She sat rocking her tiny infant – her third child in four years – to sleep in the carrier with her foot. She sat silently looking at her hands while the rest of us gabbed about ourselves. Then, one of our group asked her, “How is life for you now as a mom of three?”
Let’s first get something straight: she’s a doctor. Like, not even joking. A beautiful soul with a giant heart, she will save lives like a brilliant superhero, every day, for the rest of her career. But she has taken a few years off to have babies. So, she will be a doctor while I will be mixing too many bread crumbs into my meatloaf, and stealing time from my sleep to type into my trusty red Chromebook. I guess we all have our place.
“It’s been a hard week,” she confided. “I’ve been having a hard time with the boys. My middle child just knows how to push alllll of my buttons.” We half smiled and nodded, thinking about our own ‘middle children.’ She continued, “I found myself punishing him all the time. When my husband came home, he found me crying. Shame and guilt about how I treated my kid just got to me. I’m SO not even close to being a perfect mom.” She wiped the tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath. Tears stung my own eyes as I recognized that shame. She interrupted my thoughts, “But God has shown me a glimpse of how big his grace is. And, oh my word. His grace for me is sooooo huge.”
Motherhood has this funny little hidden mechanism built into its system: It flips a switch and within seconds, you see what barbaric reactions of which you are capable. After cleaning up four full cups of milk spilled into the carpet before noon, we have very reasonable reactions to very unreasonable circumstances. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. Angry indignance throws back its head and roars. Our mama bear instinct of protecting our cubs, suddenly turns on them instead. These little, helpless people become the object of our very grown-up wrath.
It’s bad. We are bad.
This realization brings us to our knees. It takes the polite worldview of being a “generally good person,” and shakes it by the neck like a dog. Motherhood shows us the end of our good, and lets us gaze into the glacial chasm of our bad. We see that we are, in fact, capable of terrible things. When we mistreat our husbands, we justify and blame, as he is himself supposed to be a responsible, conscientious adult. But when we mistreat our kids, blaming them seems hollow and flimsy. Nobody must know about it. Shame seals our mouths shut, because we just looked into the depths of our souls and saw ourselves unworthy of love. Which no one must ever know about.
This is the paycheck of death we get for our hard day’s work of sin. We try not to cash it and pretend to be rich in perfection and justification.
“For the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
This is the moment where we either justify and excuse our depravity, or we crumble under the weight of our sins, balling up into depression, or worse. This is the tipping point, when nothing but a reversal of gravity itself would break our free fall into the pit.
Enter Jesus: the stand-in for our worst moments as a mom.
He was punished as if Jesus himself grabbed his toddler by the wrist and flung him on the bed like a doll for a violent “time out.” He suffered the consequences as if he berated his own preschooler for being an emotional mess at bedtime after an exhausting day of “enriching activities.” Lord help us. He took our rightful punishment, and gave us forgiveness and grace in its stead.
Putting specific legs to the redemptive power of the cross is what made me fall in love with Jesus all over again as a mom. His grace really is the reversal of gravity itself.
That day, I saw something in her eyes when she spoke of God’s grace. A relief. A softness. She called on Jesus, and the weirdest thing happened: she began to react differently to her children. She saw her worst, and Jesus met her there. Without shame clogging up her pipes, Jesus co-parented with her with enough grace and love to go around for everyone in her family. He does this for each of us. Daily. I’ve never seen the gospel come alive so often to me as in these little years of young motherhood. It’s a horror to be crushed, and a miracle to be saved by his good grace, time and again.