I remember a day 3 years ago when I had just dropped my 15 month old son off at daycare and returned home to prepare for my afternoon of teaching in my Grade 2 classroom. The next hour of my day was more precious than gold to me. It was squeezed in-between the busyness of a morning spent with my toddler and a loud afternoon with 6 and 7 year olds. This hour was my gift of solitude, of peace and quiet.
On this particular day I was feeling slightly guilty that, with the school year just starting, I had been too busy and occupied to plan suppers. Most nights that week I had resorted to scrambling some eggs and calling it dinner. I wanted this night to be different, so instead of relaxing at home before work I dashed to the grocery store to grab the ingredients for a Moroccan chicken recipe I’d recently discovered. I even splurged on the organic apricot puree and the certified humane chicken thighs the recipe suggested buying.
My last few minutes at home were spent browning the thighs and preparing the sauce. After plopping everything in the slow cooker I arrived at work just as my boisterous students were pouring into the school after their lunch break. All I could think about was how nice it would be to sit down to a hot meal with my family at the end of the day.
After a long and tiring afternoon I picked my son up from daycare and drove home feeling like a weight had lifted from my shoulders. We could spend the next hour playing on the floor together instead of him watching me frantically race around the kitchen trying to concoct a meal.
At suppertime I scurried to the kitchen to check on the dinner. The delicious aroma I expected to greet me was not there, however, nor was the sound of food bubbling and sizzling away in the pot. When I lifted the lid what I saw instead were my 2 pounds of organic chicken thighs, still entirely raw, sitting in a bath of cold tomato sauce. There they had sat for the past 5 hours.
To my dismay I realized that my slow cooker was plugged into a dead outlet. Though I had turned the dial to “on” the pot had remained off all afternoon. After a desperate Google search on how long raw chicken can sit at room temperature, the whole batch went into the garbage.
Scrambled eggs it was, yet again.
This memory reminds me of the unbounded grace we need to have for ourselves as mothers. Whether working full-time, part-time, or stay-at-home, the challenges will always be there. We so badly want to be enough, heck we try to be more than enough. Guilt creeps up on us from every direction and if we don’t have grace as a Holy shield to protect us, guilt can wear us down. Guilt can make us crumble.
No one would say they want to crumble, but I know I have allowed guilt and self-criticism and jealousy erode me when I should’ve stood strong. I’ve messed up and lost my patience and my tongue. I have not been the mother I desire to be on many occasions.
Anne Lamott writes that “Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking.”
With two ever-growing, every-changing boys under my heels, I can relate to the feeling of drowning. I try and be strong but the more I try the more I realize how weak I am. The harder I focus on being good the more I realize the overpowering darkness that is my human nature.
Romans 3:23 reminds us that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standards.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s version of this truth is powerful. He writes that “since we…have proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he puts us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.”
Just recently my 4 year old and I were having a day of arguments. Right when I thought we had made it through the worst part, another disagreement would ensue. On days like these I can feel helpless and discouraged to say the least. My sin is staring me directly in the face, I can see it for the terrible thing that it is, yet I can’t shake it away. Eventually I picked my son up in my arms and said that we needed to pray for Jesus to help us love each other better. We desperately needed help to make better choices. He listened as I said a short prayer for the two of us, tears welling in both of our eyes.
For we all have sinned. We all fall short.
There is no way around our mistakes, but there is a way through. We have grace that is our power to keep us afloat. Even when it feels like we are grasping for air, God’s grace will not let us sink. And when we accept that grace, and let it carry us through even just one more day, may we remember that the source of this gift is Love itself. God would not pour down grace if He did not have deep compassion for us. In the same way, we need to grow in our self-compassion if we are to show ourselves this same grace.
If this Mother’s Day is finding you feeling more beat up and burned out than celebratory, know there is grace for you, and a perfect strength available to you outside of your own attempts. Find it in your heart to forgive yourself, because you are worthy. You have not been called to walk in shame and disappointment. How do I know this? Because I am believing this wholeheartedly for myself, too. I know I can do better, and I know there is a way. I know we are meant for more, both you and me.
We are all imperfect. Slow cookers will fail us and so will our tempers. Thankfully, that is not where our stories have to end.
The water wings of grace are here for us in any moment, ready to carry us onward.