Warning: this is a very very long post, but worth the time in my opinion:))
For much of last year and so far this year, I've been experiencing this on-going epiphany about life and how motherhood (and fatherhood) fits in it so nicely.
It started out when I attended a Q&A with a female leader of my church, Sister Beck. One woman asked, "What would you say to the young mothers who go to church, but don't really go to church because they're in the halls with babies?" The answer was, "At this season of your life, you don't go to church for you. You go to teach your children the patterns of the gospel."
That was a strange experience for me- hit me like a ton of bricks and at the same time lifted this huge weight off my shoulders and mind.
Last summer I was blessed with another dose of this epiphany. I was hanging from the end of my rope with my four year old and 20 month old twins. By 8 o’clock in the morning I was already continually pleading with Heavenly Father to help me be patient. I sat down on the couch with my chin on my hands and was suddenly struck by how much I was concentrating on me: I just want the screaming to stop. Why can’t I have a moment of peace? When do I get to eat breakfast? I just want to lock myself in a room and read a book today, etc. I realized (for the thousandth time- yet it hit home more this time) that motherhood is not about me. I desperately want my sons to grow up into physically, mentally, and spiritually sound men. I constantly fear that something I do or don’t do as a mother will permanently harm them in one or all of those areas.
I thought of that lesson I learned from Sister Beck again and changed it to fit the situation. I’m not living life right now for me. My life right now (and for the foreseeable future) is to live for my family. Motherhood requires sacrifice. If I was going to be making innumerable sacrifices as a mother what was the point of trying to hold on to any of my selfish (don't read that with the bad connotation, think more literally: self-ish) desires; of sometimes sacrificing and sometimes not? I might as well make this simple and give all of myself up. So I got back up and went back to work determined not to think about what I wanted. The rest of the day went so much better! The day wasn't easy in the least, but I was able to go about things more cheerfully when I wasn't thinking about what I wanted for myself or how the boys kept interrupting me.
I'm sure this is hard for some to understand. And I'm sure some people might read this and think I'm an idiot, that I've lost myself and become a prisoner to my family, and/or that I'm wasting my talents. But really, honestly, truly I feel so free when I am focused on this perspective and choosing to put my family before me. I'm happier. I'm more fulfilled. I feel like I'm being more impactful in the world and leaving a better, longer-lasting mark; whether the world, or even my family, knows it or not.
I've realized that motherhood is not about me. BUT, by losing myself in this work for my children and my husband, I will be formed into the daughter my Heavenly Father knows I can be; someone who knows how to serve and to work. The things I learn as a mother and the person I become as I experience these years of motherhood will help to serve others and shape who I am even after my children are grown. If I put all of myself into this work, I am much more likely to get what I want more than anything else- an eternal family.
The most recent part of this epiphany came just a few days ago. I was reading a forum titled "stay at home moms versus working moms" (why is it always versus?!? Are we at war here?? sheesh. I'm thinking of doing another post on this subject, but unsure of delving into such a touchy subject...). I was becoming sickened by the judgements being passed, despite not reading anything that I haven't heard before, and then read: "It's the SAHM's who whine about never getting any help from their husbands (who are out working a real job), or never leaving the house...those are the ones who really bother me!"
Yes, the "real job" thing gets under my skin. But what struck me here was the thought that Bret doesn't go to work for himself. He isn't defined by his job. He goes to work to earn money for our family and then comes back to his life at home. I spend my days giving of myself to my family at home. Bret spends his days giving of himself to his family at work. Motherhood is not about me. Fatherhood is not about him.
LIFE is not about individuals.
That thought has led to the beginnings of understanding this seemingly contradictory idea. I am here on this earth for myself; to have a body and to get back to my Heavenly Father. But if I want to get back I can't act in my own self interest. I have to learn to give up the one thing that is truly mine: my agency, my ability to choose for myself. I have to learn to submit my will to His.
What in the world is going to teach me that principle better than motherhood? Where else will I find such a rich opportunity to practice giving up my selfish (remember, literally:)) desires? Of course, there are plenty of other opportunities in this life to practice this principle- marriage, any family relationship, friendship, church service, etc. After all, if this is what we're all supposed to learn there are going to be many ways to be taught. Not everyone can be a mother, especially men:) And I like to think that I'm taking advantage of those opportunities, too. But the greatest lessons for me come from motherhood; from the day to day, hour by hour, moment by moment decisions to live for something bigger than me.
Now that I understand this better, you would think that I've become this incredible mother who is constantly happy. But such is not the case. I've also learned that understanding is easier than application:)
And the more I learn about the value of motherhood, the more it saddens me to know there are so many others who can't see it.
I read this in a recent interview of a contemporary author:
Interviewer: You tell a story in the book that is pivotal for you, about your grandmother. She was born with a cleft palate and thought to be unmarriageable, so she got an education and took care of herself, one day rewarding herself with a $20 fur-trimmed, wine-colored coat, which she adored. Eventually she does marry. And when she gives birth to her first daughter, she cuts up the coat to make something for the child.
I thought, "What beautiful symbolism of motherhood!" and read further:
Author: That's the story of motherhood, in a large way. You take the thing that is most precious to you, and you cut it up and give it to somebody else who you love more than you love the thing....
Me: "Holy insight, Batman! She's got it! Someone in the "real world" understands what motherhood is about! YAAAAAY!"
And then. This:
Author:..And we tend to idealize that, and I'm not sure we should. Because the sacrifice that it symbolizes is also huge. Her marriage and her seven children, in a life of constant struggle and deprivation — it was heavy. And that beautiful mind, that beautiful intellect, that exquisite sense of curiosity and exploration, was gone.
Giving of oneself completely does not sacrifice one's worth! It allows us to be part of something so much more amazing and so much more beautiful than we could ever be by ourselves.
I felt better when I read a friend's facebook status later in the day. I think it sums things up quite nicely. It's a quote by that infamous and brilliant, Unknown.
“...Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.”