I was emptying the dishwasher.
The faucet was steadily filling the sink with hot water. Dirty dishes covered the counter. My belly sagged and bulged – I had only recently given birth. My midsection would never recover. How could it after two c-sections?
My body felt deformed and foreign to me. But that feeling paled in comparison to how emotionally removed from everything I was.
There I was, now a mother of two. New to staying home full-time, discovering the franticness that each day brought. I thought that by being a stay at home mother the daily tensions of a 9-5 life would wear off. That I could enjoy my children without feeling spun out. That we could just be.
It was a trick, a romanticized version of what mothering full-time really is like. We all know being a full-time parent has not much to do with order and structure, and everything to do with sticky floors and questionable substances in your hair.
So, there I was, barefoot in the kitchen, dough bellied, hair pulled back. Sleep circles coloring my dull eyes the way models in the makeup ads have. Only mine was natural. A body that I didn’t feel comfortable in, living in a role that I was constantly discovering new reasons to be terrified of. It was all too much.
I remember the tightness of my throat in that moment. The pace of my mind, how scared I was, how tired I was, how stressed and uncertain I was. And all of those thoughts were clanging about at the same time.
My breathing quickened, and I felt it. A small panic attack settling into my chest. I struggled to release the pressure that was building. I inhaled and exhaled in a rhythmic fashion. It was almost like labor breathing. Breathe through the pain, through the tension, and find the release.
Thankfully, the release came quicker than I expected.
It all subsided in an instant.
But there was no reprieve. Then it was back to work.
I went and cleared more dishes off of the dining room table. I’m sure that by this point both the baby and I were crying. Or at least, whenever I was alone with just my thoughts to keep me company, all I thought I heard was the sound of her crying. She’d given me sleepless nights, sore breasts from her lazy and constant feedings, and tears. Many, many tears.
I spent my time wanting to tear at and pull off the invisible thing that I constantly felt weighing on me. It never materialized, but I knew it was there. Only I could feel it.
This feeling of being bound, constantly, to life, and to those around me.
I panicked because I never thought that I was going to feel free again.
I’m sad to say that this is the way that I spent the first few years of motherhood. Not every moment of it, but many. Far too many. And mostly in silence. Depressed because I felt that I had lost some idea of freedom. My body was no longer entirely my own. Sleep was a thing of the past for me. My bathroom time was invaded. There is no physical autonomy as you raise small children. And in that place I felt powerless because I hadn’t even any control over my emotions. They were like a horse that was usually reliable, who instead now flailed and fought as its rider sat helpless, trying uselessly to direct the reins again.
I sank into depression. Part of this was caused by the tentacles of baby-blues, true postpartum issues.
Some of my issues, though, were self-induced. I just didn’t know it at the time. I thought my issues lay with a baby who wouldn’t sleep, a toddler who wouldn’t sit still and tasks that wouldn’t stop.
I was wrong.
I remember when someone finally asked me how I was doing. I was sitting in church, partially sunk down in my seat, staring off. I took one look at the pink baby in her car seat, squeaked out something about having “trouble with baby blues or…something,” unsure of even how to adequately convey how I was feeling. I lost it. Quiet defeat. Just silent brokenness.
How does one mom do ALL of this? It’s the unanswerable question for any woman when she begins her parenting journey, and then again at each ensuing step. Each one brings new challenges and hurtles. And it never stops. At some point, though, you run out of steam, and you stop with full hands and an empty heart, and you give up because it’s all so much.
The guilt riddles you because you know that you aren’t enjoying every. single. moment. like the magazines tells you to. You don’t feel like you have the bandwidth to keep your house functioning and the kids alive. All you see when you look around are parents who are thrilled with their new bundle of joy and you wonder what’s wrong with you. You worry about what’s rotting you away on the inside.
If there is one children’s book that depresses me, and that I honestly cannot understand my children’s affections for, it is “The Giving Tree.”
The story centers around a tree and a young boy. The young boy plays with the tree when he is a young child, but as he grows, he abandons the tree, only returning when he needs something. Apples to sell in town, wood to build a home or a boat so that he can sail away from his problems. The tree offered up whatever she had to the boy, hoping to solve his myriad of problems.
The boy takes and takes and takes from the tree until the tree is left a stump, and the boy is but an old man. He no longer needs anything, save for company. And they sit together, silently in the forest. Death eminent for the old man, a future of uselessness awaiting the old tree.
Maybe this book confuses me so because it also terrifies me.
Is this life? Are we meant to be like the giving tree, whose branches are stripped of their fruit, whose limbs are torn off, where we are used and cast aside into loneliness, but only until someone arrives and needs more from us? Drained of resources and life until we are nothing but stumps? Useless. Deformed. Alone.
I had days where I stared out of the kitchen window at nothing. Where I cried in the shower, or to myself when no one was around. Sadness seeped unwillingly from me. I could not contain such sorrow, sorrow that I could not name.
How could there be more in despair? How is there more in emptiness? How is there meaning in ravaging? How, when I feel like I’m constantly yielding myself, constantly giving of myself, constantly emptying myself to the indifference of others, how and when do I get to feel full and seen and heard and valued?
What’s in it for ME?
God answered me. It took time, but his answer rang out more clearly than a church bell when it pierces the night.
I said, what’s in this for me? And He said, I am in it, for you.
He says that a rugged, bloodied, dirty cross is our answer. Not perfection, not aesthetics, and certainly not personal comfort. Because when we cling to and try to preserve this life, when we hold fast to it, we are ultimately left empty. Because it slips away. Because self-preservation is a myth, a deceitful fantasy. Wholly unattainable. A life without meaning and depth.
God says, “when you preserve everything in your name, you cannot serve in MY name.”
Because what’s the point of having a life if you don’t give it away?
If it wasn’t too beneath Jesus, then how are we any different?
When we stop keeping tabs, it helps us to start keeping better fellowship with The One who gave all.
When I let go, dumping my aspirations and daily work at the foot of the cross, and instead gave myself away, – willingly – life breathed anew for me.
When I stopped counting my sacrifices to others and instead offered what I could to God and to family, I found more joy than ever imaginable. When I stopped carrying around my faith like a sort joint, the load became more bearable.
When I stopped living for myself, and instead gave living for the King a try, pieces fell into place. Pieces that I never even knew existed within me. When I didn’t resign myself to this existence, but instead embraced it for what it is, my living became three dimensional.
What I realized about my time is it wasn’t mine to begin with. It is a gift given, so that I may give it to others. How can I not give away a gift that was given to me? How can I refuse to comfort as I have been comforted? To love as I have been loved? Receiving that gift is the first part, the second is giving it away. You don’t realize the weight and worth of it until you give it away, freely.
Don’t we treat our Christ the same way that the boy treated the giving tree? Don’t we take and take and take incessantly? Never satisfied?
Jesus is that giving tree. He gave Himself, He still gives Himself. Of His own accord. He laid His life down willingly and freely. He cut down and made a path when there was none. He was nailed to the giving tree, where our burdens are to be laid beneath it, and where we can receive all that we need.
And we can take comfort that He won’t ask us to give anything more than He already gave.