Adjusting to motherhood has been a little rough these past couple days. First my laundry machine broke, then my coffee maker died, and to top it all off Sammy has been having some tummy troubles and needs to be comforted at all times. I know these are small potatoes compared to some other issues in the world…you know people’s houses being flooded and demolished by hurricane Matthew, families separated while they try to escape war zones, and of course the state of our own country as we enter into this next election. But all these major problems don’t mean that my little problems suddenly don’t exist.
I used to think that God would only help me if I had a major problem, and maybe that’s why I always think I’m sick: “If I have cancer maybe then my problem would be big enough for God to help me.” We are always told to be grateful for our circumstances because someone is always worse off. And yes, gratitude is biblical, however, the purpose of gratitude is not to guilt you into silence when you need God’s help. I think a lot of us use the tool of gratitude incorrectly and as a result we just end up with a mess on our hands…Like trying to cut an apple with a peeler. I mean eventually you’ll peel the whole apple into pieces, but it won’t look pretty, and it may not be the outcome you want, and your hands will probably ache like crazy.
Several years ago, God showed me that he cared about even my smallest problems. As you may know, I ALWAYS have to go to the bathroom. There are actually biological reasons why, but that’s not really important to this story. Normally, this is not an issue I discuss with God, but on my first trip to Kenya it quickly became something that God and I talked about every day, sometimes every hour. There I was in the 7th hour of a 14 hour bus ride, on our way to a rural village to lead a camp for some kids; kids that didn’t have food for the day, and in my desperate need for a toilet I prayed. I want you to know that in Kenya, there aren’t many rest stops along the “major” roads with food and toilets, and at this point I hadn’t used the restroom in 4 hours or so (normally I can’t go longer than 2).
“God, I know this seems like small potatoes right now, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, but I really need a bathroom. I mean REALLY REALLY need a bathroom. God, I’m scared I may just pee my pants and my luggage is all strapped down on top of the bus, which means I won’t be able to change.”
“Urine, good hands, Elizabeth, I got this!”
It was crazy, I still had to go, but I knew God had me covered. I knew he heard me, and no more than 30 minutes later there was a gas station with bathrooms!
It wasn’t a giant miracle in which God saved me from the jaws of death, but it didn’t have to be. It was one of the most memorable times God helped me, because it was the time that showed me that God cares about EVERYTHING. Every little detail of my life, He cares about. He wants me to go to him for everything, even things that seem small and futile and a waste of time for someone as big as God. We often hear the phrase, “nothing is too big for our God”, but we need to start saying “nothing is too small for our God” too!
When I’m in the thick of my small problems, I tend to forget that little nugget of truth. I desperately want to do it all myself, and prove that I can handle these issues. So yesterday, after a series of tiny little mishaps, I decided Sammy and I were going to go to Rita’s to get some gelato. I was still in my Pajamas, and so was he. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet, and it was already 2:30pm. But, I decided it didn’t matter. I put Sammy in the car, and we headed to Rita’s. Only to get there and see that it was closed. At that point Sammy started screaming (it’s like he was channeling my inner frustration) and I just about lost it.
I started driving around just to get Sammy to fall asleep and after 5 minutes he was out, and I found myself by my neighborhood pier. Part of me just wanted to go home and sleep, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being stuck in that stupid house for one more second. At this thought I admonished myself, “At least you have a house. At least you have a baby. At least you won’t be eating all those empty calories…” and although these things were all true, they didn’t push me into the arms of savior. No, I used these phrases to silence myself with guilt for not being grateful, and as a result hide from my savior in shame; which made me feel even worse.
I plopped myself down onto the damp sand, not even caring that others were looking at me weird. I mean I was in my pajamas and sitting in the sand next to my napping son in his carrier. And I just sat there. I looked out at the water in silence. And then I started to remember some of the tools I had learned in Celebrate Recovery, and I knew I needed to write down all my little fears, no matter how small. I needed to bring even the smallest of issues to the feet of my savior. I wrote them in the sand. I feared someone would walk by and read them and think, “oh Lordy, that’s nothing…” but I felt God encourage me, “I would never say that. I care, and these things matter to you, so they matter to me. Come, let’s talk about this together.”
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I read these verses with fresh eyes. “You are my God…”, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…”
When I try to have gratitude without putting Jesus in his rightful place, as the king of my life, my gratitude is not real. When I tell myself that my problems are too small for God then I am essentially saying God is not really my God. I am no longer asking God for his will in the small things, I am no longer doing things in the name of Jesus, but instead in the name of Liz and Liz’s power. So it shouldn’t surprise me that my gratitude is misguided when I try to replace God on his throne, with myself. I’m not consciously thinking that I’m replacing God, but that’s what is happening. I am essentially saying I don’t need God, or I don’t want God’s help with this, it doesn’t matter that it’s because I’m ashamed or because I think it’s too small. I’m trying to speak for God, and that’s not God’s will for my life. Bringing even my smallest problems to God reaffirms that God is my God in ALL things.
“God, I’m scared I’m going to fail as a mom, as a wife, and as a Christian. I’m scared of my depression coming back. I’m scared of that stupid visual of the slaughtered baby from that movie. I’m scared that I’m going to get fat. I’m scared that I’m going to get so tired I’m going to make a dumb mistake. I’m scared of being alone all the time. I’m scared I’m going to make bad choices and screw up my son. I’m scared my house will smell like poopy diapers forever. I’m scared my son won’t love me. I’m scared my husband doesn’t think I’m pretty anymore. I’m scared I won’t get to shower today. I’m irritated that Rita’s wasn’t open…I just wanted something good. What if I can’t clean Sammy’s clothes and burp cloths?”
Not once did God say, “get over it” or “come on Liz, people are dying because of their race and occupations…”
Instead he gave me a visual of my son, crying because of his poopy diaper. When he cries out of his discomfort I don’t look at him and say, “some kids don’t even have diapers to poop in! They just go in the streets, you should be thankful!” No way! My heart breaks when it hears his cries. All I want to do is help him, and I can! It’s pretty easy for me to help my son with his full diaper. It would be a quite a feat for Sammy to change his own diaper. But as I’m changing his diaper I try to soothe him with my words. God reminded me of the words I say to my son, “I know buddy, I know, mommy is working on it. You’re going to be ok. Oh Sammy, I’m so sorry you’re uncomfortable. Your new diaper is coming, bud. In just a couple minutes your going to feel better, it’s ok.”
But sometimes, even though his diaper is changed, Sammy still cries, because it’s not just about the diaper, after I change his diaper I pick him up and cuddle him close. I kiss his head and assure him that I am here and I love him. I let him know that it’s going to be ok now. I let him know that I was there while he was uncomfortable, and his discomfort broke my heart, and even though it didn’t feel good, when I was wiping the crap from him, I was helping him. And my kisses and hugs soothe him, and he is able to rest and coo and smile again.
When I got home, my washer was still broken, my coffee maker was still dead, my baby was still fussy, and my house was still a mess, but I felt heard. I felt validated. I felt encouraged. I felt God’s presence and his reassuring words, “I’m here, I’m working on it.” I felt ready to keep going and I found myself thanking God for the little joys: the beach, Sammy finally pooping, the dog named Scout we met on the beach, pizza, Harry Potter movie marathons, pumpkin beer…”
The gratitude just came, and it came without guilt. It came because I had purged myself of the crap separating me from my savior and I let my savior clean me up instead of trying to do it myself.