Once upon a time, I had four children under five years old.
In those days, some tiny person was always waking me up in the middle of the night. I would change a diaper or make a bottle or calm a scared toddler before collapsing back into the welcoming cocoon of my bed. I was borderline obsessed with my bed back then.
Then an hour later, a different tiny person was waking me up at 5am to start The Longest Day of My Life. Every day was the longest day of my life back then because early motherhood is served hot with a side of permanent dark circles under your eyes and an icy cup of identity crisis.
But then, a few years passed. Mercifully and magically, my little people grew up. They figured some hard things out, like how to use a toilet in the middle of the night all on their own and how to feed themselves when they wake up hungry. My sleep became more regular. Some days, I began to feel like a real human being.
Then we welcomed 2020 as a New Year with new possibilities. 2020 took us seriously and got a little overly-enthusiastic. 2020 decided to give me four children at home all day and a confusing new world that required us to learn all sorts of new skills and perspectives.
2020 is more exhausting than a cluster feeding baby with croup. It is more demoralizing than a teething toddler who hates you because you aren’t his grandmother who gives him everything he wants. It is the worst. 2020 is the worst.
This morning I dragged myself from bed and sat on the sofa in my quiet house. I curled my hands around my coffee cup and my feet up on the sofa while I read my Bible.
At 8:20 I noticed the son I expected to wake up soon wasn’t awake yet. I didn’t hear his alarm by 8:35. At 8:50 I went to wake him up. We needed to leave for the baseball fields at 9:15.
He was hard to wake. He was in the wonderful world of teenage sleep. I said his name three times before he groaned and rolled out of bed. I offered to make him eggs for breakfast. He grunted thank you. While the eggs fried and the bread toasted, I filled his water jug for practice.
I placed his plate on the table and after he ate, I drove him over to the fields. This was his second practice since the team reassembled after Covid19 swept away our old way of life. I still haven’t decided if this strange hybrid life of social distancing and yet going out in public feels normal or not.
After I returned home from the fields, my phone rang. It was my youngest. She was FaceTiming me because she thought I wasn’t back yet.
“Oh! You’re in the living room,” she said. “I need help with my hair.”
She had a virtual ballet class today, and was required to wear a low bun with a middle part. Like a good quarantine mom, I cut her hair for her three days ago. The shorter hair is unruly and difficult to wind into a neat little ball.
I sat on her bed and pinned in the rebellious strands. I tried not to say, “I told you so.” She was already angry with herself for asking me to cut so much off..
I say, “This is why—“
“I know, Mom.”
I unleashed the I told you so despite my better intentions. I chastised myself for wanting her to admit that I had been right. But really, the bun was such a pain to achieve.
Somehow, sticking bobby pins in her hair exhausted me. Despite having self-sufficient children, anxiety kept me awake last night. Perhaps it was caused by the blood bath I witnessed in the comments on Facebook over the reopening of our neighborhood pool. Maybe it was the conversation I had with my husband about a complicated situation at work. Maybe I am just a mess because I am a mess. Whatever the cause, I rolled from one side of my body to the other all night, tangling my legs in the sheets.
As I left my daughter’s room, I passed our letterboard in the hallway. Yesterday I took down the funny saying that had been there for weeks and pressed one needed phrase into the velvety folds:
You are doing great.
These are the words I need in 2020. This is the story I want to believe about myself, my husband, my kids, our neighborhood, the economy, and the world at large.
Great. We are all doing great.
The lesson of 2020 seems to be a lesson of smallness. 2020 is teaching us the lesson of the mustard seed and of Matthew 5, that smallness and hiddenness often cloak the most powerful spiritual things. Motherhood first acquainted me with this lesson, but now the whole world is learning it on a grand scale.
We shrunk our lives to fit inside our homes so that our hospitals wouldn’t be overburdened.
We smashed all of our relationships into our computers so that we could protect one another from spreading sickness.
We pulled our kids out of programs and classes and tests that had seemed completely necessary for their futures with the hope that we could ensure a better future for them.
We realized toilet paper and pasta were among our most important things.
For a brief week or two, it seemed like all the people of the world were united in a new way.
But it seems we can’t hold the mustard seed together any longer. We keep sowing it to the wind as we argue about who is right and who is wrong. We debate all day what should and shouldn’t be done in order to live our lives, stimulate the economy, stop the spread of the virus, and keep the accidental improvements we have made to the earth’s environment.
We all want what’s best for everyone, but we can’t seem to agree about what “best” is or how to achieve it. There are no easy answers.
But right now, as my daughter pirouettes across our porch and my son hits batting practice a mile away from here, I am struck by the solidity of the ground under my feet. There is something stabilizing about waking my son up, feeding him breakfast, taxiing him to practice, and then fixing my daughter’s hair.
This holy ground of loving my children is the same stable space I found in the endless exhausting nights of early motherhood.
When I care for the people right in front of me, I am drawn into the nucleus of God’s expansive greatness. Here in this place, my soul knows that as I take care of others, God is taking care of me.
This feels like a new revelation, but really, it is what God has been saying from the very beginning. In the Garden, on Mount Sinai, through all the prophets, in the sermon on the Mount, in the greatest commandment: Take care of the people and the world around you. Love well. Wash feet. Don’t envy or murder or lust after what is not yours. Forgive and be merciful toward yourself and toward others. Trust God. Look how he cares for the birds of the air, the plants growing all around you– God will take care of you, too.
All around us, every day, God is saying I told you so.
He is waking us up to the truth every day.
He is chuckling a little at our slowness and sleepiness.
He is feeding us what we need most and filling us with living water. He winds up our fear and our regret into a neat little ball. He pins back our anxiety so our ears can hear Him clearly.
You are doing great, He says.
And we are.
We really are.