I’m a recovering Type A personality. I say “recovering” because being a homeschooling mother to four little ones has not yet cured me of my drive to keep everything neat, tidy, and organized. I like labels on containers that match what’s inside, towels that hang evenly, and floors with vacuum marks still on them. I breathe more deeply when the counters are clean and the books are standing shoulder to shoulder on the shelf with their spines neatly pointing in the same direction.
Cleanliness is not the same as godliness, and a clean house does not make me a good mother…but it does make me feel calm, as if I have everything under control.
We all know that it is impossible to have everything under control. Making bulleted to-do lists decorated with washi tape and writing out detailed meal plans and organizing the canned goods alphabetically might make us feel like life is well in hand, but there is no guarantee that things will run smoothly because of our efforts. Have you ever had the table completely set for dinner when a two-year-old swipes a glass off the side and it shatters? Or been in the middle of making cupcakes when a well-meaning “helper” drops some extra eggs, complete with shells, into the stand mixer? Or have just finished washing and drying and replacing the bathroom rugs when someone has an accident all over them?
Mothering is full of messes, but the messiest part of mothering is relationships. Children can be stubborn and defiant. Sometimes they fight with us or with each other. They don’t always listen to our sage advice. They do inexplicable things like dropping cell phones into fish tanks just to see what will happen. (Yes, someone really did that.)
No matter the disaster, my temptation is to rush in immediately and start cleaning things up. Sometimes this cleanup effort is literal, like when my twins smeared the contents of their diapers on their bedroom walls during their nap one day. Sometimes it’s more figurative, like when my child punched another child at our homeschool co-op. My first impulse is always to control the damage and get the mess picked up as quickly as possible so I don’t have to look at it any more. Messes make us feel out of control…and if we aren’t careful, they can make us feel like failures.
But what if the mess itself is part of our vocation? What if mess is a sign of growth that’s on the way? What if we are called to sit with the mess, to be present there with our children, holding the tension of what is “now” and what is “not yet” before us in the moment?
That’s not a comfortable place to be.
I think about of Mary, presumably minding her own business and going about her day when an angel confronted her with the message that she, a young woman with no husband, would have a child by the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine many messier messages than that one. What must she have felt? Did her heart beat fast with fear as she tried to figure out how she could contain this mess before it got out of control?
Maybe. Maybe she was terrified and worried and unsure…but she said, “Yes. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
When we try to control our lives instead of depending on God’s grace and mercy to get us through, we do more than just increase our stress levels. We also prevent God from showering us with the full measure of His mercy. As long as we are stubbornly trying our utmost not to need Him, He can’t bless us as richly as He could if we would admit that we can’t do it all alone.
A wise friend once told me that you know you have the right vocation if you have to ask for God’s help at least a few times each day. A vocation we can manage entirely without God’s assistance is not a vocation at all. It’s a victory lap for our self-esteem, maybe- look what a great job I can do all by myself!– but it doesn’t move us very far along the path to holiness. As mothers, we have a unique opportunity to be co-creators with God as we work to help our children grow into the people he desires them to be- but we can never lose sight of the fact that God is in charge, not us.
The next time we are staring at an overwhelming mess that makes us question our ability to handle it, let’s pause. Instead of running away screaming, rushing in to clean it up, or surrendering to despair, let’s take a deep breath and remember Mary’s Fiat. Let’s look at the mess before us, remember that we can do all things through Christ, and say “yes” right in the middle of that mess. Then let’s get to work. We might never be equal to the task ahead, but God is always more than equal…and we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Copyright 2016 Abbey Dupuy