Being a Vessel of Grace
Mother’s Day (& Father’s Day) have just come and gone, and this year my four kids went above and beyond to give me a beautiful day beginning with a brunch that included homemade cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting, thoughtful gifts, and then hours of “spring cleaning” so that the house sparkled by the time we were done. As the evening ended, my 15 year old son asked: “Did you have a good Mother’s Day, Mom?”
When I replied that they had made it the best Mother’s Day I’d ever had, he responded: “Good. I was trying very hard to be loving and unselfish today. It was kind of exhausting.”
I suspect that’s something to which we can all relate! While for some it was a time of celebration, Mother’s Day can often be a time of complicated emotions and painful reminders of shattered dreams. For me, the destruction of my idealistic dreams of fulfillment through marriage and motherhood would bring me to my knees as nothing else could have done.
I remember when I was in my early 20s and battling an auto-immune disease, after another round of medical testing that was supposed to give answers to the domino effect of body systems melting down, being frozen, stunned with agony, as a doctor nonchalantly announced as he flipped through the test results: “Well, your endocrine system is so messed up that you’re infertile. Even if you could conceive, you’d miscarry anyway because your hormone levels are shot, and your immune system is so screwed up.”
The fact that I was single and had no thought of trying to conceive a child in no way lessened the blow. I managed to make it home and as far as the bathroom, where I locked the door, collapsed to the floor in a fetal position, and wailed like a wounded animal. Yet it was there that I learned to open my hands to the One Who called me to trust His heart when I could not understand my circumstances.
About a decade later, in another bathroom, I would weep, prostrate on the floor, pleading with God for the life of my third child, only to have Him gently respond: “Give Shannon to Me.” Two days later, as a friend labored to bring forth her firstborn, I would weep over my child’s remains, brokenly singing: “You give and take away/You give and take away/my heart will choose to say/Lord, blessed be Your name.”
Two months later, I would face Mother’s Day amid a visit from my precious sister-in-law whose son was due 2 weeks before Shannon would have been. I huddled in church, surrounded by pregnant or nursing mothers, and wrestled the raw grief, filthy envy, and bitter resentment of my demanding heart, unaware that a merciful God was already weaving another small life within me – the son who now recognizes that unselfish love can be exhausting.
Motherhood is a sacred and demanding calling, one that makes you face your own weakness and selfishness and calls out a vision for death-to-self like little else. As a young wife, I was either pregnant or nursing (or both) for a decade, and, though I loved those years, it was also easy to feel reduced to a weird combination of hotel and dairy cow. Moms are constantly wiping one end or the other of these loud, squirmy little people, and everything we do is undone just moments later. Sleep is an elusive memory, and we can almost feel our brain cells shrinking as we read THE BIG RED BARN for the 18,000th time in a week.
Full-time, stay-at-home moms wrestle with loneliness and isolation. Mothers who juggle the stress of an additional career schedule often ache over the things they’re missing while other people care for their kids. Pre-pandemic, moms who homeschool were usually either revered as super-saints or disdained as certifiably insane when we’re just taking one day at a time, trying to be obedient to what we believe God’s called us to provide for the needs of our own kids in the midst of the terror that we’re really going to screw things up and damage them for life.
We wonder if our special-needs kids will be OK, if someone will see their hearts, if someone will be kind when we are no longer here to love them. We wonder if all of the little sacrifices will ever be seen and appreciated or if our failures will forever shape our children’s view of us. We hear that every time we say something critical to our child, it has to be off-set by 7 good things or they’ll be “scarred for life,” and, in the night, we lie awake and worry about whether we met the quota that will make them feel loved. There’s such a crazy battle in the mind.
As our children leave the nest and struggle, make poor decisions, or wrestle with their own beliefs about God, we too easily can grasp for control or give way to despair. So where is the hope? What words of life can be spoken? How does grace release treasure from this “mother-lode” (and what a load it is!) of guilt?
While mulling over my notes from NextStep in the early days after becoming a single mom, my heart was gripped with the realization that Adam and Eve were the only ones besides Jesus who ever walked this earth in complete purity and unbroken fellowship with the Godhead. Unlike Jesus, however, they sinned, and they then had to endure this horrifically fallen planet, knowing exactly Who and what they had lost, burdened every moment with the agonizing contrast of before and after. How tormented they must have been by the knowledge of what they had brought upon themselves and all their descendants! We suffer the yearning of what we were created for but have yet to experience. They could never forget what they had lost, and they endured that realization for hundreds of years of life in this broken world. We rejoice now in tastes of what is to come; each glimpse of Him must have underscored for them all that was now missing in their fellowship.
Eve painfully bore a number of children with the awareness of what might have been, of what once was. She didn’t have a mother with her during labor and delivery; there was no older woman to teach her how to care for her newborn, how to juggle the needs of a growing family in a hostile world. Then she lost one son at the hands of her firstborn.
Honestly, I think I would have given up if I were her. As excruciating as the loss of God’s tangible presence was, I wonder how on earth (literally) she had the courage to go on living. I can only suppose that even as the memory of walking with God in the cool of the day tore at her heart, she also clung to the knowledge of the goodness of heart she had experienced in the One with Whom she had walked. Her words at the birth of Cain and later of Seth indicate that her hope, in the midst of her failure and all its fall-out, was in God. And for all that she had lost in her sin, Larry pointed out at Nextstep that the one part of God’s nature that Adam and Eve could not experience prior to their sin was His grace; that was new. Something tells me Eve wrapped herself in grace as she took the risk of bringing forth life into a shattered world. She stayed the course and trusted that God’s nature was big enough to redeem her great sin. She gives me hope. When I get to heaven, I want to give her a hug and thank her for being a bearer of life.
So today, whether your heart is grieving, longing, struggling, or rejoicing, ask God to renew your vision of being a vessel of grace, regardless of your situation. After all, we’re called to model forgiven-ness, not perfection; that’s what following Jesus really is all about.