I remember something magical happening when my sister became a mother. The birth of her first baby came shortly after moving to a new town far away from any family. She had no friends and knew no one. Her husband of less than a year was hard at work in establishing a new business and her mobility was extremely limited from a traumatic birthing experience. I like to think of circumstances like this as pressure cookers for sanctification. For her, that really was the case. I watched as she became the most selfless person I knew.
A few years later as we anticipated the arrival of our first child, I was excited about what the refining fire of motherhood would produce in me. I was hopeful for a similar effect. In my mind mothers were sort of saintly by virtue. It was inevitable. I was about to become the most stable, selfless, preference-less, and sacrificial version of myself. Right?
Well, unfortunately it's not quite so simple. In some sense, I am less selfish than I have ever been. Becoming a mother did require a lot of sacrifice. But also, I have never loved anything as naturally or fiercely as I love my son. I'm not disgusted by his runny nose or his open mouth kisses. To be honest I find the contents of his diaper more intriguing than repulsive. Every morning I wake up to the sound of his babbling and greet him with a smile regardless of how I slept. I fix his food before mine. And I am likely to think of what he needs at my expense. So that's it, right? I'm holier now because I would do anything for my baby?
YOUR CHILD IS NOT YOUR ONLY NEIGHBOR
Although #motherhoodissanctifying, recently I am painfully aware that it is not quite as automatic, immediate, or magical as I once thought it to be. What has prompted this awareness? I'm not even going to get into how I feel about my dog as she follows me around begging me to feed her, pet her, or pay attention to her. I'm not sure Jesus would call my dog my neighbor, but she definitely reveals my selfishness. But my husband, who is most definitely my neighbor, has needs for affection, affirmation, intimacy, and emotional support that confirm that my pre-pregnancy selfishness is still alive and well.
Actually as a result of his kind example, I am convicted that my selflessness with him is nowhere near the level of sacrifice and service I display for my son. I jump to meet the needs of my child, but I confess that I often behave as if the fact that I am responsible for meeting the needs of our baby means that David isn't allowed need anything from me. I shamefully acknowledge that at times I even feel like he should be serving me because of my constant outpouring for our son. I cringe even to type those words... because I know that this is not the design Jesus intends for my family or the attitude he wants of my heart.
THE SAVIOR'S STANDARD
So yes, my son is my littlest neighbor and arguably my neighbor with the greatest and most pressing needs... and I would say I am loving him pretty well. But he is not my only neighbor. And it is not enough to simply care for our littlest neighbor, mamas.
Sometimes there's the occasional exception, but for most of us, not meeting the needs of our children doesn't even cross our minds as an option. So what is the difference with our spouses...? (If you're not convinced there's a difference, think back to your knee jerk reaction the last time your husband was sick and asked for help or expressed a desire for intimacy when you were tired). Why is it more difficult to serve and care for them? Is it because they are an adult? Do we believe they should just do for themselves? Do we think of ourselves the same way? Do we ever need a back rub, a hug, or some affirmation or encouragement? This, friends, is a double standard, and it's not the standard that Jesus holds out for his followers.
It's not enough to pour out for only our children. Selflessness and servanthood are not boxes we get to check off because we've displayed them with our children, and then ask the rest of the world to leave us alone (or worse, to serve us). Jesus himself, the ultimate servant who loved us to his grave, said that even he did not come to be served but to serve. But he is not just our example, he is our reason. And he is not just our reason, he is the means by which we are made ready and willing to serve. We have received freely, and so we must freely give. There is no end to our service, no limit to its scope, as he asks us to love even our enemies, and be a slave to ALL (Mark 10:44-45).
BECOMING A SERVANT
Most days the dinner time/ bed time hours expose my selfishness the most. After the rush of meal prep, dishes, bath, and pj's, As I softly close the nursery door I exhale and want so badly to be "finished." The desire to serve, although it may be instinctive for a mother, is anything but natural to a human. Our fallen nature is selfish. And although I am surprised that I'm not mother Teresa after 11 months in the pressure cooker, Jesus isn't. Becoming a mother doesn't make selflessness second nature. Repentance, the renewal of our minds, gazing at the true and perfect servant king Jesus, and the power of the holy spirit make selflessness more natural.
So today I'm looking at this wayward selfish heart of mine and holding it out to my Father, asking that he would make it look more like the heart of his Son. I ask that he would protect me from thinking too highly of myself because of my service to our child. I pray that more than I long for perfection or my arrival, I would long for HIM and to feel his pleasure as I love and serve not just my littlest neighbor, but my husband, my enemies, and any stranger he may bring my way.
A RACE TO THE BOTTOM
My RUF campus minister, Daniel Mason, used to remind us often that "Christianity is a race to the bottom." As mothers, that is where we should want to be: right there at the bottom, hanging out with Jesus, delighting in knowing him in his servanthood and his suffering. May you find joy in the opportunities he gives you to serve today, knowing that in Christ, your faithful servant king, all of your needs are satisfied.