Did you have a nice Christmas? I don’t know if you went to someone else’s house or whether you were cooking the dinner yourself this year. Did you get any time to rest? Did you feel appreciated – not just for your efforts on Christmas day, but also for the hard work you do all year? Did you get a (small) gift which really showed you that you are noticed; that someone really knows what you like; that you matter? I hope so. But it’s not always the case. Sometimes your ‘holiday’ comes and goes, and you haven’t had a break at all. And you’re looking into 2014 knowing that it’s going to be the same hard work, day in and day out right up to the horizon and beyond. You might be wondering, ‘What’s the point?’ Maybe you feel you could be doing something more. More than wiping noses; washing school uniforms; grilling fish fingers. Where’s your life gone?
Judith Kerr, the woman who wrote, amongst other things, The Tiger Who Came to Tea was on the TV recently. The BBC made an interesting documentary about her life. She had to flee from the Nazis as a child, and on this programme Michael Rosen (children’s poet) had come up with a theory that the tiger in the story represented a threat – someone who could turn up any time at your house and take your things. I know: this is rather a ‘Santa isn’t real moment’ for Tiger fans, if it’s true.
But do you want to know what Judith Kerr said about it? She said that she and her young daughter were at home all day together, every day, and her husband worked long hours. ‘We wished someone would come’, she said. And then she said something like, ‘And why not have a tiger come?’ So she made up the story. So here is a woman who as a mother is so lonely that she’d rather have a tiger come to her house and eat all her food (and drink all the water in the tap) than have another mundane day where nothing you’d like to remember happens.
Do you have tiger moments? The days can seem very long, and a neighbour popping in for a favour can sometimes be the social highlight of the day.
And motherhood isn’t just lonely, it’s also really hard. I think the hardest part is the fact I’m forced to deal with my own sin all day long. There’s nothing to distract me from my impatience; on the contrary I’m erupting my impatience all over my 2-year-old. My pride keeps slapping me in the face because there’s nobody to say ‘well done’ when my child shares without being asked to at home, and then has a tantrum in the supermarket because he can’t have a doughnut.
I’m battling with sin day after day, week after week, and it’s such slow progress. God in his grace is changing me by his Spirit – amazing! – but I get so impatient with myself. Sometimes you think you’ve cracked something, swept out a sin, and then it’s so disappointing when you realise you’ve done it again the next day. I recently chatted to a friend who felt convicted about a particular way she could love her husband more – we talked; we prayed; she felt encouraged to change. The next week she did almost exactly the same thing again. How deflating! We want to stomp out the sin in our hearts, but it just keeps reigniting.
So there are physical and emotional things that are hard about being a mum – it’s lonely, it’s tiring, and you might feel that you’re wasting your time. There are also spiritual things that are hard, because your sin keeps exposing itself, and with your children watching (and pointing it out) it’s a bit difficult to pretend it’s not there.
So, parents, what is my Happy New Year message to you? Well, I read something recently in a book called ‘Washed and Waiting’ by Wesley Hill, which really encouraged me about my slow and agonising battle with my own sin. He quotes the film ‘The Two Towers’, in which Sam the hobbit is wondering whether people will one day talk about the journey he and Frodo have been on:
By rights we shouldn’t even be here [on this quest]. But we are… I wonder if people will ever say, “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.” And they’ll say, “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad.” “Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.”
Then Hill writes this:
Many times in my experience … I have wished my life was different, that I had some other burden to bear – anything but this one. But I have also felt that if Someone is watching – taking note; caring about each footfall, each bend in the trail; marking my progress – then the burden may be bearable.
When you read or watch Sam talking like that about his journey it’s really moving because you know that one day they will be celebrated for their bravery, and rightly so. Their efforts do not go unnoticed. And (as Wesley Hill writes) there is someone watching our every move, and He will reward us much more greatly than any community of hobbits could ever do!
And in fact, the greater the struggle, the greater the glory we will receive:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Each time you again have to apologise to your daughter for losing it during tea time, or you lock yourself in the bathroom to avoid taking something out on the kids that’s not their fault, or you force yourself to give thanks because you’ve never felt so ungrateful in your life – it’s not for nothing. It’s not for nothing!
I don’t really understand how it’s going to work, but God in his grace and mercy will one day reward you according to how you handled each day with your kids. Your Father puts you in these situations so that you will become more like Christ. So there is a purpose, an eternal purpose, which by faith we can be sure of, even though we can’t see it.
People can encourage you, and so they should, that the hard work you’re putting in really does matter in this life too. Your kids do need hot food and clean clothes, and they need love and stability. They’re blessed to have you. Please don’t underestimate the value of what you do for them physically and emotionally. But also know this: that spiritually you are investing in your future glory. And not just your own, but as you teach your children the gospel, and as they see you live it out and follow your example, by grace they too will receive glory from the Father when they come at last to heaven. Stop and think about that! What better pension plan could there be?
So if, this January, you find yourself comparing your ‘career path’ with that of your old school friends, or what might have been if you hadn’t had children, why not remember what an incredible gift God has given you in making a mother out of you: Your praise is not from men, but from God.