Guarding Your (Mama) Heart

Oof, I tell you what. Motherhood can be a tough gig. No accolades, no days off, no status reports. (What I wouldn’t give for a status report to let me know if I’m doing all right or veering wildly off-track!) Truth is, if I didn’t know I was called to this–this work of growing people–and if I didn’t trust in a God who is bigger and so much wiser than I am, there are days I’d plop down in despair and quit trying.

Some days, it can feel like my heart is just too heavy to bear.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Cranky toddlers and defiant sons and sulking daughters and crying babies are enough to steal anyone’s peace of mind. Throw in a husband who’s stressed at work, some looming bills, a dwindling bank account, political upheaval, a stormy friendship, a death, any front page news story, and you’ve got a formula for one anxious, exhausted, and probably gloomy mama. And when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Or something.

As wives and mothers, we have a sacred vocation: to support our husbands and our children on their path to heaven (while working to get there ourselves). Of course, we can’t save ourselves; only God through Christ can do that. But we are called to participate in our salvation. A big part of how we do this is by living out our vocations.

As Christian mothers, we are blessed with the profoundly important work of praying for, encouraging, nurturing, convicting, discipling, forgiving, and loving the children God has gifted us with. A big part of that work means modelling a servant heart of love, peace, joy, hope, and gratitude for our kids and being consistent in guiding them to develop these virtues in their own hearts. But when our hearts are heavy, that’s hard work to do. Without God, it’s downright impossible.

Fortunately, with God, all things are possible. Thankfully–mercifully–he doesn’t call the equipped: he equips the called. And in his wisdom, he’s given us some pretty powerful equipment: the Sacraments, prayer, Scripture, adoration, and fellowship, just to name a few. Through these things, he gives us advice on how to go about living our lives within his will.

With all vigilance guard your heart,

for in it are the sources of life.

Dishonest mouth put away from you,

deceitful lips put far from you.

Let your eyes look straight ahead

and your gaze be focused forward.

Survey the path for your feet,

and all your ways will be sure.

Turn neither to right nor to left,

keep your foot far from evil.

– Proverbs 4:23-27

Guard your heart. These words have reverberated in my soul in many ways, but most especially now that I’m a mother. Motherhood has broken my heart in all sorts of new ways. It makes it tender in places that once had been hard, and stronger in places that once had been weak. Motherhood has expanded my heart’s capacity beyond anything I thought was possible. And that is why I need to be even more vigilant in guarding it.

I have a friend who often laughs about her inability to watch movies since becoming a mom. The narrative roller coaster, the emotional intensity that once rolled off her back, now hits her with such force that it leaves her panicking or crying. Now, I may be able to make it through a movie unscathed, but there are certainly things–silly, inconsequential, unimportant things–that raise my blood pressure on a good day, and on a bad day have the power to render me an anxious, blubbering mess.

Facebook, new reports, the pressure I place on myself to perform in certain groups or spheres: these are my Kryptonite. These are the things that have the power to break me down and leave me ill-equipped to perform the essential work I need to do in my home. Your Kryptonite might be totally different, in fact it probably is, but we’ve all got something: those activities are social circles that make our hearts heavy, that steal our joy, that leave us weak when we have work to do.

Of course, there are some things we can’t escape. (A teething baby, for example.) Motherhood is full of stressors we can’t avoid. They come with the job. And God is fond of handing each of us an extra load on top of that, whether it’s a serious illness, a challenging relationship, loneliness, financial instability, or something else that tests your faith and refines your character. This is why it’s essential to guard our hearts where we can.

Personally, I struggle with doing this. I worry that if I let these things go, I’ll be too “out of touch” with the world, whether that’s my circle of friends, my writing community, or the state of the nation. I’m worried that will I’m living my vocation, I’ll miss out on something I could be good at. (Please say it’s not just me.) In addition, I worry that if I let go of a burden someone else has been asked to carry, it will be an indictment on me, proof that I’m leaning on the crutch of my personal privilege. Call it pride or call it compassion, I think I’d call it a little bit of both.

But the fact is, I can reach out to those who are suffering without breaking myself. If reading about the war in Syria is going to unhinge me, I can still reach out to the homeless families in my neighborhood. If Facebook debates are leading me to sin and sadness, I can engage the issues I’m passionate about in prayer. It reminds me of something Maria says in the sound of music: “Wherever God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”

Guarding my heart isn’t about fear. It isn’t about making myself cold to the struggles of others. It doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of my neighbor because her needs are distressing. And it certainly doesn’t mean neglecting the duties and crosses I’ve been uniquely tasked to carry. It’s about realizing I’m human. It’s about accepting that while “everything is premissible, not everything is beneficial.”

I’m sure it was hard for my friend to admit that movies were a thing she’d have to let go from her life: something that everyone around her enjoyed, something she could no longer share in with them. None of us wants to be the Charlie Bucket of the world, on the outside looking in, certain there’s something that everyone knows, that everyone else is in on but me. But you know what? God didn’t make me to have my nose pressed up against the window of the world. He made me for something better. And if I’ve always got my nose pressed up to what he’s told me I can’t have, I’m going to miss out on all the good gifts He’s holding out and all the work He’s calling me to do.

I said before that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called–but He only equips the called. He won’t equip me for your vocation anymore than he’ll equip you for mine. We’re still in this together. But I can’t carry all your burdens, and I can’t ask you to carry mine — only He can do that. And maybe that’s the crux of the whole thing. Maybe (unfathomably, miraculously), He wants to do it, as He wants our tender, human hearts for his own.

What about you, sister-friend? Where is God calling you to let go, so that you can open your hands for his gifts? How is He encouraging you to guard your heart, so that He can hold it closer?

4 comments

  1. Jodi says:

    Thank you! I so needed this post this morning. I have been having the same feelings lately. Actually, almost identical to how you feel. I have come to the point of realizing that Facebook is no good for me and tired of trying to fit into social groups that I do not belong. I really love the part about God equiping the called it means something important to me. Thank you again for this post, God bless!

    • Bethany says:

      I’m so glad you felt encouraged, Jodi. (I was definitely writing this over again for myself – I feel like it’s something I need to keep reminding myself of.) Facebook can be a blessing in so many ways, but like any earthly thing, it can also wind up a stumbling block. <3

  2. Taylor says:

    Wow, yes. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Especially in regards to my faith life, too–as a convert, I’ve been realizing lately that there are just certain styles or practices of Catholic devotion that just make me feel my cultural difference more than they feed me, and that I don’t have to force it. I love St Therese’s metaphor of the flowers in the garden, and it is such a good reminder to me that I don’t have to do/be everything, as a mother or a Christian.

    • Bethany says:

      You know, even as a cradle Catholic, I still feel that way sometimes – LOL! It’s awesome how God gave us such a smorgasbord of spiritual practices to choose from, and He really doesn’t expect us to be cookie cutter saints!

Leave a Reply