The Joyful Mess of Motherhood
by Faith Bogdan
Recently I was scheduled to be a guest on the Facebook page associated with a well-known ministry for moms. I was to interact with moms in real time for the better part of a day. I also had a one hour radio interview scheduled immediately after that. It was my glamorous day to set aside gritty motherhood for a while and talk to moms about how to be one.
The night before, I dreamed I showed up decked out in my best clothes, at the “hotel” where the two events were taking place. Only, I had a tag along with me—Ruthie, my youngest daughter. She too had gotten all dressed up in anticipation of an exciting place to go. In my dream her appearance was vivid—she wore a soft, pink dress of satin and taffeta, and her hair was pinned up like Princess Leia’s. As she stood there swaying sweetly in all her ten-year-old glory, I informed her she could not attend my book promotion events. “Find a library in this hotel,” I suggested. “There must be one here somewhere. You can hang out there for the day while I do my thing.” The expression on her face when I said that in my dream still haunts me, days later.
Thankfully, I came to my senses before I woke up. “Oh, never mind,” I told Ruthie. “You can come with me.” I took her hand and she looked as relieved as I felt upon waking.
As I reflected on the troubling dream, I pondered this mothering journey I am on. Have I really meant all I’ve said and written about “fully embracing the joyful mess of motherhood?” Or is a part of me still clinging to the life that was, or that could be, had not God given me “all these children?”
My heart issues a resounding “yes!” to God’s call to motherhood, even as it did while I drew Ruthie into the La-Z-Boy where I sat with my laptop, ready to encourage online moms across the country. And sure enough, Ruthie’s cup of tea toppled onto my lap and chair, reminding me I was not, in fact, in a hotel ballroom schmoozing childless with the ladies. I was more than okay with that. I’ve never been so happy to sop up spilled tea in my life
But being a mom involves greater challenges than cleaning up liquid messes. At some point, every child turns thirteen. It’s as if the “terrible two’s” return in some mutant form—this time with hormones attached. And suddenly we’re faced with the reality that it can be downright hard to wrap mother-arms around a rigid teenage frame that doesn’t hug in return. Everything we know about the gospel of grace flies out the window in moments of exasperation with a child who can’t seem to find a way to wash a single dish in one hour’s time.
What’s a mother to do when affection for an eye-rolling, “diss”-tant child doesn’t come easy? When at the very moment she goes to plant a kiss on a pimply cheek, she discovers another broken rule or sneaky act, and affection evaporates in a steam of chastisement?
It is in the context of these parent-child relationships that I learn the most about Who God is, and the way He loves me. Aren’t I His “challenge child?” The one who so often can’t get it right? And how does He respond when I flat out refuse to do what He has asked me to do? Does God ever need to walk away, count to ten and cool down before He can talk to me, let alone show me affection?
I think not. No childish act of mine can change the way God feels toward me. It astounds me to realize that in my worst moments, God can’t get enough of me! The same God who laid aside the glories of heaven to enter my messy world—to clean up the mess I’ve made of myself—still longs to draw me in to His presence and let me sit with Him for a while. It will take an eternity to return this kind of affection.
But I don’t have to wait that long to show it. The power of God’s unconditional love is what is changing me into the kind of mom that doesn’t turn away from my daughter or lash out at her when she most needs to know she is loved—not for what she does or doesn’t do, but for who she is—a well-loved child of God.