did that through the sieve of His sovereignty and omniscience. Surely God must think to Himself, "Yes, Sarah, I did give them to you and I knew what I was doing all along. I'm able to handle this." Today, my youngest came to me with lips stretched horizontally across his chubby cheeks, "Mommy, will you jump with me?" The trampoline. Four springs gone and about fifty more to go before my moonlighting career as Jumping Jill finally comes to a close. But then, my to do list was calling too. The grin on my boy got wider and the to do list started hollering, "Lesson plans! Cook Supper. Plan for Writer's Guild! Call your mother. Write a book! Save the world!" And somehow, this task oriented momma had the grace to choose the greater thing. As we played Tic-Toc, a highly technical game where my legs are the hands of the clock and they attempt to knock the kids down resulting in multiple bruises on my shins, I thought about the fact that my son is going to be nine in five days. Nine years old--that's the halfway to college point. Nine years old--that's the final year before double digits. Nine years old---that means I have probably bounced more with him in the past than I will in the future. People tell you it flies. They tell you to treasure the special moments. They tell you to choose the best things, to leave the laundry, to leave the cleaning, to love your babies while you can. The other night we were at an ultimate frisbee game with our boys, and a couple whose children are near flying the coop phase walked up with take-out in their hands. He was smelling like he might have put on aftershave and she was looking like a sun-smacked peach in her skirt and matching blouse. Their eldest boy, a senior, was playing that night. It turned out they were on a date night. Why in the world were they at a frisbee league game in 90 degree weather with styrofoam trays of Cuban cuisine when their kids were old enough to fend for themselves? I didn't have to ask. I knew. They aren't counting down the years anymore. They're counting down the days. The days. I'd be doing the same thing. Like a parallel parking spot on Main Street in some antique town, we get this tiny window of opportunity to impact, to steer, to channel our children's lives and character. And there is no practising, no dress rehearsal. It's all live. All of it. The Bible just confirms the inevitable--the very first reference to mother in the Bible is when God says, "therefore a man shall leave his mother..." (Gen. 2:24) They are definitely going to leave us at some point despite the fact that I've gotten both mine to promise they'll never get married, and will always live on the property near me. (So what if I bribed them with clean laundry and unlimited chocolate chip cookies!) Thanks God! You'd think he could have at least saved that little tidbit for some more obscure book like Jude. And a close look at the Proverbs seems to confirm that how these sweet little cherubs turn out when their baby fat has dissolved into muscle and chest hair, is intrinsically linked with a mother's gladness or shame. (Proverbs 10:1, 15:20, 19:26, 23:25, 28:24, 29:15) We are SO on the hook. So where in the world do we go for direction? For solid guidance? Naturally, I head to the Word of God, but you've probably already figured out there are not a ton of references to the act of mothering in God's Word. We've got Hannah who desperately prayed for a child, but made a bargain with God and had to leave her beloved son in the care of Eli. What can we learn from her? How to get a baby? (I didn't need any help in that department. Jeff and I managed pretty well on our own.) Then there's Rebekah who taught her son to deceive and lie. She's not got a ton to offer when it comes to parenting advice. There's Sarah, but she tried to manufacture the promises of God by getting her hand maiden to sleep with her hubby so they could have a child. Let's not forget Eve, but then again, maybe we should. One of her sons murdered the other. So we're kind of left with Elizabeth and Mary. Slim pickings. Or are they? Let me take you to two references that have truly affirmed my gut instincts as a mother. The first is Isaiah 66:13 where God says, "As a mother comforts a child, so I will comfort you..." The second is found in I Thessalonians 2:7 where Paul says, "but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children." At first read I thought little of either of these passages. In fact, I've never even stopped to consider them in light of mothering. The first is referencing God's treatment of the Israelites and the second, Paul's treatment of the Thessalonian believers. Truth be told, I wish I had stopped to see the significance of these passages for mothers many years ago. As you know, I'm raising boys. Naturally, I want them to be mighty, manly men when they grow up. Who wouldn't hope that for their boys? One of five girls, I have lacked in the experience with boys arena. Often that reality has caused me to defer to the 'wisdom' of those sometimes loud voices around me. "Don't coddle your boys. They'll be sissies." "Don't fuss over their cuts and bruises. Teach them to be tough." But God didn't even give this as instruction, did you notice that? A clear assumption about mothering is made right here in God's Word. Mothers will comfort. Did you catch that? Moms will indeed comfort their children. Not only will they comfort them, but they will be gentle. These are not instructions, these are givens. In fact the Hebrew word for comfort used in Isaiah actually means, "to be sorry, to be moved to pity, have compassion." (Strong's) It is a verb which from a grammatical stand point demands action. What does that look like? What is the difference between comforting and coddling? I've seen some coddling mommas out there, let me tell you. But I've also seen some downright indifferent mommas too. Both extremes are dangerous territory--one a mire of quicksand and the other a concrete landing below a thousand foot drop. First, let me just affirm those mommies who are presently in the throws of stacking diapers and patting little dimpled bottoms to sleep. I remember those days well, the debates of letting them cry it out, when to pick them up, when to leave them be. Oh I remember. And can I just tell you those sleepless nights will not last forever. They won't. I don't regret one single time that I went into my boys' bedrooms and picked their tiny little frames up when they cried for me. Not once. But I do hate the memory of the night that I stood at the door while my oldest cried for me, and I didn't go to him because a book by an expert said I should let him cry it out--his long term memory wasn't formed; he'd be fine. And I thank God that Jeff and I didn't continue with that path. Okay, okay. I know I just struck a match that is attached to a grenade. Got it. It's a mine field out here in this sleeping through the night territory, and now I'll need to dance my way through it. Allow me some grace here, moms. I know we all have our opinions. My palms are itching and I'm short of breath at the thought of stepping on a toe, so please know that this comes from a gentle heart. (And if you want to discuss it further, feel free to email me.) God's word assumes a mom will be moved to active compassion. That's straight out of the Hebrew texts and with that we can't argue. What does that compassion look like? Let me ask you one question. How far away do you want God to be when He comforts you? Because that passage in Isaiah says that God will comfort the Israelites as a mom comforts her baby. In no way is this meant to be a judgment on anyone's parenting choices. It also is not a judgment on any parenting books. But, I'm not afraid to speak the truths of God's Word and though I've remained largely silent on this topic in public forums, I do believe that our guts tell us things, but we doubt them because of what the experts say. For new moms this can be so challenging because we are exhausted, overwhelmed and uncertain of everything. So, we rely heavily on resources available. No one ever pointed me to these passages when I was making these choices. God's word says He is "near the broken hearted." (Psalm 34:18) So again, how far away do you want to be when your baby's heart is crying out for you? I'll just end this little discussion with the admonishment to get before your Father; ask Him to speak into your heart how near He desires you to be as you comfort your little one through the night. Don't let your senior neighbor or your well meaning mother-in-law or the stack of books you got from Barnes & Noble be your ultimate guide. God promises His Spirit will guide you into all truth. These are decisions you want to be able to stand on later. So get the wisdom from your Father. Second, let me say to the moms of boys once and for all: It is okay to comfort your boys. They will not grow up to be wimps, momma's boys or helpless critters defenseless in a world where they must be strong. Comforting will not do that to your child. Coddling will. There is a difference. When Nate took a tumble as a toddler, I went running. When he fell as an elementary school student, I went walking. Now that he's a middle schooler he runs to me when he's fallen to show me how good the bruise is going to be, and only every once in a while will he let me offer comfort over his "ouie's." He doesn't need me to kiss away the scrapes or scratches now. He needs me to admire his strength and insist he's tough because he doesn't need a band aid. If they are fifteen years old and still need you to bandage their paper cuts there's a chance you're coddling, but, moms don't be afraid to love rough and tumble boys as they grow. They will tell you when it is too much, and you will know. Let me also say here, that if dad is in the picture, he will respond differently. That is okay. He's going to insist that boy is just fine. He'll say to shake it off. That's great. That's his role. Lastly, whether we have boys or girls, comfort is something that requires action. Instinctual in most of us, but often squelched for fear of spoiling, comfort is indeed a tool from God for mothers to use in the raising of their children. It is a godly trait. A child who has been comforted will be a compassionate individual as they grow. They will understand sympathy and empathy because they have experienced those facets of comfort. And it never stops. I remember being 21 years old, a new bride living in a foreign country with my young husband. There were times when we just had no clue what we were doing and more than once, I lay sobbing in confusion and homesickness. You know what I pictured in those moments? I pictured laying my head on my mother's lap, her hands stroking my hair. A mother always comforts, even when she isn't with us. We will all do it differently. Not everyone speaks the way I do to my children. There are tomboy mommas, and sugary-sweet moms, there are matter of fact moms and there are the Aunt Bee's of Mayberry types. But what is important is this: We get the privilege of being the comforters to our little ones. Later, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is called The Comforter. We mothers will develop our children's understanding of God as a Comforter just as daddies will mold their child's understanding of God as Father. That's a humbling honor. When yielded to God, we, as moms will reflect God's image as Comforter to our children. I've always thought of God as represented by the dads, but the truth is that both parents get to provide the first glimpses of God to their children. Wow. When my boys read Jesus' promise of The Comforter in John, I wonder if they'll think of me. I pray so. I pray so. (It is my hope, Lord willing, to do a series of posts on mothering. This is the first in that series. I believe there are more to come, but for now, Moms, comfort your children and know that it was you God chose to mother your children. You are doing a wonderful job.) Pray with me: Holy Spirit, you are The Comforter. Teach me to comfort my children in a way that reflects You to them. Teach me to be tender and compassionate toward their needs. Teach me to know when to speak words of comfort and when to simply hold a hand in comfort. Teach me boundaries and keep my comfort healthy. Comfort me with your truth that I will overflow that to my children. Thank you for trusting me with their hearts. Amen. Read with me: John 14


Marybeth said...

Sweet, practical& spot-on. I was surprised how much, as you painted a picture of mothering, it mirrored my own beliefs about motherhood even though mine aren't rooted in faith at all. My main intention is to mother my daughter gently& peacefully, to treat her how I would want to be tested if I were her. If I was a sobbing, lonesome girl, I wouldn't want to be left alone in the dark. If I was excited about a new flower or caterpillar in the garden, I would be disappointed if someone I lived thought the laundry wa more important.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Marybeth. Yes, I believe you and I share some of the same ideas. I just wish I could sew like you!!