I remember when my first baby was about two weeks old. I had been thrust into this terrifying world of trying desperately to keep a tiny human being alive. I fell into bed at night, exhausted, but I woke up at every slight noise coming from my fragile little charge. I constantly worried that she couldn’t breathe or that she was in some kind of distress that I was too ignorant to recognize. Night and day were all one big blur of feedings and diaper changes and rocking and swaying and bouncing, with no real clue what I was doing.
Yet, even in those days of my body and mind being completely invaded by this pint-sized little soul, I remember I turned to my mother one day, my eyes half closed, my shirt covered in spit up, and said, Being a mother suits me to a T. I honestly felt like I had been wandering through life up until that point, just waiting for God’s big purpose for my life to fall into my lap. I decided it was motherhood.
It’s easy to see how I could think so. After all, the soul-deep love that God puts in a mother’s heart is powerful. It is consuming in a way that we didn’t understand was possible before we were already eaten up with it. It can overshadow a lot of things in life, especially in the early years. Motherhood is hard. It’s all at once beautiful and devastating in a million different ways. It brings things out in us that we didn’t know were there, both good and bad. And, it teaches us so much about God’s love for us.
A few days ago, I was in the dollar store, searching for cool prizes for our Wednesday night program at church. I was alone, as I often am these days, getting lots of things accomplished while all three of my kids were at school. It’s a new phase for me, and I’m still learning how to deal with the quiet. Suddenly, from across the store I heard the happy voice of a baby. He had obviously just learned his first word or two, and his mother was playing peek-a-boo with him. I could hear the sheer delight in his mother’s voice as she said again and again, Where’s mama? Every time she dropped her hands and revealed the sweet face that her baby knows and loves, he squealed, Mama! as if he had just won the world’s greatest prize. And right there in the middle of the toy aisle, surrounded by plastic snakes and miniature harmonicas, I felt my heart bust wide open at those sweet sounds that felt so familiar. I understood the absolute thrill that the young mother was getting in the dollar store on an ordinary Tuesday, when her baby showed in the way that only babies can, that he adores her to no end. And it broke my heart into a million pieces.
That’s not my life anymore.
Those days are gone. I don’t have babies. Adelade has traded in sippy cups for lip gloss. Sawyer, pacifiers for braces. Emerald gave up her blankie for a backpack. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s how quickly phases of life come and go.
The thing about hindsight is that it tends to gloss over the realities of past experiences. It doesn’t remind you about the long nights sitting up with a sick baby, frantic over a too-high temperature. It doesn’t recall how much time it took you to accomplish anything at all while a little one was clinging to you all day and night. It doesn’t bring up the fact that you felt frustrated over your lack of social life, your lack of sleep, your lack of time with your husband, your lack of personal space. No, that precious hindsight only brings to mind the sweetest moments, the epiphanies about how wonderful motherhood is, the secret, sweet moments that only you remember, like peek-a-boo in the dollar store on an otherwise hectic, unproductive weekday. This rosy memory-vision is one reason that grandmothers are so quick to approach a frazzled young mother in the grocery store to tell her to appreciate every moment.
I wanted to go over to speak to the young mother, too. I wanted to say to her, somehow, that I understand the soul-crushing love that she feels for her child. I wanted her to know that the moment she was having there was as familiar to me as the little country road that leads to my childhood home. I wanted to tell her that the thrill of hearing that tiny voice holler Mama will feel just a fresh and real to her twenty years from now. I wanted her to know that she doesn’t have to dread and fear the growing up of her precious little boy because motherhood is NOT the purpose of her life. It is an indescribable blessing. It is the source of endless joy. It is one way that God shows us how much we need Him, and it is one way that we learn to lay our lives down for someone else.
But, what we call motherhood–training and raising and caring for children–is fleeting, just like everything else. It doesn’t last forever, this phase of life. Children grow and they change and you grow and you change, and then they begin a new life out in this great big world. If, as I once believed, motherhood is the reason God made me, then what use am I when this phase of life is over?
It doesn’t mean that our hearts won’t still creak and crack and melt just a little when we remember what we once had. It doesn’t mean that what we’re doing here, in the wilds of motherhood, doesn’t have eternal significance. But, God’s purposes are big. Much bigger than we can imagine. The purpose of our lives is to glorify Him in all that we do, whether we are mothers or not. Whether we are in the thick of chasing toddlers everywhere or simply remembering those days, a little misty-eyed. God’s purposes don’t have dates of expiration. They don’t apply to only one section of our lives. And they certainly aren’t wrapped up solely in the too-short phases of mothering children.
I wanted to tell her all of these things, but I knew it was too much. Instead, I just walked past and smiled at her baby. The sweet young mother watched me, and when our eyes met, I nodded. She nodded back, and then I walked out the door, my hands empty, heart filled with the truth of God’s goodness in all the phases of life.