The Resilient Mother: How We Bend Without Breaking

Along the wooded trail behind my home, a birch tree arches in a graceful curve as it stretches across the pathway. It’s a veteran of a good many northern New England ice storms and knows what it is to bow low under a weight of snow and frozen rain. Even though its tip-top branches have bent to mere feet above the frozen ground, it has not broken under its load. Today, with the remnants of broken maples and oaks all around, it stands, and my imagination construes a doorway as I walk the path beneath its welcome.

James labels this brand of gritty perseverance as steadfastness in the life of a believer. He’s writing to Christians who have felt the icy blast of persecution, resulting in “trials of various kinds,” and he urges them to cooperate with God’s bending and shaping methods embedded in those trials (James 1:2–3).

God works the sanctifying miracle of becoming “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” according to his own wise design, and for me, mothering four rowdy sons (who have grown into godly men) has been the force God has used to produce the bent-birch resilience I long for. Two vital components of my Christ-following life have been involved as God works in me to “let steadfastness have its full effect” (James 1:4).

Theology Empowers Resilient Moms

When mothers are brittle and fragile, we snap, and the sharp edges of our breaking wound our families and leave us full of regret. Perseverance in strong habits of holiness keeps us connected with God’s word and rooted in what is true about God’s character. He’s in control. He’s good. He’s never taken by surprise.

Good theology enables moms to interpret our circumstances according to what we know and believe about God instead of drawing false conclusions about God based on our circumstances. The understanding that God is as near to us as our next breath, and that his motives toward us are absolutely pure, comes from immersion in God’s self-revelation.

Of course, we can claim the huge and generous promises of Scripture only if we know them. God has said he will “keep [us] in perfect peace” when we fix our minds on him (Isaiah 26:3). He has said his “grace is sufficient” and his “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s promises of faithfulness to his much-loved children are the foundation for our own steadfast faith. He promises to use Scripture to encourage and sustain us, but we cannot claim what we do not know (Psalm 19:7–9).

Furthermore, a right understanding of God’s nature and character yields a right understanding of my own value and identity. If I am not defined by an impressive job title or a flashy résumé (or by the lack of it), I can bend to perform the lowliest tasks without complaining. Like Christ, I can take up the basin and the towel and serve others without being (or feeling) diminished.

I’m inspired by the example of pioneer missionary Amy Carmichael. She left a role she loved — traveling throughout India with a team of itinerant evangelists — when God called her to establish an orphanage for children who were being trafficked. In her new role as “mother” to hundreds of children at a time, she washed diapers by hand, mixed baby formulas, and over the course of her career must have clipped thousands of tiny fingernails and toenails.

The way we think about the work of motherhood shapes the hope we bring to each day’s workload, and it is crucial to our ability to overcome discouragement. When I was hanging little socks and, eventually, very big socks on the clothesline, I put my mind to the business of praying for the boys who would wear those socks to rags.

“God is the first and best Homemaker. Therefore, homemaking is holy work.”

When I wondered if I would survive the monotony of homeschooling and housework, I tried (imperfectly) to remember that I was creating a home and a life for the people I love. God is the first and best Homemaker. Therefore, homemaking is holy work.

Good theology also schools resilient moms in the truth that there’s a time to bend and there’s a time to persevere, unbending, in the face of temptation or the lure of false teaching. We are “elect exiles,” immersed in a hostile society that invites us to bend the knee to its false gods (1 Peter 1:1). The Spirit of God travels with us, imparting wisdom for life and assuring us that resilient mothering may wear a different look every day.

On one particularly hard mothering morning, the baby was cranky, the toddler was fractious, and my two homeschooled students seemed determined to squander their opportunity to receive a solid Christian education. Then the phone rang. My friend Susan was calling with a quick question about something at church. I answered her question, and we said goodbye.

Seconds after I hung up, the phone rang again. Susan had been prompted by the Holy Spirit to check on me, and I’m not proud of the conversation that followed.

Susan [warmly concerned and following Christ’s command to love her neighbor]: “Are you okay? I thought I heard something in your voice just now. I’m wondering if there’s anything I can do to help.”

Michele [embarrassed and lying to preserve the appearance of competence]: “Thank you so much for your concern. [Using my best, pulled-together church-lady voice] I’m actually fine — but I sure appreciate your checking on me.”

Choosing to soldier on alone, I forfeited the gift of community.

My friend was a seasoned mother of four who could have spoken wisdom to my tired soul. Her own children were all older than my oldest son, and she would have welcomed the opportunity to hold my baby or read to my toddler.

Friendship is a school, a place of formation and cultivation, but being in school requires time and work. Resilient mothers will allow friends into their brokenness because, sometimes, in order to have the gift of comfort from fellow believers, we have to take the emotional risk of letting them know how we’re really doing.

This includes seeking and valuing input from our husband as well. As “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), we are called to parent together. So seek your husband’s counsel. Let him care for you as Christ cares for his church.

“Resilience is not her claim on Christ, but, rather, the evidence of his claim on her.”

As moms, we tend to have our fingers on the pulse of our families. It can feel very risky to let go of your white-knuckle control of the schedule, activities, and tone of your home, but what a lonely and overwhelming assignment to try to be and do all things when we have been given the gift of a husband and fellow parent.

Weathered Motherhood

Today, as an older woman, I am called to nurture resilience in the young women God has placed within my circle of influence (Titus 2:3–5). Alongside them, I continue to scale the learning curve of resilience and to take God’s grace for the glad surrender of obedience.

The resilient mother knows that godly mothering is a byproduct of the slow burn of faithfulness. She is well aware that resilience is not her claim on Christ, but, rather, the evidence of his claim on her.

The bent birch here on my wooded path is not as tall or as straight as a tree that has never weathered a Maine winter, but its arching perseverance schools me in the hope that follows a weathered storm. In its deeply rooted resilience, I see the wisdom of bending.

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