“And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 8:15
“Have you ever counted the number of times they say your name in a day?”
My father-in-law asked me the question one evening after supper. We were gathered around the kitchen table, lingering in the fruits of a woman’s labor, the bonding and sharing of a family meal. The dishes waited patiently while we all got to talking. A forgotten story sparked a dozen forgotten stories, and my children, suddenly forgetting all the manners we’re still working on, began shouting in unison. What followed was a spontaneous showering of pleasantry, an unexpected litany of memory.
“Mom! Remember when it rained so hard there was a river in the backyard!?”
“Mom! Remember when we backpacked through the cornfield together!?”
“Mom! Remember when we ran all the way to the cornfield in the pouring down rain!?”
“Mom! Remember when I threw up at breakfast!?”
I do remember those times, along with many, many more. To answer my father-in-law’s question, I have never stopped to count the number of times my children say my name in a day. I have, however, on too many occasions, stopped to complain about it. For it seems like only yesterday when interruptions were constant and I was hourly needed beyond human ability. Diapers. Food. Clothes. Shelter. There was not enough time, not enough energy for the bare bone basics. They call it survival mode for a very good reason.
Sometimes I imagine myself further along in years. In my daydreams, I’m an old woman watching the sunset from a front-porch rocking chair, thinking back on all the things that truly mattered. What will I regret or I wish I had done differently? What will I be thankful for? My children come to mind, as they often do, and what I always come back to is time. I wish I would have spent, rather than squandered, more time. Then gratitude comes and eradicates guilt, and I am thankful for all the time I was given, for the once-in-a-lifetime joy of being able to live alongside my children during their growing up years.
I am thankful for the memories. When an older woman smiles at the younger women drowning in diapers and toddlers, telling her to enjoy it because it goes by fast, I wonder if this, too, is the place she is coming from. Contrary to the forgetfulness that appears to have taken place in her mind at that moment, she is speaking from the context of memory. She is coming from the place of being farther down the river of time. She no longer has to imagine what it’s like. She’s already been there. She is throwing out a lifeline.
Motherhood isn’t always joyous. It’s been hard, to be sure, though hard seems an insufficient word for the task of those called to hear the name of “Mom!” and hold the honor of mother. On one hand, women are simply doing what we’ve always done, though with the added benefits of electricity, Aldi, and material prosperity. On the other hand, the creatures of nurture and relationships find themselves alone and cut off from the world of one another. Even Ma Ingalls would sympathize with loneliness.
These aren’t the days to deny the reality of your unseen sufferings. Nor are these the days to give up and lose heart. These are the days to practice the holy work of remembering. Keep in mind that practice, in this case, will not make perfect. We want relief from the hard right now. Yet relief right now isn’t always possible. To enjoy doesn’t mean that life will not be hard. In fact, our Lord has guaranteed us that it will. Approaching His cross Jesus said to His disciples, “Look, an hour is coming and has already come when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and you will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33) Joy will not come in growing a thicker skin or a harder heart, but in the keeping of a sober mind (Ephesians 5:18). Weeping may remain for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
You don’t need to wear Saul’s armor. You don’t need to leave the dishes in the sink or run outside and get soaked the next time it rains in order to enjoy your children. Our mothering styles will look different, each tailor-made with a God-given personal touch. Little ones need to be loved. Through it all, dirty dishes will need to be washed, and throw-up sheets will need to be laundered. These chores, these extensions of our love, will need to be done every day, multiple times a day, though there will be seasons of life when it may be years before you’re able to get to them.
The call to enjoy is a call to endure. There are dark moments of motherhood I’d never want to relive, moments I pray my kids never remember. Be alert and aware--it’s easy to become wrapped up in the hardness of our own lives as mothers. Being too wrapped up leads to us becoming trapped. We will endure the chaotic and intense, the painful and lonely. But at the end of the day, that night around the kitchen table, I saw another piece of the mothering puzzle, one we don’t often talk about. There was one name conspicuously absent in all of our remembering that evening—“Dad”.
For all the sacrifices it feels like I’ve made for motherhood, it became ever more evident to me that I am not the only one. Though a mother and father, husband and wife, spend many hours of their hardest working years apart from each other, they really are in this together. All those summers, when the kids were out of school for a few short months, I was free. I was free to walk and talk, to swim and read, to plant and harvest, to backpack through cornfields and play in the rain with my children. I was the one blessed because he was the one sacrificing to provide the food, the clothing, the shelter, and the memories for his wife and children.
A man remains in survival mode for the rest of his life for the good of those he loves.
Remember when he’s home to tell him “Thank you.”
Rebekah Thielen spends her days living life alongside her husband and children. She enjoys reading, homeschooling, and every once in a great while, chasing after the wind.