My son is about a week away from turning two. It recently occurred to me, during a long and difficult journey to getting my toddler to sleep, that I couldn't remember the last time we had a "failed nap." Historically, naps haven't been easy for us, but lately, he sleeps from about one in the afternoon until anywhere between three and four pm (all the praise hands). As I realized how for granted I had taken this gift of consistency, I recalled how much of the last two years have been dominated by trying to discern what the appropriate sleep schedule for him should be or how to ensure the longest nap possible by getting him down by the right time (minutes matter, apparently). I remember discovering the 2-3-4 schedule with joy, navigating the difficult transition from 3 to 2 naps, and then agonizing over determining when would be the time to drop from 2 naps to 1. And now here we are, having landed on what, lord willing, will remain his "nap time" until he ceases to nap all together.
I have craved consistency since becoming a mother. And now that it's finally here in some capacity and I haven't even appreciated it. You know why? Because there are new and different issues for my anxiety to feast on. Because suddenly my son is two, in all the ways. The slightest thing can cause the greatest outburst. Sometimes it's the order in which I do things ("No mommy, do dat one first!"). Sometimes it's because I've done precisely what he's asked (he asks for a banana, I give him a banana, he's now screaming through passionate tears "no banana!"). Sometimes he is undone over having changed his mind (because, yes, he did actually want to take bunny in the car and can we please go back to get him!? Then suddenly, upon having bunny, he hates bunny and does not want him anywhere near his carseat). Sometimes I'm not sure if even he knows what is causing his emotional upheaval, and I consistently find myself at a loss for how to help his little left brain connect to his little right brain, and how to remain patient, calm, unoffended, and resilient when the game of motherhood is seemingly unwinnable.
When he was 16 months old I remember longing for the day that he would stop running into tables, or charging headlong down stairs, or jumping straight over the pool ledge to get a toy. Now, I'm longing for the days when he will be able to employ logic and respond with a little more reason, among other things.
Anytime I have ever expressed this longing to be through a certain stage or season to a more experienced mom, I have consistently been met with the same response: "But there's always something. After this, it'll just be something else." I've hated that response for how distant it feels, like I'm not being heard or met where I am. But now, as the needs and demands of my child evolve and morph in complexity, I not only see how right they are that there is, in fact, "always something," but I see that this consistent change is a gift.
Changing Challenges Expose Our Humanity
In the Christian life, there is no such thing as "arrival" on this side of glory. For as long as we live, we will be limited: limited in knowledge, in wisdom, in understanding, in ability, and in capacity because we are human. We were created with limitations to worship God in His limitlessness. We were made needy so that He could satisfy us. It's a relieving reality to embrace, but in the moment that those limitations are exposed, it never feels good. It doesn't feel good for your skin to tighten as your blood boils in frustration when your child insists on putting his shoes on the wrong feet when you're already late. It doesn't feel good when tiny eyes look to you for direction when you, quite frankly, have no idea what to do. It doesn't feel good when you make the error of disciplining in anger and your children are hurt by your outburst.
We long to be limitless, abounding in patience and steadfastness, always knowing the right thing to do, and handling every situation with wisdom and intentionality. But we aren't, and we don’t. The discomfort we experience at the exposure of our own limitations is precisely why the circumstances that invite us to encounter them are such a gift. Rather than hating these occasions for the shameful shortcomings they expose, we can rejoice over them because they remind us of the truth: we are human.
Changing Challenges Drive Us To the Father
I don’t offer that reminder in the same flippant dismissive tone in which someone might utter the words "you're only human." The statement "we are human" is not intended to be a trite invitation to shrug off our failures or sweep the consequences of our actions under the proverbial rug. The hearing of that statement should reorient us as to our position in the cosmos. Any reminder of our humanity, the fact that we are not by nature God, is meant to drive us to God Himself.
Are you disheartened by your own lack of wisdom after trying everything and feeling like a failure? Ask your heavenly Father! He stands ready to offer it.
Are you discouraged by your lack of patience, self control, or gentleness? Your contempt for your child? The depression you feel over your current circumstance? Let your shortcomings serve as signposts pointing to your need to abide in Christ and receive the fruit of the Spirit!
Are you grieved by the way that your limited capacity to "do good" is affecting your children? Do you long to be comforted and forgiven? To be better? To be changed? Run with abandon to the Great High Priest who ever lives and pleads for you and offers not only the grace of absolution but the grace to become like him more and more as you follow.
You may be tempted to believe that if you could just catch your breath, you'd be okay; that if you could just have a break from the demands of motherhood, you could be less reactive and more in control. But just as the changing challenges of motherhood expose our humanity, they also lay bare our sinful hearts as our responses to the needs of our limited and needy children reveal our own desperate need for a savior. And that is what we take to our father in repentance, because the remedy isn't found in making our children perfect or finding a few moments by ourselves, it is found in the person of Jesus.
What a curse it would be to be blinded by our pride when humility offers true peace through Christ. What a tragedy it would be to feel as if our own strength was sufficient when an all sufficient God is able to do so much more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Receive Changing Challenges with Thanksgiving
Next time you're tempted to hang your head in shame when the needs of your children exceed your knowledge or capacity, lift your eyes instead to the source of your help and worship the all knowing God who longs for you to long for him. Next time you find yourself resenting the ever changing challenges of motherhood because of the way that they expose your shortcomings, praise the Lord for them because they reveal his sufficiency. You are not God, mama, and that is good news because He Is. It is a gift to be reminded so clearly that we have not arrived, because it exposes are need. It is a gift to be aware of our need for him, because it is all the fitness he requires. Run the race with joy, in His strength, through his power.