We were crammed into an empty Sunday School room on a Thursday morning; six moms, two cast-off gold recliners and an ugly green couch. But nobody seemed bothered by the tight quarters or the thread-bare cushions. We were just ecstatic to be holding hot mugs of coffee rather than fussy babies or tetchy toddlers.
Our little ones were across the hall in the capable care of an elementary-education major from the local university who had generously agreed to babysit in exchange for glowing letters of recommendation. With our husbands in grad school and our budgets burdened by the cost of diapers and baby formula, we’d gratefully accepted the trade-off.
Despite the fact that many of us sported black circles beneath our eyes and few had enjoyed the luxury of a shower that morning between baby feedings and high chair duty, the mood in our little Sunday School room was festive. We were women unleashed–survivors of sleep deprivation and toddler tantrums, of potty training and bad knock-knock jokes. We could have raised the roof with our giddy chatter. We laughed and prattled and crammed our conversations full of multi-syllabic words. We breathed deep and savored an hour without boo-boos to kiss and whys to answer.
Then, when our care-free chatter began to wane, the leader of our little group tossed out a question intended to move us into a time of Bible study and prayer.
“In one word, describe what it feels like to be a mom…”
The giggles stilled and many of the women cocked their heads in contemplative thought. Some smiled; others blinked long and hard as if that one word might be imprinted on the backs of their eyelids.
But I just stared at the carpet and wondered what my friends would think of me if I actually uttered the first word that had come to mind.
What would these good moms say if I spoke the word that taunted me at the end of the day when my little ones finally grew quiet and the darkness grew loud?
How would they respond if I admitted that sometimes it wasn’t the baby who cried all night, but her mommy?
The seasoned mom among us answered first. She was older and wiser, the parent of a kindergartner, a toddler, and a smiley baby. She’d survived labor three times and had already lived through the trauma of potty training and the first day of school. When she spoke, we all leaned in close to listen.
“I think the word that best describes being a mom is satisfying.” She cast us a contented grin and continued, “What other job gets paid in slobbery kisses and great big bear hugs?”
We returned her smile. And then another mom began to speak.
“I think being a mom feels like a privilege.” Her blue eyes shimmered with tears, and this precious friend who knew the pain of empty arms and pregnancies cut short exhaled a ragged breath. “I guess being a mom has just made me realize what an undeserved gift children are.”
We passed around the Kleenex box and let a poignant silence settle over the room. The conversation continued, each woman contributing an idea one by one.
I listened and nodded. And tried to ignore the word pressing on my heart.
I didn’t disagree with any of the women in the room. Indeed, motherhood is a privilege. And kisses and hugs are a fabulous fringe benefit. And children are, no doubt, a gift from God.
The words my friends had proffered certainly encapsulated what I knew about being a mom. But none of them captured how I felt.
The word on the tip of my tongue wouldn’t earn me the mother-of-the-year award.
It wasn’t a word that would rightly caption any of those idyllic mommy photos in the parenting magazines that lined my bookshelves.
Nor was it a word that I’d ever scribble in my children’s baby books.
It was the word that haunted me as I studied other moms at the grocery store, the park, and the library, and quietly wondered if their smiles actually reached their hearts.
It was the word that described the state of my soul thirty months and two children into motherhood.
Being a mom makes me feel empty.
I didn’t say it aloud, but the word clanged in my head like a taunting gong.
Empty. Empty. Empty.
I’d never lived so poured out and dry.
I’d never been battered by so much guilt and unsettled by so little confidence.
I’d never come face to face with daily death like I had since I’d pushed and prayed a seven-pound bundle of life out of my womb.
It didn’t make any sense, the quiet void that motherhood had created, the barren-ness that had come with the fruit of my own fertility.
When it was finally my turn to speak, I lifted my eyes from the worn brown carpet and peered at those sweet faces gathered round.
The women filling that room were no strangers to me.
We’d worshiped together and pushed strollers together. We’d discussed sleeplessness and post-baby bulges. Breast feeding and bottle feeding. Husband care and nursing bras.
We’d exchanged book titles and coupons, Bible verses and prayer requests.
But we’d never talked about how motherhood can drain a woman dry and leave her with a shriveled spirit and a hurting heart.
We’d never discussed how all the giving and the loving can leave stretch marks on our souls.
We’d never acknowledged that those children whom we are privileged to love weren’t created to fill the holes in our hearts.
My friends were waiting patiently for my answer.
And I wavered before I spoke. Then, I cowered and chose the safety of fiction over the risk of truth.
I muttered something generic and hoped that we’d just open our Bibles and move on…
It’s been over a decade since I sat on that old green couch, but for some reason, that memory surfaces today, and I find myself thinking about the word I’d been too embarrassed to share.
It’s the same word Maggie is singing as she kneels beside our grace garden on the deck and draws circles with her finger in the wet dark soil.
It’s EMPTY. It’s EMPTY. Our Easter tomb is EMPTY….
She’s singing louder and louder as she repeats that one line over and over again. And soon she can’t just sit on the edge of our simple resurrection scene. She’s got to get up and dance.
The sight of her all sweaty and flushed, crooning jubilantly about the empty tomb reminds me that Easter is the one holiday that never really ends.
The empty tomb is never yesterday’s news; it’s always the Good News of today.
The tomb is empty so we don’t have to be.
I watch as she lifts the stone out of the flower pot and sets it beside her bare toes.
And I wish that I could tip-toe back through time to that crowded Sunday School room and sidle up next to the empty and discouraged me.
I’d tell her what I know now, that eventually the hole in her heart will be a gift.
Someday that gap deep inside–the one her kids can’t fill and her husband can’t fix– will drive her straight into the arms of Jesus.
If I could just whisper something in the ear of that worn-out me, I’d assure her that, in time, she really will be able to describe motherhood as miraculous. Because each morning when she opens the Word and invites her Savior to draw near, she’ll find enough grace for another day. And that’s nothing short of a miracle.
And at some point, further down that road of motherhood, with five children crammed into her mini van and crowding her heart, she’ll wake up to realize that even though her laundry baskets are never empty, neither is her soul. Because the One who “busted out of that tomb” on Easter morning walks beside her through the mess and the marvels of motherhood.
And He doesn’t even mind getting His feet dirty!
Happy May Day. And happy Easter. Again. And always.
Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose