“Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” Karl Barth
Exasperated. Exhausted. Tired. Worn-out.
These are the words commonly used to describe motherhood. They adorn t-shirts and coffee mugs in playful fonts, designed to acknowledge the camaraderie among mothers: ‘We raise children and it is hard!’ I can relate. When asked how I’m doing, too often my response is “I’m just tired. Give me sleep!”
I think back to my life before kids (which feels oh-so-long ago), when I dreamed of the family I would someday have. In those fantasies, I tended to focus on the big moments, the milestones. I saw the shared holidays and family photos, the birthday celebrations and vacations. Back then, I wasn’t aware of the weariness I would face as a mother.
When I experienced insomnia during pregnancy, friends told me it was my body’s way of preparing me for sleepless nights with my babies. I laughed and shrugged it off, naively ignorant of how right they were. Now, with twin toddlers, I’m confronted daily with a new reality—the significance of the little moments and the insidious way they can either bolster me or wear me down.
Our home is oftentimes filled with unexpected surprises. On any given day, I might find a can opener in the bathtub, a stuffed animal in the recycling bin, cheerios in the dog bowl, or a baby monitor in the toilet (that one especially hurt). Some days, I hold a rediscovered kitchen gadget up to my husband and share a laugh with him, the two of us resigned to the absurdities of parenthood. On other days, such a discovery results in an exasperated sigh and some ugly grumblings.
I’ve found that it’s all too easy to succumb to the weight of failed expectations. Expectations that things will go according to plan. Expectations that everything will be in its place. Expectations that everyone will behave. Sometimes, as night falls, I collapse onto the living room sofa in silence and try to muster the strength to face it all over again tomorrow. My husband and I often sit next to each other once the kids are asleep, in disbelief yet again. Striving to give words to our struggle, we attempt to recount all the reasons why we feel this tired.
Surely, this is not the extent of the life set before us as mothers. Can we rise above the cycle of fatigue? What secret lies behind those days where I am able to revel in the hilarity of raising my boys? Why can the silly, little moments of motherhood sometimes feel like a personal affront, when on other days, I want to treasure them forever?
THE WEIGHT OF PERFECTION
The days I recall with the sweetest fondness aren’t those when everything went according to plan. It’s not because all the laundry was folded and my floors were impeccable. It’s not because our boys slept perfectly according to schedule, or we made it through the day without whining or arguing. Rather, they were beautiful days because I leaned into them completely—the messy imperfections, the silly, laughable moments, the stark reality standing defiantly in the face of our image-obsessed culture. On such days, I was able to abandon the ideal of perfection and embrace all I was given.
We have a choice when we are confronted with the messy, imperfect realities of motherhood: we can either find the humor and receive them as reminders of our need for a Savior, or we can experience soul-crushing weight when we allow them to define us as failures. We cannot live abundant lives when we hold ourselves to the standard of perfection.
My weariest days are the result of believing a simple yet potent lie: I must be or do more.
I’ve found that belief in this lie will wash my days in grey; it will sour the potential of moments that could otherwise end in belly laughs. It will keep me awake at night as I tally what I failed to accomplish that day. As with all lies, this one comes with such great cost—our joy.
LAUGHTER IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
Recently, my husband and I found ourselves locked out of our house, along with our boys, my pregnant friend, and her husband. As we waited for a family member to deliver a spare key, I grew frustrated. It was already past our boys’ bedtime, and the evening air was growing thick with mist, hinting at the rain’s impending arrival. As minutes stretched into an hour, I swatted mosquitoes away and worried that our friends might be annoyed. However, it was hard to stay frustrated for long as I watched my boys run excitedly around our backyard. They giggled as they wondered at their good fortune—playing outside late at night! Rather than stressing over the inconvenience, they were embracing the moment. Childlike faith is sweet, indeed.
That night was a simple reminder that berating ourselves for our endless shortcomings is antithetical to the heart of the Gospel. We’re told in Romans 1 that condemnation has no place in the family of God. We have been set free from the law—from the standard of perfection that can loom so large in our minds. The freedom that has been granted to us is beautiful—as beautiful as running in the grass under a moonlit sky. Our broken world will present us with many opportunities to condemn ourselves. We can either give in to the condemnation or we can laugh wholeheartedly. How will we choose to live today?
Often, I am gently hushed into gratitude and reverence by these words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
If our Father’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, what are we striving for? It certainly isn’t His approval or love—that has already been granted to us. If not for Him, for whom are we living? If you’re like me, it’s far too easy to justify a daily breakneck pace of striving. It’s a sort of lifestyle that is often celebrated by our culture and applauded by those around us. Can we trust that Jesus’ acceptance of us, as we are, is far richer and sweeter than any other achievement or accolade? On the days I cling to this truth, I am better able to let the little things go—and I am better able to laugh amidst the messy, imperfect moments of life.
Truly, we are desperate for rest—as desperate as those t-shirts and coffee mugs say we are. They’re commercialized for a reason. Life without grace is weary and bleak. If we want to be women who can return to the challenges of motherhood day after day, we must be able to lean into grace. We must trust that He who shares this good news is trustworthy. We must reject the notion we need to do it all, and we need to be able to laugh.
My children are still young, but I’m already finding these days are going quickly—much too quickly for fruitless striving. I do not have time to waste as my boys grow more independent by the minute. I want to live my life in such a way that I look back with fondness, not because it all went my way, but because I embraced it wholeheartedly, without fear. I want my boys to remember me as a woman who laughed at the undulations of life, who embraced the wild adventure that is parenting. Don’t you? Let’s be women who encourage one another to live abundantly, not impeccably. If we strive to be excellent mothers, let it be because we have been given the opportunity to do so, not because we must. Grace teaches us that gratitude is far more motivating than fear; the former breathes life into us, while the latter drains us of hope.
This is the wonder of motherhood—the unexpected nuggets of joy found in the moments of tedium, like cheerios in the dog bowl. What if we rose each day with an expectation blooming in our hearts—ready to find gifts in places we would never expect? What if we followed God into the day, messiness and all, and discovered truth and beauty that will carry us into the next?
The open arms of Christ offer us deep lasting rest for our souls, and a secure identity of love, acceptance, and joy to face the next day—whatever it may hold. Perhaps, if we abandon the idea of achieving perfection, and instead acknowledge we are enough because of what our perfect Savior has accomplished on our behalf, motherhood wouldn’t have to feel as wearisome after all.
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