The Pain of Motherhood

In a recent article at The Gospel Coalition, I wrote about Mary’s coming pain in the wake of Christ’s birth. Motherhood is filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and she was not exempt from such emotions. With the joy of her newborn baby’s birth came the dark shadow of his foretold death. She felt the sting of motherhood acutely throughout his adult life, and as she stood at his cross and watched him gasp for breath.

I've said before, motherhood, like many things, is a great equalizer for women. It takes women from all walks of life, all cultures, and all time periods and brings them together under one unifying purpose—loving a child. It’s why women cry at birth stories of strangers and weep over the caskets of children they have never met. We know the joy and the pain that comes with being a mother. We feel it in our bones.

But like everything in this sin-cursed world, every joy carries with it the reality of pain. With the overwhelming joy at the birth of a baby comes the paralyzing fear of SIDS. With the excitement of watching your young toddler takes his first steps comes the all-consuming fear that he may one day get hit by a car or run into danger. With the joy of watching your teenager drive away for the first time by herself comes the helpless fear that she may not always be safe on the road alone.

We all have lived long enough to know that every happy moment we face as mothers can in an instant be laced with soul-crushing sorrow.

So what are we to do when we face these fears, sometimes on a moment by moment basis?

It’s easy to look to the temporal, tangible realities staring us in the face as our assurance of hope, like the assurance of our newborn’s breathing patterns or making our toddler hold our hand at all times in public. We feel like we can control those moments. We can put our finger on them as markers of goodness and faithfulness towards us. But those markers aren’t always there, are they? When every earthly treasure gives way, Christ is all our hope and stay.

The psalmist has this to say about our fears:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

He didn’t look to what was happening around him, good or bad. He looked away from his circumstances to the God who lovingly controls his circumstances and is working them for his good. But the truth is, it’s hard to do when everything is crumbling around us, isn’t it? Trusting God with our circumstances starts when all is well, when we are overwhelmed with joy. Mary couldn’t contain her wonder at what God did through her and for her in the birth of her son. But this wonder is what would carry and sustain her when all seemed hopeless and lost.

The same is true for us. Walking the road of motherhood carries with it more emotion than I ever knew humanly possible. Giving your life for another does that to you. With the intense love I feel for my children comes the possibility of tremendous heartache. Where does my help come when my fears seem to be my undoing? Or even more devastating, when my fears become reality? The same God who gave me these precious gifts, is the God who sustains me in my fears and heartache as well.