As mothers, arriving with our first child, come new and troubling fears. With great love comes great fear. Fear that what we have been given, we may lose. Fear that who we love, may suffer. Fear that we are not worthy of this freely-given love. Yet, we must be aware of these new fears, and the dark roads they may take us – and the worthy roads they may keep us from traveling.
We need not be ashamed of our fear, much of it is beyond our control – but also not allow it to rule our better nature. We must recognize it for what it is, when it inevitably descends on us. Our natural maternal instincts drives us to protect and encourage our precious children. We should. Our feminine spiritual nature desires unity and comfort, building a home of love and sacrifice. A most worthy endeavor. Fear can keep us from reaching these feminine potentials. Rather than encouraging our children to face an often disappointing world, we may let our fear of suffering stifle us – making our children “safe” rather than capable. Fear can twist our desire for comfort into a controlling quest for perfection. Fear, unchecked, infects our beautiful nature and distorts it. The quotes below can help us look at our fear and help us refuse Fear as our Master.
“There is no harm in being afraid. The only harm is in doing what Fear tells you. Fear is not your master! Laugh in his face and he will run away.”
George MacDonald, Lilith
“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
“To fear death is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not; for it is to think one knows what one does not know. No man knows whether death may not even turn out to be the greatest blessing for a human being; and yet people fear it as if they knew for certain that is is the greatest of evil.”
Socrates, Plato’s The Apology
“Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.”
“Let fear once get possession of the soul, and it does not readily yield its place to another sentiment.”
Leo Tolstoy, Sebastopol Sketches
“Fear is Faithlessness.”
“The unhappy person is never present to themselves because they always live in the past or the future.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
“I fear you will never arrive at an understanding of God so long as you cannot bring yourself to see the good that often comes as a result of pain.”
“Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!”
Henry David Thoreau
“Face the demands of life voluntarily. Respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for catastrophe.”
“I do so dearly believe that no half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside from following the light unflinchingly.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Edith
“A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
Losing the world’s illusion of self-worth and security caused me to uncover the eternal fountains contained within. I remember sitting in shock asking myself “how is it that I can look my worst yet feel this beautiful?” I knew this would perplex me for quite some time.
I was heavily into strengthening my muscles. I had been teaching fitness boot camps for five years. I could do 12 pull ups, heavy tire pulls and much more. Looking back, they were forms of self torture. In the moment, they were my sense of self worth and identity. I could perform feats that turned heads and proved to me, in a twisted way, that I was valuable. You can only live carrying beliefs like this for so long before something breaks.
In my case, it was an explosion. My body gave up. I developed the most severe case of guttate psoriasis (an autoimmune disease) my doctors had ever seen. I thought I had leprosy for a time; it took a month before I was diagnosed with anything. Every morning I hoped for a sign of healing but I’d wake up to find it worse. The itching mixed with burning felt like I was on fire. I couldn’t be touched. The medicines given to me only angered my skin and made the burning more severe. The spots turned redder and seemed angry at me as I applied the steroid creams that were supposed to calm it. It was an indescribable experience where my body seemed to be screaming out at me to stop hating it. It wasn’t until I gave up all my expectations and genuinely apologized to it that I was able to turn a corner. That took place two months in. And yes, I literally apologized to my body and wept for it. My body and I were in an abusive relationship and now it was healing.
You see, I thought of my body as a frustrating thing to deal with; something to be tamed into submission. I was always attempting to discipline it and make it perform almost like a circus animal. Never did I see it as something to be loved, like a plant or a puppy. I finally saw it as a living organism intertwined with my soul. It reminds me of how we can wrongly see our children as a reflection of ourselves and wrongfully force our ideas onto them so they’ll portray us how we need the world to interpret us. We can sometimes put this same pressure on our bodies when we need them to look and perform a certain way so others will think certain things about us. Our bodies need to be respected, listened to, considered and loved just like our individual children do. I learned it in such a hard way. But I wouldn’t change anything about it because the lesson reached such a deep level of my being. The hardest part of writing about this is keeping it short and straightforward when in my mind, volumes could be written on what I learned from this. It was such a life-altering experience.
What shifted everything for me was when my husband said a heartfelt prayer for me and my situation. He prayed that I would have Jesus Christ walk beside me through this trial. I didn’t know such a thing was possible. I can attest that something as abstract as this sounds, is a literal possibility in this world. There were a few times where I could not bear another second of the burning. I averaged an hour of broken up sleep a night because it hurt so bad to lay on the sores. It was during those sleepless nights that I called out to God in agony for relief. I experienced the indescribable presence of Christ and His healing power in those moments.
Whether it was the feeling of numbness coming over me so I could doze off or an extreme presence of pure love turned tangible to all five of my senses, He showed up when I could not take another minute of suffering. I remember thinking “Christ is pure, tangible, healing love.” I came to know Him in such a deep, indescribable way that forever changed how I see Him and myself. I felt His love strongest when I felt that I deserved it the least. When my faith in Him was the weakest, His presence became stronger to where I couldn’t deny it. I remember telling God that if this is what it took for me to be this close to Christ, I wanted this ailment to stay. The following scripture became very real to me through my circumstances:
Romans 8 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Lord was proving The Father’s unwavering love for me. It was so loud and all encompassing, I could not misinterpret it. I felt better than I ever had in my whole life, yet I looked like death was about to overcome me. The power of God’s love is unyielding, even stubborn. I tested it in childish ways where I’d do something or think something selfish and I would feel His love ever stronger. He won me over. I wanted to be good because I knew He would love me even if I was bad. This made me like Him. Because God, my sweet Father, proved His stubborn love for me, I gave up earning my worth through the world’s eyes. I already had this worth inside me that wasn’t going anywhere. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t change. This brought extreme peace and rest to my soul. I could finally relax for the first time in my life. All the while I had a friend who lived down the street who checked in with me daily and helped me process all this as it happened. She was truly sent by our Father to physically walk me through this transformational healing. It was too much for my mind to comprehend. She could put the pieces together with me that I couldn’t on my own. While my body looked awful, my soul was healing at a rapid pace.
Here are the messages I have for others learned through my discovery of self worth:
1. Your worth is inherent. You’re born with it. Nothing you do or don’t do can touch it. So relax and be at peace. It’s untouchable by you and by anything or anyone in this world.
2. God’s love for you is real and stubborn. Real stubborn. Nothing you can do will alter it so you might as well learn to like Him and accept that He will always be there for you, especially when you deserve it the least.
3. We can’t feel secure within ourselves alone. We feel secure to the degree that we trust He whose hands we’re in. Develop trust in God and security will come as a byproduct.
4. Be nice to your body. A plant doesn’t grow well if we ignore it, yell at it or only feed it Diet Coke. This is obvious. Yet often we treat plants better than the living organism that is our body. See it with loving eyes and watch how it responds.
5. Ask God, your loving Father, to show you that He loves you in ways you can grasp. Ask to be able to feel it deeper than ever before. Watch and see how experiencing His love heals you in ways you never thought possible.
Immediately after healing from the disease, I felt like I had a second chance at life. A quote by Bernard Malamud from the movie The Natural reminds me of what I experienced coming out of this experience: “We have two lives… the life we learn with and the life we live after that. Suffering is what brings us towards happiness.” My suffering did just that. I relearned how to exercise my body in love rather than fear. I dropped the exercise boot camps and began learning how to do aerial silk. It was a beautiful thing to do with my body. I remembered how much I loved riding dirt bikes growing up. I got my motorcycle license and returned to that love again. My husband and I wanted to find a slower pace of life. We moved out to the country with our three children and then added two more. Pregnancy was a whole different experience when I loved my body through it. Mothering has become much more of a joy to me. There’s less pressure and more peace. I’ve also become open to deeper friendships. I’m not as afraid to be seen or rejected because I know God will love me through any relational pain I might experience.
So many things have changed and continue to change as these truths reach deeper and deeper levels in me. I know from experience that as we set ourselves on the path to real self worth, profound inner peace evades our being. We shed layer after layer of needing to please outward sources and let go of our futile attempts at earning self worth and earning our right to be here. The struggle disappears in ways we never thought possible simply because we realize we already have what we were aiming to attain. The endless struggle was endless because we were striving for the wrong thing. Our aim was completely off. Inner peace is what the soul longs for and can be had any moment of any day when we allow the truth to set in. We are already fully loved and fully accepted by the eternal being that created us. No mortal being can take that away, not even ourselves. So be at peace and know, you already have the worth you seek.
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My dad would often quote Mark Twain to us kids when we complained about doing something out of our comfort zone – “Do something everyday that you don’t want to do”. As a kid we traveled a lot. As we traveled, I remember thinking that my parents must hate speaking to strangers – they always made me do it. “Go ask that guy the way to the metro” “Go buy tickets” “See how long the line is”. I see now they were teaching me to be comfortable speaking with people and handling new situations. Now, in adulthood, when others may find meeting new people and traveling in foreign countries intimidating, I enjoy it. I am certainly nothing but ordinary – but I was pushed into uncomfortable realms that have helped me in this area of life. Put me on a ski slope, and my cowardice will quickly present itself.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; ‘these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions’; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Will Durant summarizing Aristotle
When we teach our kids to read – we push them to a more difficult book than the one last week – they may whine that it is “too hard” – but we know that progress is made in the extra, not the ease.
Teaching our children to be capable of “heroics” actually comes naturally to parents – we want our children to become strong adults. However, this can be stifled by an excessive desire to make life easy or “happy”.
Sometimes we don’t want to hear the whining. Sometimes we let our anxiety of the unknown, (perhaps because we have not pushed ourselves enough out of our own comfort-zones) keep us from encouraging our children into those “extra five minutes”. We take the safe and flat road, forgetting that strong legs and healthy lungs only develop on steep inclines. If parents are there for anything, it is to encourage our children to climb, and to climb with them.
It may be true that the brave man is simply ordinary, but has become capable in those extra minutes – he likely has been there before. If we want to raise heroes we must encourage our children to step into those “five minutes”, in as many arenas and as many times as we can, so when the time for heroics arrives – they know what to do.
“The good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life… for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.'”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics,Book 2, ch. 4; Book 1, ch. 7.
A few weeks ago as two of my children were rummaging through my pantry, they discovered a rogue candy cane left over from Christmas. This discovery was met with great jubilation – until seconds later when the battle of ownership commenced. My daughter, age 6, claimed it as her own, for she had moved the cereal box and discovered it. My son, age 8, yelled that he had grabbed it first – and speed should count for something. Luckily, good mother that I am, I came to the rescue – with an unparalleled conflict-resolution device – one which is much under-utilized in our society: You cut, I pick. How many wars could have been diverted with this tactic? One party divides the booty, the other gets to pick.
But there was an unforeseen snag. In our previous usage of the You cut, I pick remedy, soft foods were being contested, such as cookies and brownies – so division was simple. The “cutter” would, with the precision of a surgeon, make a cut directly down the middle. Candy canes, on the other hand, are a different animal. I quickly came to understand the applicability of the common cliché – “Them’s the Breaks”.
My naive son opted for cutting – being skilled with a pocket knife. My daughter liked the idea of picking. He examined the cane and attempted to cut it right down the middle (taking into account the bend of the cane of course). But it didn’t break anywhere near his desired location. It snapped off right below the bend of the cane and so left one long piece and one small turn-of- a-piece. My daughter made the obvious choice of the long straight piece and my son was left with the cry, “THAT ISN’T FAIR!”
It’s true. It wasn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. This phrase has a familiar ring to me. As the youngest of seven children, this was one of my mother’s mantras. Attempting to divide up resources and favors equally between seven kids was not easy. Even with her attempts to accommodate all our individual demands for fairness, the nature of life is such that it simply isn’t always possible.
But Life Should Be Fair, Right?
Why do we demand fairness? And we all do. For some reason we come into this world thinking it should be just despite the fact that from the very beginning, we can see it isn’t. “ I am too small to play – this isn’t fair!” “My younger brother is taller than me – that isn’t fair!” “My sister has better hair than I do. That isn’t fair.” “My friends get cell phones and I don’t. This isn’t fair!”
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates examines justice. He even builds a city that operates according to perfect justice. When played out in a city, we see that justice must be the motivator for every actor in that city. Justice cannot live in the world unless it lives in each individual in the world.
“Justice in life and conduct of the state is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.”
Plato, The Republic
Much of our injustice, therefore, is our own fault – meaning the fault of mankind. But Plato also recognizes the injustice of life in general. The “gods’ don’t always dish out favors equally or based on merit and need. Life seems arbitrary sometimes. A devoted mother gets cancer; a jerk wins the lottery. These aren’t small things that we can just toss aside with a laugh. However, they are the nature of existence and wishing it weren’t so, doesn’t help.
Examining Fairness/Justice: Is this really unfair?
First, it might help to examine the particular injustice done to us and see if perhaps we may be misrepresenting it. My ten-year-old daughter, for example, gets upset if we ever let her older brother stay up and watch a football game while she has to go to sleep. Yet, if she were open to the truth, (as I have tried to explain it many times) the reality is not as unfair as she believes. Unfortunately, kids don’t remember the years before they were born – those two years he had to go to sleep early while she got to stay up all night in heaven. He also starts school one hour later than she does, so he can sleep in. He has a great passion for football, and she could care less about it. So as a parent, I try to give “good gifts to my children”. I am attempting to be fair to each, but it looks like unfairness to her. For her own part, she would rather that no one stays up than suffer this injustice. But demanding that he goes to sleep when she does, is unjust to him.
“For it is not because they fear doing unjust deeds, but because they fear suffering them, that those who blame injustice do so.”
Plato, The Republic
I have seen women who get a similar mindset towards men. They see that historically women did not hold many positions of power, that women did not go explore new lands, they didn’t get to study under the Masters in Florence – and they see this as evidence of oppression by men. Wicked men were oppressing women for their own advantage. I am sure there was some of that – but is that the whole story? Many Gender Studies professors suffer from the same disadvantage as my daughter – they don’t remember the way things were and don’t seem overly concerned with understanding intricacies. Not having birth control or menstrual products had a big influence on what women could do. Our technological advances and education have brought freedom for women that was impossible in previous generations. Women’s relative physical weakness has become less important in these comparatively safe times, allowing women more freedom of movement. As the value of children decreases, women make different life choices. So perhaps, with a more complex and open-minded investigation, we may understand that the inequality we see historically between the sexes was not entirely due to the free choice of evil men, but more a function of the nature of reality – and even sometimes out of a desire to protect women.
So would it be fair to kick men out of well-earned jobs to fill a quota? Or have endless education initiatives for young girls and leave behind young boys?* We don’t have to do injustice to some to bring about justice for others.
If it is unfair, then why?
When we examine injustices in our life we seek meaning – we seek a reason and a cause. Sometimes those examinations end in disappointment as we realize “them’s the breaks”. For example, recently I found the book The Gruffalo on my bookcase – a book I had read at least 100 times to my oldest son when he was a toddler. He would ask me to read it to him again and again. I got so sick of reading that book! But I did it because it brought him so much joy. After finding it, I showed it to him so we could reminisce about those days. My son, now 12, could not remember the book at all! At all! Upon this realization, It seemed like all those hours of self-sacrifice dissipated into thin air. So much of mothers’ hardest work: dirty diapers, early morning feedings, potty training trauma – they are all forgotten and unappreciated. Our child loses memory of our hard work and they never look back to ask how they know to use the toilet, or why they have the habit of brushing their teeth. I tried to recount to my son all the hours we had spent reading that book – seeking some kind of appreciation but I could see it fell on deaf ears. My credit was gone with his memory. I felt the harsh unfairness of it all. No wonder mothers have such a low standing in society – none of these people even remember their own mothers greatest sacrifices! I don’t know why we don’t retain these memories of our loving mothers. In the next life perhaps I will discover a good reason. Maybe being a mother is meant to be selfless – perhaps meaning would be lost if we received admiration or glory. I do trust that those hours were not wasted and that he is the good boy he is, in part, because of TheGruffalo.
“To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise.”
We perceive justice and fairness with such limited vision. The world cannot be divided down the middle. We develop different strengths, unique experiences, and perspectives precisely because of the unfairness of the world. Do we really want to make everything equal? No, and we can’t anyway. My shorter son has developed ball handling skills that my taller son doesn’t bother with. My daughter’s friends get cellphones but she has more time to develop her talents, and less drama. “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
So we see that fairness is not easily discerned by us – my daughter still can’t comprehend it after many attempts to explain. That is because we don’t have the big picture. We can’t see the end from the beginning. We don’t see what we really need or how unfairness now, may one day be for our benefit. But we can trust that our Transcendent God does know how to dish out justice – now and in eternity. What we are asked to do is simple: “Do unto others as we would have them do to us”. That is how we act in fairness and justice.
Matthew 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
If dealt with unjustly, act justly
Although life can’t be fair and we are often treated unjustly – we can deal justly. We can treat people the way we want to be treated, and teach our children to do the same.
“If it were necessary either to do wrong or to suffer it, I should choose to suffer rather than do it.”
If we believe in the eternal nature of our soul, we see that it really doesn’t matter, ultimately, how unjustly others may treat us – only what we do to them. We have faith that virtue will win and that happiness comes from living virtuously.
“It is a small thing to a man whether or not his neighbor be merciful to him; it is life or death to him whether or not he be merciful to his neighbor.”
When I look back at the last 12 years of motherhood, the episodes I most regret usually involve failed attempts to make things fair. In attempting to make everybody happy – more often than not we end up with everyone unhappy. With different ages, personalities, and preference, we simply can’t please everyone. So we end up disappointing one child and then to make them happier, we disappoint another child. We cannot let our desire to make peace allow us to give bad gifts to our children.
When we discover unfairness – such as the candy cane breaking unevenly – we want to swoop in and try and make things fair. And that is just what I did. I chiseled away at that candy cane to try and make it perfectly even until it was mostly shards and a pile of sugar dust and both children were crying at the unfairness of life.
There are times when we should try and make life fair for our children, but this was not one of them, for it meant doing another injustice. This one perpetrated by my own will.
If I could do it again, I would have told my son – after some comforting: “Them’s the breaks. You chose to cut – and that is how it broke. This is unfortunately how life works out. Sometimes we don’t have as much control as we think. I will not do further injustice to your sister by breaking the code of “You cut, I pick”. It is sad, but at least, now you don’t have to ingest as much sugar which is actually to your benefit.
But instead my poor daughter wept, her trust in You cut, I pick may be gone forever – for I had been unjust and broken the rules of the game. We cannot correct the unfairness of life by perpetrating more unfairness. We cannot bring justice to women by being unjust to men. We cannot make life better for a sorrowful child by taking the joy from a happy child.
A ridiculous topic?
So why discuss justice and fairness? After all, this is a topic that has confused the world for at least 3000 years. Because it is important to recognize what we don’t always understand, for acting without understanding can do great damage to the world. As this clip shows, using the tragic history of Ukrainian Kulak’s as our example, schemes to cure inequity can swiftly result in resentment-fueled injustice for the labeled “oppressor” and dire consequences for society.
Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.
Life is complicated. We don’t have the memory, knowledge, and perspective to be perfect arbiters of justice. When discussing fairness we, and our children, can easily be taken up by feelings of envy or resentment which cloud our judgement.
“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”
So as we seek meaning for the unfairness we encounter, such as hours of unremembered sacrifice for a demanding toddler, we must seek solace in faith. Faith that goodness wins, that justice is rewarded, and that God knows what gifts are good.
“You will never come to any harm in the practice of virtue, if you are a really good and true man (or woman).”
As mothers, we should seek justice and fairness within our homes. I believe that we have a God-given ability to discern what is best for our children – if we clear our own minds of an inordinate need for to make everyone happy, we can discover the best path forward in times of conflict or confusion.
My own mother tried to make life as fair as she could for her children. She prayed and pondered the best ways to accomplish it – but sometimes she had to tell us that “life isn’t fair”. This was a perspective we needed, even if it stung a bit. It’s a perspective I still need. As my pile of sugar dust and crying children demonstrate.
The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men, Christina Hoff Sommers
I live in the country with the lowest birth rate in the EU – and with one of the lowest worldwide: Italy. So perhaps the feedback I got from the people around me when I started to explore the idea of having a third child, about two and a half years ago, won’t be very surprising. “But aren’t two kids already a LOT of work?!” “For me that would mean not working for a while. I can’t risk losing my job: you never know what’s going to happen with marriage.” “Kids are SO expensive.” “You already have a boy and a girl..!” “If you have another child, it will push you back 10 years” (… whatever that means, still haven’t really figured this one out) “Who NEEDS more than two children?”
I’ve been married 12 years to a hard-working man who is passionately devoted to his family, our first two children are objectively sane and well-mannered and I enjoy various happy circumstances in life. For example, I live in a large house in the countryside, until recently had a paid job only in the mornings that I could carry out from home, and have two very helpful in-laws who live 10 minutes away from us. However, all of this didn’t seem to be a valid incentive for a more optimistic outlook on the part of the people whom I sounded out on the third baby question.
I have pictured myself with three children ever since I became aware that I wanted to have kids – that is, about a couple months after first meeting my future husband. I actually sent him a text message stating that it would be great for us to have three children. At such an early stage in our relationship, it was certainly a bit naive of me – but given how things turned out, it showed that I instinctively knew right from the start what would make us feel truly fulfilled in life. Some things we just know from the beginning, by some form of divine inspiration, even though we might have doubts about them later. I feel very lucky to be one of three siblings myself: my brother and sister are my best friends. It feels like we’re all part of a little community with the same exact background. I wanted to offer my children the opportunity to enjoy the same kind of experience. Also, having as many children as my husband and I felt we could manage seemed the best way to celebrate our marriage, our love for each other and our passion for life.
For a while I remained undecided – that is, confused about what was truly important to me. I was mainly weary of my shortcomings as a mother and wife. I tackled them at some level every day. But what if lack of sleep, less time to dedicate to my husband and the two children I already have, together with everything else going on in my life, would just make my weaknesses worse? I wasn’t convinced that I’d rise up to the challenge. I furnished this lack of confidence in myself with a whole series of foolish excuses for not being brave enough to be truly honest with myself and embrace the challenges that my decision would necessarily entail. The people at work wouldn’t like me taking time off. If I didn’t take time off from work to look after a newborn, I can earn more. The four of us can enjoy more material things. I can have more time to do what I want to do whenever I feel like it. In short, I’d brought into my thinking a lot of ideas from the wrong side of feminism – and they clung to me like gooey paste, despite the fact that I’d been getting plenty of encouragement from my husband to go ahead with our third baby, if that’s what I really wanted. He’d always reassured me that he’d compensate for whatever I couldn’t earn with his own efforts. But the influence that modern society has had on me throughout my lifetime was very pervasive. No one had ever bothered to tell me that, as a woman, I might relate to having a paid job a little differently than a man – that maybe it wouldn’t or even shouldn’t matter that much to me, at least compared to the privilege of raising other human beings with the power to make this world a better place. I think this sentence from one of my former bosses – who is objectively a very nice person – sums up pretty well how motherhood is viewed nowadays in the western world: “Well, now that your children are grown up, we’d like to offer to increase your workload from four to eight hours a day.” Yeah, sure, my kids, aged five and eight, are “grown up.” What on earth do they need a mother for anymore? It’s normal for a mother to work all day long. I can just pay someone, I guess, to spend time with and talk to my children when they’re not exhausted at the end of the day. Someone else can help them with their homework, and take them to sports – in short, raise them for me.
This was a no-brainer: I not only refused to increase my workload, I actually had it decreased as I let out a sigh of relief. My longing for another child remained stubbornly persistent. It was always there, right beneath the lid I tried to put on it. Any time I stopped to think a second, I could feel it wanting to get out. As it turns out, stifling one’s conscience is pretty darn hard – luckily. The real turning point came after a conversation I had about this with my younger sister. She matter-of-factly told me at one point: “You know, who knows what will happen with your job. You might still have it in a year, you might not. I don’t think you should base your decision on whether or not to have a child on something so volatile.” That was it. It really was that simple. It hit me all of a sudden how terribly wrong it had been of me to make such an important existential decision based on things that were so vague and really quite insignificant. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t living up to my potential with just two children. I knew I had more to give, more love, more energy, and, most importantly, I knew having another child would make me a better person. I also knew – both at a conscious and a subconscious level – that, at 32, I was running out of time. There are a lot of people out there nowadays who want women to ignore the fact that their fertility starts plummeting after they turn 35. Personally, I couldn’t ignore it as my body and I have a pretty honest, upfront relationship, and these days I can feel it telling me that it’s getting old-ish and that there are some things that it just can’t do as well as it used to. During the months it took for me and my husband to conceive our third baby, I kept dreaming of finding myself crawling down a tunnel that kept getting tighter and tighter, until there was no more room for me to move or breathe. Women’s biological clock is no myth: I could feel it ticking pretty much every second, despite the fact that I’d already had two children.
“.. Let there be Dora!”
The light our third baby – our second daughter – has brought to our lives, the lives of all four of us, is something my husband and I marvel at every single day. Without a doubt, there is more harmony and love in my family than there was before her arrival. Just like I knew would happen before we even started searching for her, my husband and I are better people, better parents and better spouses. So the four of us are all happier. Of course it’s challenging to have some extra noise in the house, to lose some sleep again, to have to manage three small people, each with their own important needs. But I don’t believe any human being can accomplish anything significant without some form of sacrifice. My husband and I are rising up to the challenge, step by step. Of course, we make our mistakes every now and then, but they’re definitely less frequent and have less of an impact. We’re more experienced at this point and better grounded in our knowledge of how important it is for us to manage our family as well as possible, so that our children may be a source of joy and good to this world. Our youngest daughter is providing us with that extra inspiration, and we are deeply, humbly grateful for her.
InTolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo contemplates the ruinous world he faces. He tells his wise and patient teacher,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I often find myself wishing, as Frodo did, that “it need not have happened in my time.” That I could raise my children in a more stable age.
Sometimes we may exaggerate the difficulty and divisiveness of our modern life – especially when compared with the horrific conditions of most of human history. Perspective is often helpful in calming our fears. Yet, as a mother, it is evident that in many ways the world is becoming increasingly divisive, immoral, and selfish. We seem to be headed down well-trodden paths of conflict – roads laid down generations ago and marked with blood and destruction. We are willfully repeating lessons we should have learned long ago. Concerned parents look on in dread as our society descends into tribalism and self interest. We see greed and envy driving public policy; leaders usurping power; distrust and suspicion increasing; cultural unity and patriotism dissipating; faith and humility abandoned…Darkness looms…but Tolkien reminds us, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
As mothers, we must not be naïve – we must face the darkness. We must strengthen ourselves for the journey. Wishing things were different will not accomplish anything. We must act. But how? Our world is starving for virtue. We must accept our role as the Teacher-of-Virtue.
Absent moral and virtuous individuals, societies inevitably degrade. Who can shape the morality of a populace if not its mothers? The world may deny our influence, but the power of a strong mother endures.
“What a mother sings to the cradle goes all the way down to the coffin.”
Henry Ward Beecher
The solution to our anxieties and to the world’s division, lies in strengthening our families.
“The family is the basis of society. As the family is, so is the society.”
Today, I felt discouraged about the future, about the world my children are inheriting. To cope, I distracted myself from the news and social media, and instead reflected on the love of my husband and children. As I hugged my daughter and read with my son, the day seemed brighter – we made it brighter. Fear will return when my thoughts inevitably rest on harsh realities, but I know what I can do to calm my fears – be a mother that puts her will and energy into raising resilient, educated, and virtuous children.
“Men are what their mothers made them.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Frodo expresses his fears to Gandalf – as a child would to a parent – he gazes into the flames and wishes them away. Gandalf acknowledges and empathizes with those fears, but he knows the solution will not be found in staring into the fire. Instead, he pushes Frodo towards the only firm hope he has – his own action. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The world may burn, but we will not do the burning, we will do the building.
“Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”
As mothers, we must have faith in our influence. We can wisely use the time given us. The future is unsure – there will always be anxiety when facing the unknown. But our world will improve when we mothers decide – decide to replace that fear with faith and action, and intentionally teach our children to do the same.
“Pick up the cross of your tragedy and betrayal. Accept its terrible weight….We are all fallen creatures—and we all know it. We are all separated from what should be and thrown into the world of death and despair. We are all brutally crucified on the cross that is the reality of life itself….And the Christian command? To act out the proposition that courage and truth and love are more powerful than death and despair.”
I believe that a society built around Honor and Virtue are crucial if we want to shift our current trajectory. We must be willing to applaud goodness and condemn wickedness. We simply cannot say that all beliefs, actions, and choices are of equal worth and virtue, and still have a society where good can triumph.
I enjoyed the podcast episode below from Young Heretics. It brings a good perspective on the utility of Honor and Virtue, using Roman society as a case-study.
“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C.S. Lewis
I’m searching over the roofs of my neighbors as my kids are yelling inside the house for me to help them to more dinner. Why is my heart racing? I could have planned this better. Why can’t I find this star?
I quickly jump off the railing of the deck a bit disappointed and head back inside as the children have begun fighting with one another. I place more potatoes on the plate for my five-year-old and I start wondering if I would have missed that thrill of hope long ago too.
I think many of us would have. In my current state of busy, at my current pace, I’m not confident I would have looked up long enough to become curious and follow. Veteran mothers tell me when the children are grown that I’ll have time to look up, to see the stars and learn their names. However, the older I get the more I know, like them, we don’t only use our time to look up, we often use it to look back.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them.” I begin thinking about why people were amazed by the tale of the shepherds, hearing and seeing angels and coming face to face with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Maybe the star of Bethlehem wasn’t this astronomical anomaly that stopped everyone in their tracks but was enough of a difference to make three wise men curious. Or Jesus, lying in a manger of a dark and cold cave in Bethlehem. Maybe that’s why everyone was thrown by the telling of His arrival. It wasn’t a beautiful place that required appreciation. It was a place full of constant hurry and conflict, much like myself.
I begin loading the dishwasher and as I run the plates through the warm water of the sink, right outside my small kitchen window, is the Christmas Star, in my line of sight. The Great Conjunction. For a few brief moments, all was calm and bright. There was no rushing or anxiety––I was astonished. In all its distant glory, it was enough to stir the gratitude in my heart for that Gift given to us over two thousand years ago. He had found me, right where I was at in my rushing and running, as faithfully He does. And my weary world rejoiced.
I unravel another bundle of lights from the Christmas tote and ask my husband to line the roof in white. This year, I’ve noticed, more neighbors and communities have put out extravagant Christmas displays. Possibly for the children, most certainly for me. How dark the shadows have been this year.
My husband begins climbing a ladder, and I think back to how I’ve been reading “A Christmas Carol” a few pages at a time, out loud as often as possible the past few weeks. My newborn niece was recently victim to my retelling of Jacob Marley’s haunting visit to Scrooge. As the old man stumbled away from the glow of the town to his cold quarters, Charles Dickens wrote, “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
How honest a statement about the darkness! To sit in apathy and bitterness, hardened and invulnerable. Can we truly “like” such a thing? Surely not forever! Scrooge, having seen the truth, would tell you so today.
I think about what price bringing illuminance anywhere has cost. Relationally, geographically and economically, intellectually and emotionally — light is not cheap. It takes time, a loyal and intentional investment.
I toss up another strand of lights to my hardworking and semi-uncomfortable husband and remember in the spirit of the season how after four hundred years of silence, God pierced the sky to lead humanity through the shadows. They hadn’t heard or seen from God in centuries, and in following the star He gave them, they find the Light of the World; a humble baby. A price paid to reveal and close the dark path of misery.
My darling husband makes his way back down the ladder, thankful to live another day on the ground, and I take a look at the beautifully lit corners of our roof. In corresponding with a woman about resuming the practice of her faith, C.S. Lewis wrote, “One can’t go on thinking it over for ever, and one can begin to try to be a disciple before one is a professed theologian. In fact they tell us, don’t they, that in these matters to act on the light one has is almost the only way to more light.” (4 January 1941, Mary Neylan)
We must kindle what’s in front of us. Stir the heaviest embers, and pray for enduring flames. Keep lamps burning, our front porch lights on, and continue pushing back the shadows not just for our paths, but the paths of others. Light is not cheap, still God finds each of us worth His radiant mercy and encourages us to dwell abundantly in His glow. No matter the season, on rooftops or six-feet-apart, strive to be light.
“You’re going to go see Christmas lights. I need you to put on your shoes and coat and wait quietly. Your brother is too little to go. Please do not tell him where you are going.”
As a five-year-old, I can imagine how powerful it must have felt for her at that moment, for she immediately went downstairs and told him she was going to see lights and that he would not be attending.
My son, Jack, went into a tantrum, and later that night my “very sorry” daughter and I sat and looked out the window as her sister went to see Christmas lights without her.
As her tears began to dry and the weight of her actions lifted, I started telling her of the importance it was for a woman long ago to treasure in her heart a secret God had given her.
“An angel came to Mary, a young, unmarried, and dependent girl, and told her that God was going to give her Jesus, the Savior of the world. Do you know how she must have felt? Excited, nervous, maybe like you, she wanted to burst from the seams and tell the world. But she didn’t make that choice. The Bible says that Mary kept all the things the Angel had told her in her heart and thought about them often.”
For a brief moment, we sat in the warmth of one another. Then as youth so conveniently allows, my daughter leaped from my lap to face me, the cold air creeping from the window met my chest.
“Why didn’t she tell everyone?” She asked.
“Do you remember what happened when young Joseph told his brothers about his coat and his dreams?” I responded.
She thought back and remembered a project she had completed in preschool where she made a coat of many colors with different pieces of fabric. She told me that the brothers had gotten angry and jealous and hurt Joseph.
I nodded as she returned to my lap and looked back out the window at the lights in our front yard ready to listen. “Mary didn’t want to hurt or confuse others who wouldn’t understand and she didn’t want to be hurt herself. She had a long way to go because babies stay in a mommy’s tummy for a while and she and her soon-to-be husband, Joseph, had some things they needed to figure out. So she kept it in her heart. Do you know what happens when we keep good things in our hearts?”
“What?” She asked in wonder, having now completely forgotten the Christmas-light adventure she was missing.
“God grows those dreams and promises and we can talk to Him about them in our heart any time we want! We ask God to bring the right friends in our lives to help us and we trust Him to guide our feet and can focus on what He’s saying. The busy world around us sometimes doesn’t offer helpful opinions, and when we keep good things in our heart while we journey with God we don’t have to worry about letting others down and can change more easily when we discover God’s will is different from ours. Do you think Mary wanted to have a baby in a stable with all the animals?”
She laughs as I continue. “Right! Mommies don’t want to have babies in the hay! But Mary trusted God and brought close friends and family into her secret. Now, how do you think the night would have been had you gotten your shoes and sat and waited?”
I felt her take a deep breath as her little voice began. “I would have gone with Cora to see lights and Jack would eat ice cream and be happy with you. I would not have cried.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. But you also wouldn’t have been sitting here with me getting extra snuggles either,” I tell her as I squeeze her closer to my heart. “Sometimes we don’t keep things in our heart as Mary did, but that doesn’t mean God loves us any less or that He won’t trust us with other good dreams as we grow up. Because of Jesus, sorries, and forgiveness, we get another chance.”
She returns my squeeze with a hug as we watch her sister pull up with her uncle and cousins from their neighborhood adventure.
“Cora’s back! I’m going to tell her that Mary kept a secret in her heart — but I won’t tell her what it was.”
“Oh no, baby, the whole world knows now. Jesus was born! You can tell her the whole secret.”
Remi runs out of the room as my husband opens the front door and I hear her yell out to her sister that she had something important to tell her. How beautiful it is, when a good secret comes to fruition, in God’s perfect timing.
To me, this image of two rival football teams kneeling in prayer after a hard-fought game provides a contrast to our current polarity. Can we kneel together, despite our differences, despite having opposing goals? Is our society leaving a space for such an act of unity?
First we have to ask ourselves, why would these young men do such a thing? A football game is very real and important to those playing it and a loss is not easily overcome when dreams are on the line. However, we know it is a game so perhaps it is not all that shocking that they can shake off a loss and come together to pray. But real life, with real stakes, surely, is something different. But is it?
In WWI in a remarkable event known as the Christmas Day Truce, young men from both sides, (German and British), despite orders to stay put from their superiors, jumped out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy. They sang together, exchanged gifts, and celebrated the birth of their common Savior. The day before, these young men had been shooting at each other. But somehow, as we imagine those young men grasping hands in 1914, it seems that war had been a game after all, and the Truce was something more real – it was a glimpse of potential. We imagine an opening of truth to these young men, just as the football players experienced something real in that prayer-circle, after what had been just a game. But in order to get those glimpses of peace and unity, there has to be a unifier.
These two groups of young men would go on fighting, go on playing the game – and there is purpose in their conflict, there are lessons that needed to be learned therein. But conflict itself is not the purpose, and they knew this. There was something that made them stop fighting – a power above the disputes of the world. They paused and prayed together to their common God, they celebrated the birth of Christ. Belief in this transcendent truth is crucial for our sense of perspective and our ability to cope in a life full of suffering and strife. There must be something above to give meaning to the things below.
In the late 1800s Friedrich Nietzsche made the bold declaration that “God is dead, and we have killed Him.”* With rising secularism, we see that many, unfortunately, believe in Nietzsche’s unbelief, and live their lives without God. But, as Nietzche understood well, this shift away from God does not come without dire consequences. How, now, are we motivated to come together after a football game, or shake hands during a war? Where can we see the growth in tragedy, or let go of grievances without any hope of eventual victory?
The philosophies of men are like man, limited and finite. They are doomed to follow our follies, our imperfections, and our short-sightedness. We need a guiding philosophy that transcends man, one that humbles us, that emanates from beyond ourselves. Something that falls on all of us – good or bad, Boise State or BYU, German or British. This is the truth that fell on these young men.
There simply is no earth-bound philosophy that can do this. In a post-truth society, there is nothing to bring opposing teams together; no unifier, no comforter. Secular individuals may seek out a worthy existence in a post-truth world, without examining how or why they seek worthiness – but societies will fall.
So what are we left with, without God? Everything is now much more serious. This is no test; there are no games anymore. The end is coming hard and fast. There is no hope for a day of eventual unity and no moral good to strive towards. All beauty, goodness, and truth are simply illusions. There will always be a conflicting philosophy that keeps us from kneeling with an “enemy”. There will always be offenses too distressing to let-go of, with no belief that someone greater can take the burden.
People suffer when their God has died. Our souls become starved as we grasp for meaning and purpose while caught in a downward spiral. We become cogs in a machine. We become our own Superman but with no one to save. Our modern world shows the signs of this secular suffering. We see how people react when their “world” comes falling down, when their political party fails, and when their dreams are shattered. Rather than seeking a hopeful eternal perspective, they must face the bleak world before them. They are less able to laugh at the tragic game of life, less able to forgive, more judgmental, less resilient, and more selfish. It is not necessarily them I blame – these are the natural reactions of a person living in a Godless world.
So we return to our properly-aligned young men. Their displays of unity won’t be applauded by all. Those driving the will of our will-less world will not take it kindly, for it is threatening. They see these football teams kneeling before God and are appalled. They want to stop such displays of religiosity – stop the so-called brainwashing. They portray this display of belief simply as intolerance of other beliefs. Once Truth is discarded, reminders of it tend to sting. The “Conditioners”, as C.S. Lewis calls them – replace our outdated Truth with man-made imitations. And what weak replacements they turn out to be. Their fuel is envy and resentment, their compassion is apathy, and their motivation is power and greed. Postmodernism, Marxism, Subjectivism, Materialism are all designed to tear down all our Christmases, all our prayers on the football field, even our love of our homeland or shared admiration for a historical figure. Nothing can be shared, nothing can be held in common or above the struggle.
But it is a lie. There is a force that unites us all. A truth from above that ignites our inner goodness. We are brothers and sisters. And we know this – it is written in our hearts. We have urgings for love; we desire peace; we feel that loyalty is a virtue. We know that an angry young man is wasting himself. We know that laughter heals. Our deep morality and kinship remain, and these demonstrations, by young and ordinary men, show that there is hope in our deeper natures – for we are always called by higher things.
Note: You may ask, what does this have to do with motherhood? It is crucial that mothers see these dynamics, that we understand the state and direction of the world. When we see the ditches in front of us, we can step around them. When we understand what deception sounds like, we can teach our children to recognize the lies, and to seek out goodness instead. It is so crucial that we mothers don’t follow the destructive philosophies that surround us. It is up to us to ensure that, in our method of mothering, our children will build a future where truth, goodness, and beauty are allowed to thrive.
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Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
A highly informative clip on Nietzsche (the whole video is great) – that helps us understand his worldview and start to see the results of his shift in perspective.
Good clip on Postmodernism, Nietzsche, and conflicting philosophy