I first met Abby on a trip to New York City in college. I admired and continue to admire her sincere kindness, her honesty, and her love for Jesus (and also her singing, writing, and drawing). Abby writes about life, faith, and grace in a challenging and beautiful way that always sticks with me long after I’ve walked away from the computer. Today, her beautiful words reminds us that the gospel of Jesus is the only one that can save us.
I sat on the bed crying as my husband patiently waited for me to say why I was really upset that the house was messy and my daughter wasn’t sleeping through the night.
“I don’t want everyone to know I’m a failure,” I said in between sobs.
I was crying because I’m due to have our second daughter in a few weeks, and things felt completely out of control. I felt out of control. And I knew that there was no hiding this time. Someone is going to watch Lucy while I’m in labor, and they’ll get to see how messy I am, and possibly deal with a difficult toddler bed time. And I don’t want that person to know how big a failure I am at being a mom.
Failure has dogged my motherhood experience. It took us two years to get pregnant. Deep down I knew that whether or not I got pregnant was in God’s hands, but it didn’t make it less difficult every time I heard about someone else getting pregnant. The good news that we were pregnant with our daughter Lucy was quickly followed up with bad news as I was frequently reminded about how unprepared I was to be a mom. I kept getting surprised by things like episiotomies and baby-led weaning. I realized other moms were much more researched and prepared then I was, and I kept googling things too late and asking my mom for advice when I got in a jam.
I happened to go to a midwife because that’s how my doctor’s office worked, not because I researched my options. I didn’t get a pediatrician lined up before my baby was born. Other than walking, I did intentionally exercise —wait, let me count— zero times during my pregnancy. I ate salmon lox during my first trimester every morning to help with my morning sickness that didn’t go away until I was weeks into my second trimester, and then found out I shouldn’t have been eating lox. It took me four and a half hours of pushing to have Lucy, and even though it was a miracle she wasn’t born by c-section, I felt like I was broken when I heard a friend pushed for 15 minutes for her first baby. I compared myself to others and found myself missing the mark.
Then Lucy was born and it took me four months to go to the grocery store with her by myself. She didn’t start sleeping through the night until about a month ago. My husband and I still wonder if that is due to anything we did differently or just the grace of God, since He knew we had another baby coming so soon. And even though I’m a stay-at-home mom and I’m supposed to have extra time, I have closets I’d rather you not open, dirty dishes in the kitchen, piles of laundry, and please, call me before you come over so I can brush my teeth and pick up the family room.
These are just a few of the ways I’ve failed as a mom. I could go on and on.
Even though I know from experience that vulnerability is often the way to healing, I’ve been afraid to share about my failures and ignorance with other moms. So often we compare ourselves to others as a way to make ourselves feel better about how great we are, or to beat ourselves over the head with how horrible we are. I didn’t feel like inflating the egos of other mommies with my stories of weakness. What can I say, my competitive side was flaring up a bit. And with all the unsolicited advice you get, sometimes you just don’t want to share with anyone.
You know how so many women once they get pregnant start referring to themselves as a “mama” almost exclusively? I didn’t want to do that. I said it was because mom culture weirded me out, but it was deeper than that. I didn’t want to claim being a “mama” as who I was, because I didn’t want failure to be a part of my identity. And failure seemed to be a theme for me during my motherhood experience.
When I was growing up I liked being identified by things I was good at, and that varied over the years. Whether it was school, soccer, art, or writing, I liked being known as a creative writer, a tough athlete, a bright student, etc. I wanted to be the best at everything I did, and if I didn’t think I had a chance at being competitive, I didn’t even want to try.
When I became a mom, my life changed forever. And for the first time, my identity had bigger implications than my own sense of self and ego issues. If I continued failing at this new role of mommy, I was not only failing myself, but this little girl I love more than life itself. Her life, physical and eternal, is weighing in the balance. If I fail her, I could never forgive myself.
More than my fears about what I ate during my pregnancy and parenting styles, I was worried that I could do something to push her away from Jesus. Jesus, the Savior I wanted her to know so desperately I cried every time I thought about it.
When Lucy was 8 months old, we went to a homeschool conference with my mom. It was one of the first forward-thinking things I had done as a mother, but it was mostly because my mom invited us and it was free for us to go. At the conference Tim and I commented to my mom about how strongly the families and speakers seemed to identify themselves as “homeschoolers.” My mom responded, “Homeschooling is great, but just like anything else when we add it to the gospel, or make it our gospel, it will fail us.”
I have been thinking about what my mom said lately and how it relates to anything we place our identity in, whether that is being a mama, a wife, a writer, a student, or any other career path or hobby.
We look to our identity to give us meaning and purpose in life. When we do that, the things we place our identity in bear the weight of our need for saving. We ask them to be our gospel, whether that’s motherhood, a career, homeschooling, hobbies, etc. But they will come down with a crash when we fail at them or they fail us in our times of deepest need.
Our identity needs to be rooted in something unchanging, something that cannot be taken away. Ultimately motherhood is no more guaranteed than anything else in this world. We may not get to be mothers, we may lose our children through tragedy, and ultimately, our children will grow up and move away from us. What will we be when there are no more mouths to feed and tiny tears to dry?
When the thing we are placing our identity in is lost, we don’t just lose our understanding of ourselves. We are lost, because the thing we’ve been counting on to save us and give us meaning has been taken away.
I was discouraged by the gospel of motherhood, because deep down I knew I needed to be perfect in order for motherhood to give me the meaning and purpose I crave. Thankfully though I know the grace of Jesus. And the gospel of Jesus tells me that its okay that I’m a failure at so many things, even the most important things like being Lucy’s mom, because Jesus came to save failures, not the perfect. He came to save broken moms who wake up in the middle of the night not knowing their right hand from their left. He lets us fail in front of our children, so we can point them to Him, the Redeemer of our brokenness.
Being a perfect mom would never save me and it would never save Lucy. It would be a crime to pretend to be perfect when I know that neither of us will ever be. The best thing I can do as a mom is to root my identity in the One who can save both of us: Jesus.
It is this gospel, this gospel of grace, that we need to share with each other as moms, mommies, and mamas. The gospel that says it doesn’t matter that your baby doesn’t sleep through the night yet or that your child still screams when you say no. The gospel that Jesus is really the One taking care of all of us, and saving us from ourselves.
When Jesus becomes the gospel we share, the truth that gives us meaning, we are spreading the good news of a life that has purpose whether or not you are a mommy. We are more likely to hurt others when our identity is proclaiming a gospel that isn’t for all people, like motherhood. This can protect us from trying to show the world how fulfilled we are as moms, and also from feeling frustrated when we aren’t as fulfilled as we hoped to be. Because we know that Jesus’ gospel is for us and for everyone, no matter what your gender, life stage, or roles happen to be.
Slowly, I’m becoming less afraid of sharing my failures as a mom, wife, writer, or any other roles I currently have. I don’t want to hide behind my broken attempts at perfectionism anymore. Because although these temporary roles are important, my hope is not found in these, but in Jesus, the only One who is perfect and can save us from our failures. His gospel is the one I want to be sharing in all that I do and say.
**Abby lives in Chicago with her husband Tim and daughter Lucy. Their family will grow this April when their baby girl arrives. Abby enjoys bike rides, stories, and french fries. She writes about grace and other spiritual thoughts at her blog, abbyophus.blogspot.com.