Carmen reflects on the self-sacrificial love of motherhood, mental health, and the undying promise of our Savior to be with us in it all.
I turned around from the stove, trying in vain not to let the kids see my frustration. It had already been a long afternoon full of my son screaming in the car on the way home from daycare, spilled milk, oranges, and cheese at snack time, and another text from my husband stating he’d unexpectedly been tied up at work and wouldn’t be home until after 7 PM. What greeted me was my plant stand, full of beautiful plants from my father’s funeral, perennial flowers gifted by my mother-in-law, and succulents from a day of greenhouse hopping with a good friend.
Except they were no longer on the plant stand, because the plant stand was no longer standing.
Instead, it was doing more of a violent lean over the dining room table. There was broken glass and pottery everywhere. The dirt reached clear to the front door. Petals were strewn about, unable to be salvaged. Evidently my 20-month-old son stuffed himself behind the stand and decided it no longer needed to be there. Mission accomplished.
Having already endured three solo evenings of toddlerhood with my son and sassy 5-year-old daughter, I’d had enough. I didn’t even think twice as I screamed then fell to the floor in a fit of tears. I simply couldn’t manage it all: dishes, laundry, cleaning, dinner, child rearing, work, and now, this. My mental health was walking a tightrope.
I’ve battled depression and anxiety since I can remember, though it didn’t have a name. Periods of labored breathing, increased heart rate, and general feelings of panic have been a part of my life since young adulthood. Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, inability to work, and lack of interest in things that once brought me joy have been more prevalent since the birth of my children. After my daughter, I was told it was postpartum depression and moved on, though with great difficulty. It wasn’t until it began interfering with my daily life that I talked to my doctor to receive a diagnosis.
Now with two children, a rambunctious, off-the-growth-charts toddler and 5-going-on-15 daughter, and a husband whose work schedule is increasingly more demanding, I’m drowning. Most mornings I can barely drag myself out of bed to get myself and the kids ready. The thought of selecting their clothes for the day is just too much. Getting all three of us ready, fed, and out the door to school and work is overwhelming and I just can’t do it anymore, nor do I want to. The moment my eyes open I already feel defeated and the “you’re letting everyone down” voices are the loudest ones I hear. Next to the screaming toddler, of course.
I think what’s hardest about this time is being seen. Sure, there may be wonderful folks in your life who listen day in and day out, but do they really understand? Do they truly realize how close you are to the edge? Do they want to? It’s an awfully lonely and scary place to be. Despite the innate beauty of motherhood, like any vocation, it’s one of sacrifice. And though I believe St. Thérèse of Lisieux when she said, “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother,” it’s awfully heavy sometimes. Motherhood is not always lovely.
I began meeting with a therapist to talk through these struggles and gain a new perspective on how to simplify routines and most importantly, how to be okay with not feeling “enough” when the demands of daily life just aren’t met, but anger, frustration, and desperation abound. The suggested practices are all well and good and extremely necessary. Yet, when employing new strategies doesn’t work and the daily mantras fail to sink in, the looming questions that keep pervading my mind are, “God, where are you? Why are you asking this of me? Why can I not find you in this struggle? Can’t you see I’ve had quite enough?” Yet He remains silent, like a stoic father who expects you to sort out troubles by yourself to learn the lesson the hard way.
Well, God, I haven’t learned yet. I’m hanging by a thread and I don’t know how to continue. I leave my struggles at the foot of the Cross (and stay there!), but I need Your Holy Spirit, the very breath of Love, to dwell within me and teach me. I need the comfort of Your Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus, to be with me and show me the way. I simply cannot do this alone.
I’ve found myself turning to Isaiah 43:2 in times of loneliness and hardship:
When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
The hymn inspired by this passage, “You are Mine,” has long been my favorite and the one I’ve soothed my children with since they were infants. Would that I could find the same comfort in these inspired words as I did when offering them to my children!
Similarly, Mark’s Gospel offers us a glimpse of Jesus' humanity in times of anxiety and distress:
And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:34-36)
The Gospel writer continues with no words of comfort from the Father. Rather, Jesus finds Peter and the other disciples fast asleep. Could it be that we, too, are called to forge ahead with trust in the Father’s plan, even in the absence of consolation? Are we to accept the cup He has prepared for us with His divine will in mind? This death to self is what Jesus offered the world -- a gift that changed the course of humanity and offered eternal life to billions of souls. Not my will but Thy will.
These Scriptures are more than inspired words; they are a promise from the Lord and a glimpse into His humanity. We have been claimed by His marvelous love! When we experience fear, anxiety, or distress, we are never alone and never forgotten. If we offer ourselves in love as the Lord did, if we carry our crosses up Calvary in His footsteps, this love has the power to transform the world. So to the mama reading this: He knows the pain. He sees the struggle. And He has promised to be with us through it all. Amen!
So Lord, even in the midst of my daily failures and struggles, here is my promise to You: I’ll keep showing up until something happens. I’ll keep talking to You. I’ll keep offering these struggles to You for the good of others. I’ll keep trying to find you in this darkness. I know that in spite of that darkness, You are the light. Like a lighthouse on the shore, steadfast in the storm, You are the lone source of security. You call me to follow your light, safely into the harbor of Your loving embrace.
Mama, no matter what you’re going through, I see you. God sees you. And he’s got you.
Copyright 2021 Carmen Lappe
Images: Canva Pro; broken plant stand photo copyright 2021 Carmen Lappe, all rights reserved
About the Author
Carmen is a wife and mother of two working in parish ministry in midwestern Iowa. She has a Master of Arts degree in Sacred Theology and has a special passion for writing about the grace of motherhood. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with her husband and exploring breweries and baseball stadiums across the country.