As you know, I have three kids now. I have officially entered the “more kids than hands” club. Literally for my entire life, as long as I can even remember thinking about my own family when I was a grown-up, I’ve imagined having four kids. I’m almost there! And it is a lot, folks. It is a lot. Huge blessings, and so much love, but so overwhelming a lot of the time.
The main thing that I’ve found to be challenging in making the adjustment is that I feel like I just can’t get a break.
I feel like I have to be “on” 24/7 – always patient, kind, slow to anger, giving and pouring out to someone all the time with no chance to rejuvenate myself. It gets to be a little much! But then I think a little deeper, and I realize that this is no different than it has always been. Before I was married, I felt this way. Married with no kids, same. One kid, same. Two kids, same. And now three kids.
I think we just all feel this way.
I could go on lots of soapboxes about why we don’t get rest. It’s AMERICAN to get no rest – we have to work work work work work until we’re dead to leave large amounts of treasure for our children that moth and rust can destroy (do you hear the irony in my voice?). It’s because of unfair expectations on WOMEN (but, then again, men feel this, too). It’s because there are too many wonderful things to experience on this earth, so we have to go go go go go in order to see everything and do everything (HEEEEEYYYYY – shoutout to my fellow enneagram 7’s, amirite?) so we don’t miss anything. We feel obligated to say “yes” as often as possible so we don’t miss anything and especially so our kids don’t miss anything.
I would become so stressed and overwhelmed at my incredibly long list of responsibilities. Why is the house ALWAYS a mess? How am I supposed to navigate getting three children through this parking lot without one of them getting hit by a car when they always run from me? How am I supposed to write quality lesson plans when I only get 40 minutes a day to do it and I cannot work at home because there is too much to do at home and if I leave the kids unattended for 0.1 seconds they destroy everything within reach (and some things out of reach!)? Taking time to myself seemed selfish because it left Ryan with my huge responsibility list in addition to his own.
A Sabbath? Impossible. Laughable!
A few years ago, Ryan and I read a few different books about eliminating excess in our lives. We did this in the hope that cutting things – choosing “no’s” – would help us get more rest. I was worried during this time. If I keep quitting things, will I let anyone down? If I’m not part of anything, will anybody care about me anymore? We spent lots of time in prayer, and we ended up quitting, like, everything. Funny enough, we didn’t feel any more rested after quitting all of our activities than we had before. But one thing was for sure: we were humbled to see how God kept working in all of those areas where we had been striving and serving without us.
Unlike what we thought about ourselves, we weren’t actually a necessary piece of the puzzle.
I suppose this could be viewed two ways.
1.Since we aren’t necessary pieces of the puzzle, why should we even bother?
2.What a relief that I’m not a necessary piece of the puzzle! Now I can rest in letting God do the work, and I just get to be part of it.
At first, I really leaned toward the first attitude. But praise God – He has taught me how to lean in to the second attitude instead. And in doing that, I am finding, for the first time in many, many years of serving God, that there is a wonderful freedom in finding rest within my work.
It seems paradoxical; I know. But think about it – when you get a night off and you spend it totally scrolling through Netflix or Facebook, do you feel rested? Maybe you think you do – I thought I did. What I found, though, is that I wasn’t resting – I was numbing. I use those things not to rest, but to zone out. I totally check out of my life during that time and live in escapism. It makes life itself more bearable, but there isn’t any filling of my soul.
Lately, God is beginning to teach me to step into His work in freedom and thankfulness. Being a mom is an enormous gift, even when my kids are writing with purple sharpie on my cabinets and spreading fireplace ashes all over the living room. Approaching the opportunity as a gift of praise and a chance to honor the One who gave it to me has completely changed my heart in it. Doing the dishes becomes worship. Thank you, God, for these nice plates and pots and pans. Thank you for the people who loved us enough to give them as gifts for our wedding. Thank you for the little ones who dirtied these dishes. Thank you for the food that we put on these dishes. Thank you for running water and soap to rid of germs.
When I actually think these things while doing the dishes, God renews my heart in my work, and I am filled with a joy that doesn’t come from anything else.
It’s a relief to think of how good God is, and to acknowledge that He is the Guide, the Power, and the Worker.
I’m not trying to devalue a real Sabbath – taking time away from it all to focus on the Lord only. God literally rested from his work on the seventh day, and he commanded us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. That said, I am in a season where it is completely unrealistic for me to get one day a week totally away from everyone, especially while one particular tiny human needs my body for sustenance. Finding myself praying in desperation for my soul to be filled by the LORD in a way that only He can, my Jesus meets me here in smaller moments: time alone with Him in the morning and within the work I must do during the day. I’m so grateful for a God who is with me.
When I was a little girl, I was running in church trying to do something quickly to help my dad. There was an all-glass door going to an alley that led to the children’s area. In my hurry, I pushed the glass of the door instead of the metal frame, and I ran right through it! I was in total shock, unsure of what had just happened, when I realized that my hand really hurt and was bleeding. I had been cut!
My hand was treated with some antibiotic ointment and a bandaid, and it felt better. But a few days later, I noticed that it wasn’t fully healing. It turned out that a small piece of glass was embedded into my palm, and it couldn’t heal while there was still glass in there. While the antibiotic ointment and the bandaid did some to ease the pain, my wound could never heal as long as there was still glass in there.
God has been doing some hardcore work in my life lately. It’s all related to this one, small, seemingly minuscule area in my life. I have this one particular little hurt – like glass in a wound – my thorn, we’ll call it. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what it specifically is, because I know we all have these little thorns that are quite deeply rooted and are impossible to release. We just can’t heal, even with some antibiotic ointment or a bandaid, until the thorn is removed. I am writing this to help myself process the pain of this thorn and to speak about what God is teaching me through this.
IGNORE (Hint: This doesn’t work.)
For a while, the thorn hurt a lot. I didn’t understand it, so I tried ignoring it. Maybe I was just being a baby, and it just wasn’t as serious as I thought, so I just needed to let it go and move on. I spent a long time pretending like it wasn’t even there. The thing is, though, just like a physical injury that gets infected, ignoring it isn’t always the best route. Even without really noticing it, the thorn kept poking into other areas of my life. It infected my feelings about others, my feelings about God, and especially my feelings about myself. Because of this thorn, I started to believe some things.
I truly started to believe that God doesn’t want me to be blessed in this area. He doesn’t want my thorn gone. I still believe this in some ways, and I fight myself every day about it. Even though the bible commands this particular thing should go a certain way, I find myself believing that, for me, it isn’t supposed to happen, and I’m supposed to have to endure this unfair thorn forever. I honestly am still not sure about this one – it is tricky to determine exactly which pains are ones we’re supposed to endure for the end result of faith and perseverance, and which ones are simply a result of the sin in this world. This is one of those where I can’t tell. Or is it both? I’m at a loss. But here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.
I truly started to believe that this thing is hurting me because I’m not a worthy person. I still believe that I have a very annoying personality, and I need to carefully edit each thing I say and do and how I react. I still believe that I should just avoid others because my ugly personality will eventually turn them off of wanting to know me. This is another tricky one – because of sin, there are definitely things that need to be edited in myself. There are parts of me that are unworthy and sinful and just plain bad. I’m not inherently good, and I think scripture makes that pretty clear. But it is a tough thing to determine if this thorn is based on how I’m sinful or if it’s based on something I need to learn about God. Or maybe it’s also both? I just can’t tell, so here I sit in this thorn, just always slightly uncomfortable because of the pain it causes.
REPLACE (Hint: This is a much better plan.)
When I started to see how this tiny pain was creating much more significant wounds in other areas, I tried to go another route. The medicine route, I call it. I tried to see the truth past the hurt – the definite truth that doesn’t change based on the sin of the world. I tried exchanging my sorrow for the joy of the Lord – focusing on blessings and thankfulness and peace instead. I tried listing all the provision of God in my life and praising him for it. I tried spending time with him everyday, starting and finishing my day with his greatness in my mind. I tried thinking of how worthy and sinless and perfect He is, and how worth it it’ll be to trade everything else for Him. He is the only important thing, so a little thorn just doesn’t matter that much.
I think this is all true. Some real wisdom and maturity has come into my life since I started doing this method instead of the “ignore it” method. The times of joy are certainly outweighing the sorrow now – the despairing moments from the ache of the thorn are much fewer and far between. The discomfort of the thorn reminds me of my Jesus and what he has done for me, so I’m *almost* glad for it.
WHAT ABOUT THE TIMES WHEN REPLACING IT DOESN’T WORK?
But then little things happen that stinkin’ thorn really starts to nag, and that makes me come to terms with something more awful now. I’m realizing that I am clinging to my thorn, and I don’t want it to go away. Not sweetly because it reminds me of my Jesus, but like a toddler who doesn’t want to change his bandaid! I don’t want it to go away until there is justice. I don’t know how to lay it at the altar. The ugliest, dirtiest part of my sin comes out as I face this demon:
I think I’m right in this situation. I think there has been injustice here, and the deepest parts of me want to see that justice come to fruition. I want to see others experience this thorn that I’m experiencing. I so badly want other people to feel and understand just how painful my thorn is, even if that means they have to experience the thorn, too. I also deeply, deeply feel that I don’t deserve to have to go through this. Talking as a fool, my soul says, “Haven’t I been through enough, going through suffering in the name of Jesus just by the family I was born into and their service to the Lord? Hasn’t it been enough to be pulled around the country my whole childhood, never making roots, never having deep connections, always dealing with the drama of sinful church-goers, suffering the consequences of other people’s sin and selfishness my whole life even during my more innocent childhood? Hasn’t it been enough to experience great heartache through losses of friends and family members without any shoulders to cry on because we’ve had to be the rock of faith in these times? Hasn’t it been enough to have been shunned and pushed aside constantly by those who claim to be believers or to have true believers put up walls because they’re afraid of what I’ll report to the church hierarchy? Hasn’t it been enough to be in second place in absolutely every area that I show any promise in? Even in my great, undeniable, incredibly privileged life, haven’t I suffered enough that I shouldn’t need this thorn, too?” I’m so embarrassed that I feel this way. I’m ashamed that my soul is so ugly. I see the irony in my words – the ridiculousness that I even consider my life to be hard at all. But I truly, deeply feel these poisonous thoughts – and many more than these listed.
Even deeper than that, I want so incredibly badly for my pain to be healed the way I want it to be healed, but it will not be. That’s the twist of the knife. I’m never going to get what I want in this. It is never going to happen. Never. I will likely live another 50-65 years on this earth without this ending the way I want it to. It is an enormous struggle to figure out whether I’m supposed to keep fervently praying for the result I want or just give up. The bible teaches both sides of this – fervent prayer for our wants and also total surrender. The easy answer is that we’re supposed to fervently pray for what we want but also be totally cool with never getting it. Yeah, that’s the truth, but that is not easy at all. When something is the deepest, aching-est, most inner-circle desire of your heart, it isn’t so easy as just praying the thorn away.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33:
“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”
I think it’s fair to say that Paul went through a bit more than me. But then he goes on at the beginning of chapter 12 to talk about a vision that he saw. He knows that the vision was a great one, and something that he could certainly be very proud about having. And then in the middle of verse 7:
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When I read this, I always get a little annoyed for Paul. I feel like it isn’t right that he had to go through all that stuff mentioned in chapter 11 just to turn around and still get a thorn in his flesh that nagged him, too. I can’t help but notice, though, that he says, “to keep me from becoming conceited.” It does make sense that one might want to brag about all the pain they’ve experienced in Jesus’s name. I certainly feel that pull! Look what I literally just did in the above paragraph, where I listed all the things that I feel are unjust about my life! Even after all that pain, Paul still needed a thorn to put him in his place. I certainly do, too.
God didn’t take away the thorn! God’s answer, after three days of torment, was that his grace was enough. I know this is what God is trying to teach me with my thorn, too. His grace is enough. I should delight in these things I experience because my weaknesses point to Christ’s strength. It’s about Him, anyway. His strength is what matters. His name is what matters.
BUT THAT SUCKS and is very hard to come to terms with because of my sinful pride, and it makes me mad. Again, I’m ashamed that I feel this way. I don’t want to admit it. But I bet you feel this, too, somewhere, and it might help you to see that someone else feels the ache of injustice in all of the mess that is this world. The great humility that it takes to be okay with God’s way when everything seems so messed up is something I haven’t figured out yet, which is why I know I need it.
Oh teach me, dear Teacher, to embrace my thorn. Teach me to thank you for my thorn. Teach me to dwell in the glory of your power instead of mine. Teach me to dismiss my need for justice and take on gratitude that I have your grace. You holy, all-knowing, compassionate, wonderful Father – help me to see your grace in this thorn. Help me figure out how to lay it at your feet. In your incredible joy, allow me to release my grief. In your all-consuming peace, allow me to release my anger. In your unending mercy, allow me to embrace my thorn.
We had to pull that piece of glass out of my hand that was stuck there. I remember that it hurt a whole lot. Now, when I look at my hand, I can’t even see the scar from where it was. There is no residual pain from the wound. It’s just a fond memory of my silly hurriedness. Thank you, Jesus, for heaven, where all of our thorns will be gone, healed perfectly by Jehovah Rapha, as we stand with new bodies in your presence. You are so good.
Fun fact about me: for a long, long time, I hated my personality.
I knew I hated myself from the time I was about 12, when I desperately wanted to be liked by a certain group of people at school who found me less than desirable. I had a crush on a cute boy in 7th grade who really acted like a jerk, and he and the other two girls in our science group shattered my heart by speaking into things that they didn’t like about me. Looking back as an adult, I want to roll my eyes at myself – I was truly scarred and devastated by them saying things like “your hair looks like a rat’s nest – do you even wash it?” and “you have really ugly handwriting – maybe *Name of Pretty Girl* should write for our group” and “why would you even go to the dance? You can’t dance.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, those things are mean, but they aren’t earth-shattering. But to me, with this group of well-liked people who were good-looking telling me these things, I am a worthless person. And the only way I can become worthwhile is to change everything about myself that makes me unlikable.
So I did. Unfortunately, it didn’t work how I imagined. I worked very hard on my appearance, taking hours and hours to tame my wild mane and to improve my ugly handwriting. I worked extremely hard at school to show I was smart enough, and I spent hours practicing music so that everyone would acknowledge my talents and skills. I practiced cracking jokes and making witty comments so that I could be “the hilarious one.” I fed off people’s approval, positive attention, praise, and amusement – it was a drug to me. Still, very rarely did I feel like I really fit anywhere. And I just never felt good enough. I think people can almost smell desperation in a person, and it is a very off-putting scent. In my striving to be good enough in every way, I was inadvertently turning people off.
At the end of my freshman year of college, someone I dearly love and greatly respect gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “When I first met you, I really didn’t care for your abrasive, pushy personality. But when I got used to you, I learned to really love you. You’ve taught me more than I could ever teach you.” I’ll never forget the sting of that moment. The person was truly trying to tell me that she learned a lot from me and that she loved me now – I am convinced that it was said with the best of intentions – but what I heard was “you are abrasive and pushy” and “you take some getting used to.” It dawned on me then that my problem – the reason I was so unlikeable – was because of my personality. It all made sense!
I started to regularly tell myself some things, then. My high school dating relationships ended because I have a terrible personality. I couldn’t make long-term close friendships with the people I wanted because I have a terrible personality. People didn’t want me to be their leader because I have a terrible personality. It doesn’t matter if I have a lot of musical talent or leadership skills or book-smarts – I have a terrible personality. I am pushy. I am bossy. I am abrasive. I am a know-it-all. I’m conceited and arrogant about my skills. I bother people. I am irritating to be around. If I can just change everything about myself, then I’ll be good to go.
After this “epiphany,” every choice I made for at least the next 3 years was based on this mindset. In my mind, everything that happened to me – everything I felt was an injustice – was because of my terrible personality. My sophomore year, a teacher pulled me out of class and told me that I was going to be a terrible music teacher and he thought I should consider a different career path. I can’t specifically remember his reasoning, but I knew that it was because of my terrible personality. My junior year, the Dean of the School of Music called me into his office to tell me that I wasn’t going to be making OneVoice that year (this was the top jazz ensemble, and I had made it the previous year. It was pretty uncommon to be “kicked out”). He said it was because my voice just didn’t fit what he was going for, but I was sure it was because of my terrible personality. (I handled that really professionally in the moment, but then I lashed out by randomly getting my first tattoo that afternoon!) I remember on the China trip we voted for officers for University Choir for our senior year. I was so incredibly nervous about my speech because I wanted to be an officer so bad that I couldn’t eat a bite of the amazing Peking duck we were having at the fancy restaurant in Beijing. When I wasn’t elected for either office, I was sure it was because of my terrible personality.
You see, when you start repeating a phrase to yourself in lots of different situations, you stop analyzing and doubting whether or not it is true, and you just accept it as truth. So my truth was that I have a terrible personality. I deeply, deeply believed this to be true. I am just a terrible person, and I will never be any different because this is just the way I am. I want to be different, and I wish I was different, but it is really just hopeless.
The real problem was this: I may have had some traits that were unlikable and unattractive, but I was chalking it up to just having a terrible personality. I hated my whole self because there were a few unwanted parts of myself. The enemy twisted the truth into a perversion of what was actually there, which ended up making it worse instead of better. That’s what he does.
He makes fibs or slight lies seem like paramount truths.
I wonder how many people reading this have a phrase like this for themselves – what do you believe so strongly about yourself that you take it to be as true as Holy Scripture? Have you thought lately about whether or not it is actually true?
About two years ago, a person sat down to discuss this with me. This was a person who I had experienced some serious ups and downs with over five years before that moment – a person with whom I had learned the true meaning of God’s kind of forgiveness. At the time when we sat down to discuss it, we were just beginning to mend our friendship from the awful brokenness we had experienced before. I don’t need to go into that whole story, but I wanted to take a second to point out that it is interesting who God used to teach me this life-changing lesson – someone I had really had some brokenness with. I am amazed by God’s work – the conversation could have easily gone so differently because of the still-healing wounds with this person, but it didn’t. God allowed us both to have thoughtful, sensitive, open hearts as we discussed my deepest wound.
Anyway, this person said to me, “Melody, are you holding it against God that he made you the way he did?” I was struck to the core. I had never even realized that I was holding it against God. I thought it was mean of God, even wrong of God, to make me the way that he did. If he had just given me a different personality, I could do His work so much better!
I, the painting, nitpicking the Painter for each brushstroke.
I, the pot, criticizing the Potter.
I, the music, criticizing the Composer.
I, the creature, criticizing the Creator.
What place do I have, as a created one, to criticize the Uncreated One for His work?
According to Genesis 1:26-27 and 31, I am made in the image of God, and God says that what he created is good. God took the time to make me – exactly me – and he says I am made in his image, which means there is some part of himself in me. And the ultimate Critic – the only One remotely worthy of scrutinizing the work – says His creation is good. According to Ephesians 2:10, I am God’s worksmanship – or in other translations, God’s masterpiece, poem, artwork. According to Romans 1:20, God’s creation makes it clear how incredible, powerful, and majestic he is, to the point where humans have no excuse but to believe God because of his creation. That’s me! (AND YOU!) We are so valuable that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen BECAUSE WE EXIST.
I am still trying to work through what it even means that I am supposed to be who I am. I don’t even know who I am! Am I bossy and strong and loud and silly because God made me that way, or did I become that way because of how I was treated in life? And what can be said of the influence of sin? Obviously, God doesn’t call me to be a conceited know-it-all! In Philippians 2, we are taught clear principals about putting others higher than ourselves just as Jesus did, being so humble that he succumbed to death on a cross – the ultimate humiliation. Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of God is backwards from man – the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That means that some of these areas where I’m not like Christ need to be edited. I shouldn’t make myself the center of everything. I shouldn’t be striving for the approval of people. These tendencies need to be edited; God can work in my life to make me more like Christ. Praise God that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – he takes us exactly as we are, warts and all, but then he teaches us to get better. He’s still working, and he isn’t finished yet (Philippians 1:6). He began a good work in me when I surrendered my life to him, and he is still completing that work until the day of Christ. Praise God, who knows what he is doing!
The difference, though, in acknowledging my sin vs. thinking I have a terrible personality is the hope that accompanies it. When I spent all my time thinking about how much I hated the way God made me, I was hopeless that I would never change. When I embrace the gifts that God gave me and I surrender the sinful parts of myself to him, he uses them all for his glory! God has done and continues to do amazing work in my life to soften those unattractive traits I have. I am truly not who I was, but my entire personality didn’t change, either. I can clearly see the fruit in my life of God’s work, and it makes me so grateful to Him!
Most importantly, we are masterpieces. Do you know that you are a masterpiece? Do you know that the God of the entire universe thought it was important enough to make a “You?” I deeply believe that there is something you can offer this world that nobody else ever in existence could offer. I believe it because I think if you were the same as anyone else ever, God wouldn’t have bothered. There is such order, such purpose in what he created.
When God started to show me who I am in him – that I am a masterpiece, created for a purpose, created in His image, and so, so, so, SO loved by Him, it was so relaxing. What joy to rest perfectly and contentedly in God’s love for me!
I have a 6 week old baby, and she doesn’t strive. Not at all. Not for anything. She just is. There is no pretense to her actions. Totally dependent on us to care for her, content to see and look around, still learning and growing and changing every day – she just is.
There is something to be said of us taking ourselves on as a newborn, totally dependent on our Creator for our care.
When I was a baby and small child, my mom used to sing a version of Sandi Patty’s song “Masterpiece” to me.
“Before you had a name or opened up your eyes,
Or anyone could recognize your face.
You were being formed so delicate in size
Secluded in God’s safe and hidden place.
With your little tiny hands and
Little tiny feet
And little eyes that shimmer like a pearl.
He breathed in you a song and to make it all complete
He brought the masterpiece into the world.
And now you’re growing up
Your life’s a miracle.
Every time I look at you,
I stand in awe.
Because I see in you
a reflection of me
and you’ll always be my little [gift] from God.
And as your life goes on each day
how I pray that you will see
just how much your life has meant to me.
And I’m so [thankful for] you
what else is there to say
just be the masterpiece He created you to be.
You are a masterpiece.
A new creation he has formed
and you’re as soft and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given
you to me,
Little [gift from] God,
You are a Masterpiece.