Last week, I was catching up with a friend over text.
(A theme, it seems: though I much prefer to chat in person–on a walk, perhaps, or with something warm to drink–texting is more manageable these days. I’m working on doing what I can, when I can.)
We shared some of what was happening in our worlds. She commiserated with me on our lack of sleep and asked if there was anything she could do to help.
“Honestly,” I told her, “what I need most right now is to get good sleep . . . and I don’t see a way for that to happen without Emmeline figuring out sleep. We’re working toward it, and I’m hopeful, and somehow, God is sustaining me in the hardest days (but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, to be honest!)”
I have to admit, even with the parenthetical caveat, I hesitated over that last statement for a few moments before I hit send. I wasn’t sure if it was really true.
A few weeks ago, I had one of those moments that remind me I am, in no way, in the running for Mom of the Year.
Emmeline, as she is wont to do, startled herself awake from her first nap of the day abruptly and loudly, after a mere half hour in her crib. Before I went in to try to soothe her back to sleep, I ensured each of her siblings had something to keep them busy and I reminded them to be quiet.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” I told them, “so that I can help her settle back down quickly.”
Twenty minutes later, Emmeline’s eyes were in that half-closed-I’ve-just-about-given-up-but-don’t-want-to-admit-it state. I was, I was sure, seconds away from being able to sneak back out to the older three.
(You can see where this is going, can’t you?)
At that precise minute, right when I was about to declare victory, a storm erupted in the hallway. There was shrieking and yelling and crying, loud enough to wake the dead.
Emmeline’s eyes flew open. At her first wail, the older three fell silent, knowing.
Still, I stormed out into the hall. “Do you know how much of my life I spend trying to get your sister to sleep?” I hissed, ignoring their chagrined faces. I let them know exactly how they had failed and pointed an angry finger in the direction of their room, before retreating, fuming, to the nursery.
Like I said, not one of my top ten parenting moments.
When things are hard (and even when they’re not), I know what my faith tells me I’m supposed to do. When I’m short on sleep and shorter on patience (and also when I think I have it all together), when I feel like I have less than nothing left to give (and also when I have an abundance of time and energy), when meeting the needs of my family is the last thing I want to do (and also when it’s pure joy), I’m supposed to run to Him, to turn to Him, to seek His Spirit, His help, His strength.
Instead, I’m more likely to try to power through, to do it on my own.
This isn’t necessarily out of an overinflated view of my own abilities (though I’m sure my ego doesn’t help). Rather, it comes from a kind of spiritual amnesia. I settle into default mode, doing my thing, living on autopilot.
As silly as it sounds, I don’t turn to God because I forget. I forget to ask.
You want to know something crazy?
While I was holed up in the nursery, shushing both a crying baby and a certain still small voice, my two big girls were in their room, where I had banished them, writing notes to me.
Not long after my less-than-exemplary performance in the hallway, they slid the results of their work under the door to Emmeline’s room. I let those notes sit there for a few minutes, untouched, on the floor. I’d been on the receiving end of some angry missives from my kids in the past. Lord knows I deserved their ire this time.
But when I finally picked them up, I found something else instead, something that broke me far more than hateful words ever could have.
Scrawled hearts and flowers.
A mint: a most treasured and horded item.
Words: “I’m sorry.” “We love you Mom.”
Kindness. Grace. Love. On some scraps of notebook paper and a handful of post-it notes.
It’s easy to turn the good habits of a walk with God into some sort of performance metric.
If only I read my bible more, if only I prayed more, if only I turned to Him more often instead of trying to power through on my own, then He would show up. He would sustain me. He would give me what I need to respond with kindness, to be patient, to make it through a difficult season with poise and grace.
And, of course, there’s some truth to this way of thinking. The closer I am to Him, the more His fruit will be evident in my life. The better habits I build, the more in tune I can be to His prompting and guiding.
I hesitated to tell my friend that God has been sustaining me, because in my heart-of-hearts, I don’t think I’ve earned the right to claim such a thing. My walk is faltering, my habits piecemeal and sporadic (especially right now). I lose my temper. I get discouraged. I blow it.
And yet, in the end, it doesn’t depend on me, does it?
As I walk this slow, deliberate, difficult path of sanctification, I wonder whether God’s help looks less like a way to always get it right and more like a loving call to repentance when I fail. I wonder whether He shows up, yes, when I seek Him, but also when I forget to look His way. I wonder whether He speaks not only in the still, small voice in my heart but also in the kindness and forgiveness shown to me by my kids.
Has God been sustaining me over the past six months (and, indeed, throughout my life)?
Yes, by His grace, He has.