We have soccer goals set up in our backyard year ‘round. It’s a big backyard relative to most in our neighborhood and I’ve always imagined a gigantic garden all planted to bear goodness at least three seasons a year. Instead, we have a very small garden shoved up against the side of the house and a great, big soccer field.
I’ve spent hours (maybe cumulatively months or years) on the sidelines at soccer games, watching children of all sizes play the game. Looks simple enough; run and kick the ball. Night after night, when our boys were mostly smaller than me, they’d play “family soccer” outside with Dad. I was grateful for my pregnant and nursing excuses, but still I thought it looked pretty simple.
One day, I tried. The biggest of my boys were teenagers then. I had a girl well old enough to mind the baby and I got out there to run and kick with them. It was hard. It wasn’t even close to easy. I was wheezing in the middle of the backyard before long at all.
I’ve been thinking about that afternoon a lot lately. When all my babies were little, the days were long and sometimes the nights were longer. There were most definitely challenges. But I didn’t really consider it “hard.” I loved the long days and challenging nights and relating to small children came naturally to me. Truth be told, I understood people who hated the baby years about as well as my 12-year-old future National Team player understood my inability to execute a pass to him while being guarded by his brother. There was such joy in wee ones! It’s not hard! It’s a “good tired”—the kind you get after playing hard and scoring the winning goal in overtime at the State Cup.
Then we hit the teenage years. Sometimes I think I’m as suited to being a mother of teenagers as I am to being a forward on the National Team. I still liked being outside, wind on my face and fresh grass under my feet, but I wasn’t all that equipped for the game. Mothering teenagers, for me, takes a good deal more work and persistence and concentrated effort than mothering six children under twelve did. It doesn’t come naturally.
I watch as my children attempt new skills. This one can draw and it seems effortless. That one, six years her sister’s senior, struggles to capture same image, never satisfied with her result. This one has run rings around his competition, always, always confident with a ball at his feet. That one melted into midfield one day when he was six and swore through hot tears that he hated everything about the game. But they each have strengths in their own places.
The thing about motherhood if we are called at all, is that we are all called to be strong in this vocation. We cannot dissolve into a puddle on the soccer field and opt out in favor of a basketball court. We’re in this thing for the duration.
When it becomes difficult, when we are being pushed to grow and change and learn well beyond the curve, we tend to wrap ourselves in self-criticism and guilt. In begins almost imperceptibly. A little voice in our heads, reminds us that we aren’t doing it right and we didn’t do it right. Other mothers seem to manage effortlessly. We stumble around this age or that new stage and seem to do nothing but mess things up.
Take heart! I remind myself every day. Take heart! We cannot put on the mantle of self-criticism and guilt. If we do, our days are cloaked in fear and self-loathing. The reality is that being a good parent doesn’t come naturally to anyone. It’s not effortless. God doesn’t call us because He knows we’re capable. He calls us because He knows that His power is made perfect in our weakness. He speaks into our hearts the words of St. Paul, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Content with weakness. Not to give up and sigh a wistful sigh of regret. Not to berate oneself for being insufficient. But content to know that He comes to us in the weaknesses and it is then that He strengthens us. It’s in the struggles that we grow. And it’s in our weakness that we lean most heavily on Christ.
God is all about making the impossible possible. He’s all about taking the woman who’s been afraid of teenagers since she was a teenager and equipping her to raise up to four at a time for 26 consecutive years. (See? He knew it would take me a long time to get it right.)
God makes the impossible possible. God takes the things that don’t come naturally and infuses them with grace. In the end, whether it’s soccer, or pencil drawings, or raising children, it’s not about us. It’s about Him.