My dirty, sweaty five-year-old is sitting on the back porch happily humming and throwing fistfuls of birdseed on the lawn. We'll have an aviary here by morning. And my heart swells with joy as I take in this moment.
Little boys are magic-in-the-raw. They're a composite of lizards and sticks and rocks and snails. They climb and jump and track mud into the house and never flush the toilet. They leave Legos in high-traffic areas and half-eaten apples in hard-to-reach places. They eat as if the grocery budget is made of gold.
Well, at least mine does. He's all boy, and I love it. And sometimes these boyish moments make me catch my breath with the beauty of it all.
But I know there's life beyond the back porch. Motherhood isn't a quest to secure an idyllic, protected existence for my son. But then what is it? What makes a good mom? And how do I prepare my child for the hard knocks and deep wounds and a world that wages war on the truths we cherish in our home?
A Dark Canvas
I occasionally paint for the enjoyment of it, for the way the colors and patterns and repetitive brush strokes relax me (definitely not because I'm gifted at it). And while I know very little about the technical aspects of painting, I do know you need some raw materials, including paints and brushes and canvas.
When my son was born with multiple health complications, my world went spinning. Nothing prepares you to watch your child writhe in pain, gasp for breath through the wee hours of the night, and live with food allergies that ostracize him in social settings.
It's taken us five years to begin getting clear diagnoses of his conditions, and still we have unanswered questions. And though we haven't faced anything life-threatening, there have been moments in this journey that have wrecked me. But it's been the desperate days that have given me a dark canvas on which to paint bright truths of a good God.
When my son tells me how it feels to be the only kid without an ice cream cone or when he has to go for more blood work or begin a new treatment, those moments are gifts: I get to hold him tight and remind him that Jesus sees and understands and cares. He suffered, too, so He knows how to comfort us in our own sufferings. I tell him how I see God growing him in courage, and I retell him stories of men in the Bible—like Joseph and Daniel—who learned to be courageous because God was with them.
It's easy for me, as an inexperienced mom with a myopic paradigm, to get sucked up in the whirlpool of endless parenting resources, opinions, and methodologies. And while those can be of some help, they won't hold me through the toughest days of motherhood. (And the toughest days may be yet to come.)
I need to keep before me, and my son, a great God who does great things.
As a painter looks long at a landscape, imitating each color and shadow and line, she does so to let others see what she sees, to let others marvel at what she marvels at. So it must be with my motherhood. At this young age my son will see the God I see, he will begin to marvel as I marvel.
Looking Unto Jesus
The Puritan Isaac Ambrose wrote:
I look upon as chief and choice of all the rest [of my duties] the duty I call Looking unto Jesus.
The great work of my motherhood is not in the sum of my daily duties—clothing, cleaning, feeding, instructing—vitally important as those are. The great work of my motherhood is "looking unto Jesus."
And as I look, I tell my son what I see. It's the very essence of Deuteronomy 6:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (vv. 5–9).
In our human nature we complicate and overregulate what God has made simple and accessible to us through His Spirit: the command to love Him with all that I am and to let that love shape my motherhood. Keep God constantly before me (like "frontlets between my eyes"), then tell my son about Him daily, diligently—when we get up in the morning, when we're in the car, when we're eating, playing, working, resting.
What did I learn this morning as I met God in the Word and in prayer?
How can we see God's awe-inspiring creativity in creation today?
How have I totally messed up and needed Jesus?
What stories from my life show God's goodness and faithfulness?
Whose salvation can we pray for today?
How is God working around the globe?
Painting Pictures of God
Orange and red and turquoise and gray—we parents get to paint pictures of Almighty God on the canvas of our children's hearts. They aren't the best nor the truest pictures (we see dimly this side of eternity), but they are invitations to marvel at what our hearts are made for.
I can't control outcomes. I'm not given any guarantees for how my son will turn out. And my motherhood is riddled with weakness. But I can keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. And I can ask Him to open the eyes of my son's heart—so he too might look and be amazed.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Ps. 34:5).
A version of this post originally appeared at colleenchao.com.