“This job [of motherhood] has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.”
― Elisabeth Elliot
“Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him.”
We are making our way through this paragraph by Elisabeth Elliott. Today, it’s all about attitude.
When the children were small there was a saying that I recited often to the children when something I wanted done was met with resistance. I would tell them, “Do what I ask of you, ‘all the way, right away, and the happy way’”, and I would hold up three fingers as a reminder. If their response to my command didn’t meet these three criteria, then their response wasn’t fully obedient and they would have to do the task over. You see, obedience was more to me than just their robotic compliance, it was also about their heart. When the kids got older, and they would complain about a task they were given, I only needed to hold up three fingers for them to understand my meaning.
In the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah we find that the Israelites didn’t always abide follow this Rule of Three either. They were bringing to God the sacrifices and offerings required of them, but their hearts weren’t in the right place and God knew it. The Lord told them, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.” The Israelites were obeying God’s commands, but their hearts were elsewhere. To God this was meaningless obedience.
In the same way, if we mothers stay home to be with our children, or home school our children, or nurture our children because it looks good, or because we feel it is our duty, or because we feel it is what God requires of us, but we grumble all the while, then, like the Israelites, our offering of motherhood will be meaningless to God (and our children!). But if we offer ourselves up gladly before the Lord, the fragrance of that offering will be pleasing (one translation even used the word “soothing”) to the Lord.
When the children were little I would frequently sit down in our family room chair to nurse or rock a baby to sleep. I was often disheveled, unshowered, and unlovely. My shirt smelled of regurgitated breast milk. My floor was covered – and I mean covered, thanks to my two-year old – with every toy we owned. (Sometimes I think she purposefully tried to scatter her books and toys as widely and thoroughly as she could just to irritate me). The dishes in the sink were multiplying like fungus and the laundry was spilling out of the laundry room.
I had little to offer the Lord in those moments. I was crabby. I felt ugly. I felt under appreciated. The somewhat tidy house of a half an hour ago was long gone. We had just finished eating breakfast and already the children were clamoring for lunch. Resentful, I wanted to get up and yell and shut everyone in their rooms in order to have a small moment of peace. “My life feels utterly trampled upon by these children!” I would sometimes rancorously think. And though I knew the right thing to do was to finish my nursing or rocking, then get up and start lunch, do another load of laundry, and wipe another runny nose – I was willing to be obedient in what God was asking of me – I was also quite content to sport some hefty resentment over my situation, like a child with a newly skinned knee who shows off his injury for pity. Sure, I would do what needed done, but I wasn’t always happy about it. And God knows that kind of attitude is not the best way to handle a task. My resentful obedience meant I had a grumpy manner, which affected my heart and my children’s heart, and it pretty much went downhill from there.
Over time I learned the importance of looking at the situation the “happy way” (probably while I was holding up three fingers at my children). Admittedly, I didn’t always give my offerings happily; sometimes I royally blew it. But sometimes, when I would feel overwhelmed or resentful, I would stop and thoughtfully assess my situation. I would survey the mess of toys on the floor and thank God for our “abundance” of entertainment. Our children were certainly not lacking in amusements! I would examine the spit-up stains on my shirt and remind myself of the privilege to be able to stay home and nurse that beautiful baby that put them there. I would gaze at the food-encrusted dishes in the sink and thank God for the food on our plates and in our cabinets, that all our physical needs were met and exceeded for that day. I would meditate on the tremendous importance of my job as mother and think about the long-term rather than the right-in-front-of-me. I would sometimes even imagine placing my messy house and messy life on God’s altar, and somehow that sacrificial imagery would still my resentful soul. Basically, I learned to take the focus off myself and put it on God. It is amazing how that change in perspective improved my assessment of the situation! Dirty dishes didn’t seem so bothersome, stained shirts didn’t seem so embarrassing, and a cluttered floor meant ABUNDANT life was happening under my roof! I was starting to obey what God was asking of me in a “happy way”, and my obedience to Him felt much more satisfying and rich.
Moms, I know you are busy. You are crazy, crazy busy! This season of life with little ones is so extremely exhausting. But if you sometimes find resentment rising in your heart toward the job of motherhood, first know you’re not alone, then take a step back to look at the big picture – contemplate the awesomeness of what God is calling you to do – then give your offering to God, gladly.