Not too long ago a young woman was over at my house for some reason that I cannot remember. Now on a typical day at my house you would find dishes in the sink, junk on the floor, a baby unloading a drawer, laundry on the stairs, and about 410 things on my to-do list. Children are always coloring, wielding scissors, and gluing things on the window when I’m not looking. Hopefully, you would also find me running around in the midst of it, because long experience has taught me that giving up on it won’t get results.
I don’t remember what exactly was going on when she came by, but at some point she commented that she was the sort of person who liked things to be really orderly. It wasn’t a criticism and it wasn’t offensive, although it did make me laugh. Because, hello, me too.
When the choice is to laugh or cry
The thing is, when I look over my past I feel that God has written it on the wall here, there, and everywhere that He doesn’t care about that. That part of my personality that used to seem like a positive attribute is something that God didn’t treasure. He has asked me to put that on the altar. When push comes to shove and it is either the house or the kids, God chooses the kids, and He tells me to. When it is the laundry all done or the kids all loved, it had better be the kids. When it is mom as an uptight dictator about the shoe placement or the mom who is laughing at the huge spill in the kitchen, I know which one God wants me to be. He wants me to be joyful, hard-working, full of gratitude, laughter, and above all He wants me to have spit-spot closets. Wait. Does He? All but that last bit.
Of course God is honored when I am combining joy with closet organizing. Laughter with clean floors. Gratitude with getting all the dishes done. But you know what? If something has got to go at our house, it better not be my attitude. Because that is the one thing that God actually told me to keep track of.
Obedience in weakness
As I look back at my life I can see that almost every time that there was something that I felt good at, or capable of, or confident in, God would give me a wonderful opportunity to lay it down. There is a way of looking at it that says, “God just keeps not letting me be happy! He just makes the conditions perfect for me to be miserable! He knew that I need a certain amount of alone time every day and He keeps not giving it to me!”
But this is the way that I see it. Those things that I consider part of my personality – loving to decorate, loving to cook, wanting things to be beautiful and organized and perfectly crafty and satisfying. I believe in these things. But I believe in them as things that I can use to honor my Creator. Back in the days when I wasn’t being challenged, these things came naturally, and I believed in them because I could cobble together reasons that they were good. But they primarily came from my own strength. I could be that way without really any pushback. So God brought the pushback. He made it take more than the capacity I think I have to do these things. He said to me, “I know you like it, and you think you believe it. Now I’d like to see you do it without yourself.” God isn’t interested in my strength. He is interested in my obedience in weakness. Do you hear that? God said enough with my hobbies and my preferences. Lets see about her obedience and her faith.
When we believe something, we can sign our cute little names on the dotted line. Children are a blessing? Check! You should be full of joy? Check! You should honor your husband and love your children? Check! Enjoy all the days of your life? Check! Watch me go with my cute little gel pen in my journal!
So then God gives us those children. And now we believe something that He has told us, but we are not dancing around ready to sign our names on it anymore. Why not? Well, because we feel like fussing about the laundry. Because it is messing us up to believe this, because now our faith about this is not abstract. So we feel broken. Like the things that we believe aren’t coordinating with our emotions anymore. Like we can’t find ourselves. Like the old us with the journal and the gel pen had a much better grasp of motherhood than this weird lady we have suddenly become. Why so much brokenness? Doesn’t God love us?
God does give us more than we can handle
God has brought me through this time and again. It is like He holds up my little statement of faith from my youth and says, “cute.” But He doesn’t want me to sign my name on it. He wants me to put myself on the altar. Enough with this chit chat. God wants to see action. Take that belief, and live it. Not when you have all the emotional strength to do that, but when you don’t.
Do it when it must be all His strength. Do it because you believe, not because you feel. Do it in faith.
This has been happening to me long enough now that I can see His hand in it. I can see the tremendous mercy that it was for me (the wedding coordinator for other people) to be the sick bride. I remember standing at the window in my parent’s room looking out at all our wedding guests arriving. I didn’t want my dress on because it would make me throw up again. And as I saw them all coming, I could also see that God was giving me a chance to walk in joy down that aisle. I knew I believed that the wedding was just about the vows, and about honoring them for the rest of my life. That all the rest was just superficial. God didn’t want me walking down the aisle in superficial joy. He didn’t want me to be buoyed up by the fun, and the dress, and the flowers. He wanted me to take His joy and walk with it. And if that was all I had, it would be enough.
This is a pattern. I felt capable of being a mother, back before I was. God gave me more to handle than I could possibly handle on my own strength. I felt capable of keeping house. I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can stop laughing about that. Anything that I felt capable of doing, God will both make it seem impossible and simultaneously ask me to do it. And there I am – in the sweetest place you can ever be – relying on Him. Walking in faith. Living in joy.
Seek his joy
This broken feeling is only broken if it stays there. If it stops in self-pity. If it wallows in grief about the lost emotions of our journaling days. But this is richer. When we seek His joy instead of our own, when we lay our best on His altar, and we have nothing left for ourselves, that is when we are truly accomplishing His purpose in our lives.
We are not broken. We are being healed. We are not alone. We are in His hands. We are not overwhelmed. We have a champion. We are not stupid. We are being made wise. We are not weak. For He is not weak. We are not hopeless. For we are His.
This article is reprinted, with permission from Femina Girls. Rachel Jankovic is also the author of “Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches” and “Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem and the Joys of Motherhood”