“I’m just not sure who I am anymore.”
“I can’t seem to find my place.”
“Before kids there were so many ways that I was able to serve and now I feel like my life is only about wiping bottoms, feeding people and trying to keep my children alive.”
“If I could just get beyond this stage of parenting, then I’ll be able to get back into ministry.”
These statements are just a sampling of ones I have heard, either from people in my real life, from women online, or from my own soul through the years of raising little ones.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that somehow motherhood changes your identity. From the struggles of ‘Mommy brain’ to abandoning careers or ambitions in order to care for our families, the changes in our lives can create a temptation to believe that our identity has shifted once children enter the scene.
This is a lie. We don’t lose our former self, we don’t become a new person, and our identity in Christ–both our position as a child of God and our unique gifts for the task of serving him–remain the same.
Yes, we take on a new role and with that often comes the setting aside of other roles or the shifting of our responsibilities, dreams and daily activities.
Nine years into motherhood and I think I’ve finally turned a corner in understanding how to embrace this season of life in a way that enables me to delight in my role as a Mom and yet also find ways to serve, use my gifts and talents, and not lose my mind or sacrifice the needs of my family in the process.
A few months into 2017, I was talking to my Mom about some of the dreams I had for ministry, my writing, and how I felt like with four of my children about to enter school, I would possibly have time to pursue some of those things. And yet I was still struggling to see how it would all fit together. She mentioned a recent talk she had heard from a counselor who used the words ability and capacity in helping people to understand how to navigate the seasons of life. A light bulb went off in my head and suddenly all that I had been wrestling with made sense.
It had been several years since I had taught women the Bible, yet, I still had a desire to teach.
I loved to serve in various capacities at our church, yet, saying yes to multiple ministry teams wasn’t feasible for my family; we were constantly picking and choosing.
I had chapter titles for two books written down. However, taking the time to actually write a book proposal, much less complete an entire book was not possible during this season of life.
I used to love to serve people at the drop of a hat. But with five children and a husband to care for, I wasn’t able to step into help people in the same ways that I had before.
Was something wrong with me? Had motherhood changed who I was? Was being a Mom going to mean that I would never be able to engage with these things that stirred my heart? Did I need to forever let go of those dreams and desires? Had God somehow been teasing me with ideas only to feel like they would never come to fruition?
No! Thinking of it in this way of ability vs. capacity completely shifted my perspective, helped me to better discern what to pursue and what to let go of (for now), and brought me peace.
Your abilities don’t necessarily change because you’re a Mom, but your mental, physical, emotional, or relational capacity can. Fatigue, the stress of learning how to be a Mom, managing multiple lives, navigating special needs, illness or disability, a career change–for you or your husband–, moving to a new place, crises that bring grief–each of these challenges will decrease your capacity to handle what once came easily.
As I continued on into 2017, with this new way of thinking, I learned some things along the way that will help as I move forward in each of my God-given roles. I hope that these principles will also be helpful for you as you wrestle to embrace your season of life.
Accept your limitations.
This is hard. We would like to think that we can do anything, at any time, for anyone, in any way. Jen Wilkin, in her book None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing), talks about this tendency to think that we are limitless. This characteristic is only true of God. We need to embrace the reality that we are created beings, and acknowledge our human nature. It is particularly difficult to accept limitations when you remember the days of filling your schedule with all.the.things. and never letting any of the balls drop. That’s how I lived during my college, single years, and even as a newlywed. When I became a stay-at-home Mom, the limitations felt stifling. And with each child that was added, the limitations grew, simply due to the needs of my family.
How do you handle the limitations?
Pray. Talk to the Lord about your frustrations. Share with him your continued desires. Admit the struggle and pray for his strength.
Say no without feeling guilty. I remember well the first time I had to back away from playing the piano at church because it was too challenging for our family when I wasn’t around on Sunday mornings to get everyone ready. Inevitably, we were all grumpy or irritable by the time we got to church and it wasn’t worth the frustration. That was hard to give up, especially because I knew there weren’t many other people who could fill that need on the worship team. You cannot be everything to everyone, even if it’s something that you’re gifted in.
On the flip side of this, be careful not to judge others who seem to have either more capacity or ability than you. This can be another easy trap when we compare our involvement — or lack thereof — with that of our friends or those we see on social media. Each of us is unique and will be able to handle life differently.
Be patient in every season.
We hear all the time to enjoy the little years because they go so fast. It’s true–they do go fast–but when you’re in the midst of it, that’s not really helpful. I would tell you instead:
Faithfully serve in your role(s). This will look differently for each person and in various stages of life. If you’re caring for a newborn, feed that child and care for him/her in the best way possible. If the thought of getting out of the house seems insurmountable, text your friends while nursing your baby. You can be an encouraging and considerate friend from your rocking chair. Take a shower and greet your husband with a smile.
Do all things without grumbling or complaining (Philippians 4:12). I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this constantly. But when I turn my gaze to the Lord, and think about the things that are excellent and praiseworthy–namely Christ–it’s amazing how my perspective changes. Many days this is on repeat in my soul, but delighting in each season of motherhood is something I long for and pray that God would give me. This is a prayer that he will answer.
Trust that a day will come when your life situation will change. For several years my oldest son was in therapy almost every day of the week. This was extremely limiting and isolating. I couldn’t attend women’s Bible study, I rarely saw my friends, we never did play dates, and my other children were dragged along with me to every appointment. The end was never in sight and I thought therapy was forever my lot in life. But it changed. He’s in school now, and I have more freedom and flexibility in my days to be involved in things that I missed.
Continue to cultivate your spiritual gifts.
Ephesians 4 teaches us that God has given each believer gifts that are to be used for the unity of the body of Christ. Becoming a Mom doesn’t mean that these gifts are removed or taken away, although sometimes it might feel that way. Our growth in Christ, and the subsequent growth of the entire body of Christ, is an ongoing process. We engage in this constantly by using our God-given gifts for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, the way that you exercise your spiritual gift(s) might change depending on your season of life.
I have always enjoyed teaching, and at various times in my life that gift has been affirmed by others. For about 4.5 years, I had to set the practice of that gift aside. I didn’t have the mental capacity to study and prepare to teach the Bible, the needs of my family didn’t allow for it, and we never lived anywhere long enough for me to be involved in one church for any length of time. Yet, I continued to study my Bible. The consistent reading and delighting in the Word of God increased my biblical literacy, gave me further insight, grew me up in my understanding, and gave me a deep hunger for the Truth and a desire to see others delight in it as well. Without preparing lessons, I was teaching my children in a variety of ways, using that gift but in a different context. This past year, when I had the capacity to teach, I was ready. Yes, it felt a little wobbly at first, and it took me a very long time to prepare, but those years of studying and learning paid off tremendously.
There are other aspects of ministry that we have been able to engage in as a family with young children. We seek to use our home to serve others through hospitality. Bradley and I each find at least one ministry team to serve on in the church and we support one another in that by caring for the kids so the other can participate.
Some day, our children will be older, bedtimes won’t need to be as strict, they will be able to handle more for themselves, and when that day comes I want to be ready to jump in prepared because I’ve found creative ways to keep learning how to use my spiritual gifts.
The same applies for abilities and talents that aren’t of a spiritual nature. You might have the ability to sew, cook a gourmet meal, design a website, paint a masterpiece, or climb Mt. Everest. When you’re living in the trenches of motherhood, raising little ones, and struggling to survive, your use of these abilities may look different, but it doesn’t mean that you should abandon them completely. There is beauty in continuing to stretch yourself in all areas of life, and when you find the ways to do this you will be refreshed and energized.
Pray for wisdom.
There are various forms of ability and capacity. We all have resources that enable or hinder us: time, finances, gifts, talents, desires, dreams. Some of us are big dreamers and want to pursue those dreams. Others of us are happy plugging along with what’s right in front of us. We all need discernment every step of the way to know where to focus our energy.
Pray that God would show you how to use your abilities for his glory. Pray that you would recognize and acknowledge your capacity.
Pray with your husband and talk to him about finding ways to continue to use your gifts and talents, both within your family and outside of it.
Pray that the Lord would give you the willingness to sacrifice when necessary. Sometimes you will need to serve your family or others in ways that don’t come naturally to you. You might need to learn something new, adding to your abilities. You might need to step in and serve someone in need even when you’re tired and it feels impossible.
Jesus came to serve, not to be served, and yes, he had infinite resources and limitless abilities and capacity. But he also sacrificed his time, his comfort, and his very life out of love. We must take on this same heart of service, humbly walking before God and others in order to honor the Lord. Because we are limited, we must pray constantly for wisdom to know how to sacrifice without neglecting the needs of our family or the health of our own souls. God will give us wisdom when we ask and he will show us the way to go.
As we keep moving into this new year, may we embrace our abilities and our capacity.
May we be faithful, joyful, and obedient servants of Christ.
May we allow ourselves to be used up in all things and in every way for the glory of God.