Letting Motherhood Challenges Make You Strong
By LESLIE LUDY
What’s the one word that best describes motherhood today? For most moms, the first word that comes to mind is chaos. I’ve spoken with dozens of moms who have used this description to sum up the entirety of their motherhood experience — especially during the early years of child-raising. In her book, The Shaping of a Christian Family, Elisabeth Elliot refers to a cartoon from a Christian magazine that jokingly depicts a chaotic household: “…the mother disheveled and harried, the children wildly out of control, the cat and dog tearing each other’s ears off, the father a helpless spectator.”
Though this cartoon was meant to be humorous and larger-than-life, the scene really isn’t too different than the state of many Christian homes today. And not only has constant chaos in the home become normal and expected, it’s even being applauded and celebrated in many Christian circles. In an effort to encourage mothers of young children who feel frazzled and overwhelmed, many well-meaning Christian voices have offered a message that goes something like this:
“Sure, your life may be in chaos, your kids may be out of control, your marriage may be falling apart, and your home may be a constant disaster…but remember that the chaos is beautiful! Learn to embrace the mess! Chaos is just par for the course when you are a mom!”
As a result of these prevalent ideas, countless mothers have learned to accept, embrace, and even celebrate the chaos in their lives rather than stopping to consider whether God might have something more for their motherhood than one big, continual, overwhelming, chaotic mess.
As I’ve written in previous articles, I am no stranger to motherhood chaos. Eric and I waited ten years before starting a family. And then God blessed us with four kids in four years, with the youngest two only seven months apart and three in diapers at once. Potty training, diaper blowouts, temper tantrums, piles of laundry, and the Mount Everest of all parenting challenges —getting everyone out of the house on time without a meltdown — were normal occurrences in the Ludy home during those years (and sometimes still are!).
In those early years, I remember one particularly chaotic afternoon while I was home by myself with all four kids. One child spilled red paint on the carpet, another had an accident on the hardwood floor, another threw up in her crib, and another had a diaper explosion while (of course) no wipes could be found anywhere in the house. All of this happened in the space of thirty minutes, and I felt like my life was spinning completely out of control. There were many times during those years when I wondered if I’d ever feel on top of my game again.
Though my kids have finally gotten past the diaper blowout stage, now that I have six children ranging from two to nine years old, there are still plenty of moments where life feels far more chaotic than peaceful. I know what it feels like to have a houseful of little voices chattering, shouting, and vying for my attention like a mob of wild monkeys. I am familiar with the endless piles of laundry, the constant discipline challenges, the never-ending frustration of lost socks and sippy cups, and the sleep deprivation that comes with having a household full of young children.
And yet, as I’ve studied God’s pattern for motherhood, I’ve come to the strong conviction that chaos should not be the word that best describes my mothering journey. It’s not that I should expect every day to be a picture-perfect fairy tale and end like an episode of Little House on the Prairie or Leave it to Beaver. But neither should I resign myself to an out-of-control home and family life. God has something more for motherhood than being constantly frazzled and frustrated, and more for our homes that a continual state of disaster. Just why am I so confident on this point? Because Scripture makes it clear that God is a God of order and peace, not chaos and disarray.
Katherine Howard, the mother of Elisabeth Elliot, wrote these insightful words about the importance of order in the home:
“There is a great deal of talk these days about having things ‘unstructured.’ Just how can a Christian make this jibe with such Scriptures as ‘let everything be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor. 14:40) or with a careful study of God’s creation? What would happen to the galaxies if they were unstructured? Certainly there should be order in the home.”
Exchanging chaos for order and peace may feel like an impossible task. But the good news is that it’s not a task we need to accomplish in our own strength or willpower. God Himself is interested in the details of our home and family life. And He alone can equip us to build our households into a reflection of His orderly, peaceful nature.
Remember, embracing God’s pattern for order doesn’t mean we’ll never experience chaos. Rather, it means that we know that God has more for us, and therefore we refuse to accept chaos as the end result of our mothering.
When Chaos Leads to Strength
Often, God will allow temporary chaos into our lives for the purpose of building greater spiritual strength and godly character within us. In my book Set Apart Motherhood, I described one of the most chaotic seasons of my motherhood journey — our first nine months of parenthood. As a newborn, our son Hudson struggled greatly with acid reflux. This meant that he woke up crying about every thirty to forty-five minutes all night long, and the cycle continued for nine long months. As a first-time mother, I was at my wit’s end. I was exhausted, sleep-deprived, and concerned about all of the writing and ministry projects I was falling behind on. Eric and I dearly loved our little boy, but we began to question why God had chosen to give us such a high-needs baby. We read in the Bible that children were meant to bring great strength into their parents’ lives. But it seemed to us that after Hudson was born, it primarily brought weakness, stress and chaos into our lives. One day, however, we began to awaken to a hidden opportunity in the chaotic season we were walking through. As I wrote in Set Apart Motherhood:
Eric and I realized that the difficulty and inconvenience of raising a high-strung baby could either strengthen us or weaken us. It all depended on how we responded to the opportunity God was putting in front of us. Thus far, we’d only focused on the hardship, the lack of sleep, and the frustration of having a child who never seemed to settle down. But now, we began to thank God for the opportunity to be made strong through the new challenges of parenting. We began to stop complaining and instead rejoiced every time we had to wake up in the middle of the night (which was a lot!).
As we embraced the training opportunity God had given us, it was amazing to see what happened. Though you would think the lack of sleep would have weakened us, we actually became stronger. We were able to calmly handle things that used to crush us. Our bodies became disciplined. Instead of our desire for rest controlling us, we were able to respond to the call of God in the morning, even from a dead sleep, instead of yielding to the desire to roll over in bed, grumbling and pulling the covers over our heads. We began to catch a glimpse of what Paul meant when he said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).
If we are willing to rise up and accept the challenge, our kids can make us strong and fit for the battles we are called to fight in this Christian life.
Rather than resigning yourself to chaos and assuming “it will always be this way,” ask God what He desires to teach you through the experience, and how He wants to lead you through the chaos to even greater victory.
1. Thank God
It may seem counter-intuitive, but choosing to thank God for our specific parenting challenges actually makes us stronger spiritually. The Bible tells us, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:18, NIV, emphasis added). When we align with God’s will by giving thanks in difficult circumstances, we will experience His help and faithfulness. And often, He opens our eyes to see the higher purpose that He has for allowing that particular difficulty into our lives. When Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were suffering in a horrible Nazi concentration camp, one of their greatest challenges was an infestation of fleas in their barracks. The constant biting of the fleas was so miserable they could hardly sleep. And yet they chose to thank God for the difficult circumstances they were facing, including the fleas. They weren’t sure why God was allowing the infestation of fleas to continue, but they choose to rejoice and trust Him. Later Corrie and Betsie discovered that because of the fleas, they were able to lead nightly Bible studies and bring many of their fellow prisoners to Christ because the guards refused to come inside their flea-infested barracks.
If you are going through a difficult motherhood challenge, take the time to stop and deliberately thank God for the circumstance you find yourself in. You may not see His master plan right now, but as you choose to agree with His promise that “all things work together for good to those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28, emphasis added), you will soon realize that even during the hard times and chaotic seasons, He has your very best in mind.
2. Press into Him
When seasons of chaos come, it can be tempting to put aside your relationship with Christ and go into “survival mode” until the storm has passed. However, this is like heading into a battle without any weapons or protective armor. The only way to find victory through difficulties is to abide in Christ and remain attached to Him as our source of life and strength. (See John 15:4.) In times of stress or chaos, you will find tremendous strength, courage, joy, and perspective by running to Him, not away from Him. It may not be realistic to have a three-hour prayer session every day, especially during extra-intense seasons of child-raising. But be sure to guard your relationship with Christ and make prayer and time in His Word your highest priority, even if it means losing a little sleep or forgoing some leisure activities. Remember that He alone can give you the strength you need for the battles you are called to fight. Don’t try to coast spiritually during seasons of chaos and struggle. Rather, press into Him all the more until the storm has subsided. If you remain at His feet just as Mary did, you will experience the perfect peace and joy that He promises in His Word, no matter what your outward circumstances may say.
3. Don’t Use Kids as an Excuse for Laziness
As we’ve been discussing, sometimes God allows temporary chaos into our lives for the purpose of teaching us greater dependence upon Him or accomplishing His will in and through our difficult circumstances. But other times, chaos at home is simply a result of our own laziness. I’ve been around many moms who assume that because young children are often messy and unpredictable, it’s okay for them to be messy and unpredictable too. I understand this temptation. There are times when I feel like there is really no sense in even trying to create order, peace, structure, or routine at home because I know that my kids will do everything in their power to work against my efforts in these areas! However, I’ve learned that kids need order and discipline in order to thrive and reach their full potential — just as adults do. For women who naturally shy away from personal discipline, having young kids can become an easy excuse to embrace a sloppy and slothful lifestyle. But if we facilitate chaos in our homes, it will only lead to behavior issues in our kids and relational tension among family members. If you desire greater order and peace in your home life, start by taking a careful and honest look at your own schedule and habits. Are you letting personal and spiritual discipline fall by the wayside? Do you assume that just because you are a mom of young children that you are exempt from God’s command to never be lagging in diligence? (See Romans 12:11.)
Remember that to train your children in the pattern of Christ, you must model it for them through your life and example. Don’t wait for your home and children to somehow magically become orderly on their own (which will never happen, by the way!). Rather, rise up in God’s strength and let the change begin with you. The more you are willing to embrace godly diligence and discipline in your own life, the more you will see the chaos in your home replaced with order and peace. Again, this is not something that should be attempted through sheer willpower or determination. Rather, ask God for the grace to change unhealthy habits and lean on His strength to become strong in areas where you are currently weak. He will be faithful to show you which steps to take and give you the strength to take them.
There are a lot of misconceptions today about motherhood. And one of the biggest is that motherhood can be summarized by the word chaos. Since motherhood was created by a God of order and purpose, it stands to reason that His desire and intent for our mothering role is also one of order and purpose! So the next time you are tempted to throw your hands in the air and jump on the “motherhood is chaos” bandwagon, take a moment to remember the nature of your Heavenly King and ask Him to “make the crooked things straight” in your home and family life (see Isaiah 42:16). It’s a prayer that He delights to answer.