My life in many ways looks exactly like I hoped it never would. I had a different plan in mind. I was going to be important. I was going to do big things for God. Early on, I had my eyes set on full-time ministry— serving overseas as a missionary and turning the world upside down for Jesus.
Only it wasn’t really for Jesus. It was for me and Jesus was just my ride to impact and fulfillment. I remember very clearly in college, when trying to decide if I should marry Darren, saying, “I wasn’t just going to end up sitting in a pew somewhere.” My motivation wasn’t all bad. What I meant was I didn’t want to be complacent, apathetic, or uninvolved in what God wanted to do in the world. I didn’t want to show up to church on Sunday, do nothing but take, and head back into another week on Monday completely unchanged. That’s all good.
The problem was I viewed anything other than full-time, frontline ministry as inferior. I didn’t understand depth, foundations, roots, or the long road we must sometimes take to grow into a person God can actually use. I didn’t understand patience or humility or self-control. I saw the world through a very self-centered lens where ultimately, I and not God, was at the center of my story. All the things I wanted to do “for God,” were really for me and my own pride.When it became clear I wasn’t going to be in the ministry as I had hoped, I consoled myself in believing I would still do big things if I could just find the right job. I had a degree in counseling and thought I knew quite a lot about helping other people with their big problems at the ripe age of 22.
Once Darren and I settled in Massachusetts, I started applying everywhere for work as a counselor. I started with the glitzy positions and slowly lowered my expectations as I waited for call-backs and interviews that never came.
My first job was working in retail at the mall. I hated exactly every minute of it. I hate sales. I hate being sold to and hate even more trying to sale to others. I didn’t want to tell people what I did; when I had to, I was quick to point out that I was the Assistant Manager and not just a sales girl—it was all the same in the end.
Eventually, I quite that job. If there was one thing worse than sales, it was explaining to people that I had no job at all. I lived in a tiny apartment and had no kids so there was no explanation as to why I would be unemployed. Meanwhile, Darren was rising in his career, having started at an aerospace company and quickly being promoted. I felt like a dud. All my big plans and preparation had come to naught. After a couple more dead-end jobs on my end, Darren started at a new company and got me a position as well. I liked telling people I worked in aerospace; it made me sound smart and successful. Truth be told, I was sitting at a desk filling out routine paperwork and running to the office supply store to keep things stocked. Glamorous it was not.
We had been married five years now and five years had equally passed since I walked that stage, diploma in hand, ready to change the world. But I wasn’t discouraged because I knew my “highest calling” was just around the bend.
Though I had no deep maternal desires for a baby, we decided it was time to start trying for a family. I believed having a baby would at last give me that sense of purpose and fulfillment I was longing for. I wouldn’t have said those words to you at the time but looking back I realize that’s how I felt.
So we had a baby. I left that job I liked telling people about and stayed home to raise a family…and got knocked right on my butt as you might imagine. That first year of motherhood was hard for a lot of reasons but my expectations about finally finding “my thing” and feeling important certainly didn’t help.
We have another baby now and I no longer hold onto any glowing ideals of motherhood. Raising children is the hardest, most humbling thing I’ve ever done. My son is not good at making me look good at all. He’s the kind of kid people stare at in the grocery store and I’m the exhausted, stressed-out kind of mom I used to judge.
No, this is not how I saw my life. I didn’t plan for the days being so long or the nights so short. I didn’t prepare for the dishes or the diapers or the epic temper tantrums. I sit in that pew on Sunday, if I’m lucky, but just as often I’m home with a sick little one or working in nursery. For the girl who said she’d never warm a pew, there are few things now that seem like a greater privilege or luxury on a Sunday morning. Motherhood is not what I thought it would be. My life is not what I thought it would be. And I’ve been grappling with God about these very things of late.
Why, God? Why did I go to college if you knew I’d never use my degree? Why did you once move me to do big things for you only to tuck me away in a dusty corner of life? Why did you give me this burning desire to write if my words will never be read? Why give me a love for creativity if you never intended to use me in that way?
My frustration is only magnified by watching the world around me. I might comfort myself by saying, “Well, it’s just a season; things will be different when I’m not so busy with little ones.” But I see plenty of moms with littles, a hundred times busier than I am, already doing all those big things I once dreamt of.
I feel with God that I’m up against a wall. I try to take a step forward and he pushes me back two. I try to use the giftings he’s given me only to see my efforts fall flat. I want to quit. I want to tell God, “Fine. If you don’t want to use me then I won’t be used. I’ll stay out of your way. I’ll do the grunt work and forget about anything of substance.”
I’ve prayed these hard prayers to God lately and asked him to show me what he wants. I keep thinking he doesn’t hear me and he’s not going to answer but twice now in the last two weeks of these prayers, he’s surprised me.
First, I was reading through Lamentations and just when I thought the story couldn’t be any more heartbreaking or bleak, God gives a glimmer of hope in chapter three:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Lamentations 3:21-27 (NIV)
I have quoted and rehearsed that one line to myself many times over the last year, “His mercies are new every morning.” But I had never read or understood them in their proper context until last week—which is exactly when I needed that understanding the most.
Again today, I was doubting God and his work in me. Maybe he doesn’t like me. Maybe I’m an extra he doesn’t really need. I ate my lunch with one hand and spooned baby food into my daughter’s mouth with the other. I decided to listen to a podcast featuring one of my favorite Christian authors, Ruth Chou Simons. Her words caught me off-guard and once again reminded me that God does, in fact, see and hear me when I question him.
You can listen to the podcast yourself by clicking on the link above, and I really hope you will, but her story and words were exactly the reminder I needed today that though I feel silent and invisible, I’m actually right where I need to be.
What I’m learning is this: I may or may not ever get to do “big things” for God. It doesn’t really matter either way. What matters is that I be faithful. Right here, today, with my children, in that church pew I never wanted to sit in—this is where God’s asking me to grow deep roots and wait quietly for him. The point is not what I accomplish for God but how well I get to know and how deeply I love God and people along the way.
Yes, I’d like to be good at something. I’d like to be useful and successful. But before I can really be anything, I must be God’s. I must be humbled, submitted, and deeply rooted. I’m learning to be faithful when I see no growth or blossoms, when I see only another long day, week, or year ahead of me that looks so very much the same.
I get tired and discouraged. I struggle to see the point. But I sense God asking me to hold on. To believe in what I can’t see, because that’s the essence of faith after all—until our faith is sight.
I needed Ruth’s words today. And most of all, I needed to be reminded yet again, that God hears my most honest prayers and loves me through them. I choose to believe God will complete the work he’s begun in me and that’s really all I can offer here today.