In Focus: Finding Blessings and Avoiding Bitterness

Do you ever have a day when you kind of get down on yourself and feel like you’re just not doing a very good job? I think it’s a pretty normal thing for most people, but I especially seem to second guess myself and worry that I’m not doing things right since I became a mom. Yesterday was one of those days for me, and despite the fact that I know I am doing the best I can and that my kids are overall happy and healthy, I was feeling like I didn’t quite measure up. Of course, the last place a person should go when feeling that way is social media (where I feel like we do nothing but compare ourselves to others), but when I did have a quiet moment alone, that’s where I went.

That’s when I saw a post on Facebook shared by Her View From Home. I typically love their articles, but in this particular one, the writer was having a pity party about how hard motherhood is. Something about it didn’t sit well with me, but I figured I was just having a bad day and tried to move on. As I went about my day, the article kept coming back to my mind. There was just something about it that I couldn’t get out of my head. The writer seemed so unhappy, and sounded especially bitter towards her husband because she claimed he didn’t help her with the baby. I’m not trying to judge the writer of the article, because I know that motherhood is hard. I know that sometimes you just need to vent, which is basically what her article was, and I also don’t know her actual situation. However, as I kept going back in my mind and thinking about the article, which was titled “Dear Husband, I am Not Superwoman,” I wondered if her husband actually asked or expected her to be Superwoman in the first place or if that was an expectation she placed on herself.

I think often women, and especially mothers, tend to place ridiculous expectations on ourselves. We are afraid to ask for help because we WANT to look like we are Superwoman. We WANT to have it all together. We WANT to be great wives and mothers and businesswomen. We keep filling up our own plates, and then we are upset when it gets to be too much to handle. We often act like that if we took a break the world would stop spinning. That kind of mindset makes us feel important, but at the same time it leads to burnout, disappointment, and bitterness towards others who don’t recognize our struggle to keep up and help us (even though we never ask for help).

The more I thought about it, I felt a pricking in my heart. I’ve been guilty of feeling just like the woman in that article. I have had bitter thoughts about my husband sleeping (or trying to sleep – our kids were LOUD) while I was up with a fussy baby in the middle of the night. I’ve been guilty of trying to do too much and causing myself to be overwhelmed and irritable and then lashing out in anger towards my husband. I’ve been guilty of looking at the greatest blessings of my life and feeling burdened by having to get up one more time or fill one more sippy cup or pick up one more toy or clean up one more mess. I know that it is natural to get frustrated, and it is easy to let that frustration turn into bitterness, especially when it is coupled with the exhaustion of early motherhood and the constant comparison trap of social media.

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, my mind went to a story I recently read in my Bible study of Genesis. Abram is introduced in Genesis 11:29, and one of the first things we are told about him and his wife Sarai is, “But Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30). Shortly after that, God makes a promise to Abram: “And I will make thee a great nation…” (Genesis 12:2). The man and woman with no child receive a promise that they will have a family – that a great nation will come from their household. The next few chapters follow Abram and Sarai as they follow where God leads them, and despite God’s promise, they don’t have a child. In chapter 16, Sarai decides to take things into her own hands and gives Abram her servant, Hagar, to be his wife so she can have a child for him. This was a sin, and both Abram and Sarai knew it. They took matters into their own hands instead of trusting God, and Ishmael was born. He was destined to be “a wild man” who would never be at peace with those around him (Genesis 16:12). Abram now had a son (but not the one God had promised him), but he also had a sad, disappointed, and bitter wife.

Sarai had tried to be Superwoman. She wanted to give Abram a son. She wanted to fix the problem, but she did it her own way and then it didn’t live up to her expectations and she ended up feeling worse than she felt before. She was irritable and bitter (the Bible says that Sarai “dealt harshly” with Hagar – so she took her anger and bitterness out on the servant who had no control over her situation in the first place). See, Sarai was so focused on what wasn’t going right and what she didn’t have, that she was missing out on all the blessings God was pouring out on her household. Abram was communing with God, praising God for what He was going to do in their lives (see Genesis 15), and Sarai was miserable because she was plotting and planning and trying to fix something that was never hers to fix in the first place. Her expectations of how and when she should give Abram a son didn’t line up with her reality, and she let her frustration with that lead her to sin.

Despite Sarai’s sin, God still blessed her with a son. He changed Abram’s name, which meant “high father” to Abraham, which means “father of multitudes,” and he changed Sarai’s name, which meant “my princess” to Sarah, which means “the princess of many nations” and he gave them a son they named Isaac. Their family became a great nation, and Jesus himself was one of their descendants. God was faithful and kept His promise to them. He is still faithful and He still keeps his promises today.

But, when God came to visit Abraham and Sarah to tell them that it was time and they would have a child, do you know what Sarah’s response was? She laughed (Genesis 18:12). Her laugh was not a laugh of joy, like Abraham’s laugh when God told him that Sarah would have a child in Genesis 17:17, but her laugh was one of bitterness and disbelief. She thought she was too old to have a child. She had let herself become guarded and bitter. She didn’t even believe it could happen anymore.

All that got me thinking…how often do we let our unrealistic expectations lead to bitterness? How often do we hold up the image of how we think something is supposed to be and then get upset when our reality falls short? How often are we so focused on the ways our expectations aren’t being met that we miss out on the blessings that are right in front of us?

Last night was tough. Henry is sick, and he was fighting sleep like a champ. I was exhausted, and honestly, starting to get a little irritable as I tried to rock him to sleep. But then I heard Jeff and Jack laughing from the bathroom where Jeff was finishing up giving Jack a bath, and once again, I felt something prick at my heart. While I was sitting there, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, my husband was having a great time laughing with my son. He was enjoying his time with him instead of worrying about rushing through it to get to something else. He was laughing with joy, like Abraham, while I was in the nursery starting to feel bitter thinking that every other one-year-old in the world goes to bed before 9:00 and that I must be a bad mother since I don’t have my kids on a schedule and that I was just so tired…

I read a lot of comments on that article I mentioned earlier. Lots of them were mean. Some people were mom-shaming the woman for not having her baby on a schedule, some were telling her to leave her no-good husband, and some were even comparing their lives to hers and telling her to toughen up because what she was calling hard didn’t sound hard to them. What would I say to that mom? I would tell her that I understand. I would tell her that I’ve been there. And then, I would ask her why she thinks she needs to be Superwoman in the first place. I would try to gently remind her that we aren’t designed to be able to do it all – that we are made to depend on each other and that it is okay to ask for help. I would remind her that men aren’t mind readers (and they also aren’t always that smart – see Genesis 16:2 where Abram went along with Sarai’s stupid plan) and that she needs to communicate with her husband and tell him what she needs. I would let her know that her worth is not defined by what she accomplishes in a day, and when she feels tired and weary, she can find rest in the arms of Jesus (Jeremiah 31:25).

My takeaway from that article and my own bad attitude yesterday is that I can’t allow my slight disappointments and frustrations and failures to live up to my ridiculous, Instagram-Influencer-worthy expectations make me bitter. Motherhood is hard, but it is also an honor and a gift from God. I don’t want to miss the blessings of it because I’m focused on every little thing that hasn’t gone my way.

My word for 2021 is focus, remember? I’m trying to focus on the blessings and not let my expectations of the way I thought my life would or should be cause me to miss out on this beautiful life God has blessed me with.

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