by Sara Horn, founder of Wives of Faith and author of God Strong
mtl Note: Currently, more than one million military wives care for their families and their homes, often while their husbands are deployed out of state or overseas for months at a time. Sara Horn, the wife of a navy reservist, understands the challenges these women face. In her encouraging book, God Strong, Horn shares her personal stories, as well as wisdom and anecdotes of other wives from all branches of service. This month, for Military Spouse Appreciation Month, we say a special thank you to all of our military men and women, and the families who support them from home.
I met Tara at our first regional event of the year for Wives of Faith. I had just finished speaking, and we were getting ready to go into some fun icebreakers when she came up to let me know she had to leave early to get back to her baby, who was sick.
“I just want you to know how much I appreciate what you said tonight, and that I’m glad I came,” she said. She was young, and she looked very tired.
“Is everything okay?” I asked. Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. I walked with her to the hall, where we could have some privacy, and she shared with me her story.
After we took some time to pray, I got her contact information and told her that our core group of ladies would try to find her some help, and that all of us would definitely be praying.
Many volunteers came forward, overwhelming Tara with the idea that so many strangers were willing to help her and her kids. But the best solution was found when the church decided they could send one of their paid childcare workers to Tara’s house two days a week for the next month.
This was great news! I was so excited we had found a way to help this young military wife, but now it was up to Tara to accept the help. I tried putting myself in her shoes; as much as I would love the help, it would be hard to say yes. Military wives are supposed to be tough, and moms especially should be able to take care of everything and do everything for their children, right? Taking help would be a little like saying I can’t do it all, wouldn’t it?
Tara and I talked about this through email. “One piece of advice I’ve heard from other wives that I’ll pass on to you,” I wrote, “is don’t try to be superwoman. Don’t ask more of yourself than you would, say, a friend who is going through deployment. And make sure you get the rest you need. Take care of yourself; otherwise it will be harder to take care of your children.”
Then Tara wrote back, “I had signed off and gone on to other things when I realized that I’m not sure how I can not try to be supermom. I understand what you are saying, but how do you do that when there are things that have to be done? Laundry has to be done, food cooked, babies fed, bills paid, house cleaned, babies gotten up with at night, diapers changed, cars fixed, all these things … if there is no one else, then you have to do them, and like it or not, you have to be supermom. How can you not ask it of yourself when it is what is required?”
Tara’s question may be one you’ve asked yourself during the course of a long week, in the middle of the night as you take care of a sick child, or in the early morning hours as you get lunches ready and backpacks checked before heading off to a full day of work yourself. Or if you haven’t asked the question, “How can I not be superwoman?” you may have said the equivalent: “If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.”
“If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.” These are hard words, my friend, to live by. I know, because I’ve said them myself at various seasons of my life. The question Tara asked has a lot of truth to it, because we are often put in the position of being the only ones to take care of everything. We are responsible for our children, for our homes, for making sure that things get done, and life goes on with or without our husbands by our sides to help us. But how much of the weight of those things is self-inflicted?
I think it has a lot to do with perspective.
I know an author who is very particular about the angle that is used when she has her picture taken. She’s a heavyset woman who had the misfortune one day of being set up for a photo shoot with a photographer who insisted on photographing her from the ground up while she stood, looking down. Well, ask any woman who is at all self-conscious about how she looks and she will tell you right away that this is the worst view you can use, because it shows every bump, lump, and double chin there is! But as my friend learned, if a camera is raised to a height higher than you and you are forced to look up into the lens, the extra weight disappears.
When we perceive that everything is up to us, that we are responsible for it all, and that success or failure rests completely on what we do, that’s when our nose is to the grindstone. We hold on to the burdens and the stress and we struggle to have all the answers, especially when things don’t go right—and there will be times things don’t go right! We can find ourselves looking down constantly, and all of the weight of those worries and fears and stresses becomes evident, not just in our faces but in our spirits, not just in our physical being but in our emotions as well.
But when we look up, when we take the gaze off of ourselves and we focus on God, we can experience the grace he has for us. So the laundry doesn’t get done in one day; maybe you have to say no to something or you just run out of time. God doesn’t ask for perfection; he asks for obedience. He doesn’t want our completed to-do lists. He just wants our hearts. When we look up, guess what he sees? Not the lumps or bumps or double chins. Instead, God sees his beautiful and trusting daughter looking to him for the answers and not trying to find them on her own.
If you think about it, we are born with the capacity to accept grace, which I define as free and unearned favor. A baby can’t do anything on her own, or at least not very much. She is dependent on the grace of her parents to give her what she needs, and she is very much okay with that. You don’t see a baby apologizing to her mother for being unable to fix her own bottle.
But somewhere between infancy and adulthood, we start thinking differently. We realize that setting the table can earn us an extra piece of chocolate cake for dessert. That making good grades keeps us out of the principal’s office and puts us first in line for the class trip. We buy into the belief that by doing everything—and doing it perfectly—we magically earn the right to be in control or have more say in what happens in our lives.
Think about the mouse that runs through the maze. He isn’t running because he wants to be the fastest mouse or break some mouse world record. He’s running because he knows there is cheese at the end for his reward, and he knows if he runs fast enough, straight enough, smart enough, he will get that cheese. He will earn that cheese. But God doesn’t insist on our jumping hurdles and running in mouse wheels. He gives us the cheese up front. No maze required.
Excerpted from God Strong. Copyright © 2010 by Sara Horn. Published by Zondervan. Used by permission.
Sara Horn is the founder of the national military wives support organization Wives of Faith (www.wivesoffaith.org), a contributor for several military spouse publications including Military Spouse Magazine and CinCHouse.com, and the publisher of AGreaterFreedom.com, which offers faith-based military news.