“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ” – 1 John 3:1
Before I really get going, I should start off with this disclaimer: I really do love my children. Actually, that’s what started this whole thing to begin with. My love for my girls. But sometimes, they make it very difficult to love them.
Parenting is one of the most incredible experiences you can experience as a human being. Whether it be biologically or emotionally (i.e. adoptive or spiritual parenting), it is truly an amazing gift that God has given us. I could even use the word ‘breathtaking’. Sometimes it’s breathtaking because of how precious that little one is as you are holding them and rocking them to sleep. And sometimes it’s breathtaking because they just jumped off the side of a pool without you looking and landed on your face like a spider monkey, busting your nose! (Yes, that did happen!)
I’ve been a mom now for 14 years. July 19, 2004, with the birth of Zoe Porter Smyth, I became a mother. And in that hospital room at Brookwood Hospital, as they laid this precious gift on my chest, a new understanding and revelation of God’s love was ushered into my heart. Then on December 11, 2006, I gave birth to Elsie Mae. Again, as I sat in that hospital bed with my sweet new baby girl and my 2 1/2 year old, one in each arm, being rolled up from labor and delivery to my regular room, I thought at any moment, my heart was going to explode from all the love. It’s like I loved these girls so much, it actually hurt.
And guess what? It does hurt. Parenting is HARD. Parenting HURTS. And the older my girls get, it seems like it can be more painful than precious. The pain varies based on the cause. Sometimes you hurt for your children… and sometimes you are hurt by your children.
A few weeks ago, I had my annual doctor appointment with my OB-GYN. As I was leaving, I noticed a young girl, about Zoe’s age, walking with her mom in front of me. I could tell the girl was crying, and I saw her mom reach out and hold her daughter’s hand. The daughter was not trying to be subtle with her crying. As she walked, I kept seeing others sitting in the waiting rooms and hallways just staring at her. I remember thinking, “Zoe would have to be in a lot of pain to openly hold my hand out in public. She must really be in pain.”
They got into the elevator with me and another woman, and we rode up to the skywalk to get to the parking deck. The other lady offered the girl a Blow-pop sucker to help her feel better. She kindly declined, with tears rolling down her cheeks, pointing out that she had braces. Her mom looked at us with somewhat apologetic eyes, but we told her not to worry. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and had to ask what was wrong. This young lady, caught between being a little girl and a woman, looked at me with big eyes and said, “I got a shot… in my butt…”. And cried even more! It was soooo heart-breaking. A shot usually isn’t too terrible, but since she was basically a child in a women’s center hospital, I figure she must have something bigger going on with her. It was probably more than just the shot that was upsetting her.
I quickly whispered a prayer and then asked her how old she was. We were in the middle of the skywalk by this time. She said “13”, and then I looked at the mom. She had tears in her eyes as she was trying to calm her daughter down. I looked at the girl and said I was so sorry she was hurting. I told her I had a daughter the same age. I then said, “You should know that this is hurting your momma too. When our babies hurt, we hurt.” The mom hugged her daughter, while the other lady said she had 6 children, and she hurts every time one of her babies is in pain. We had a quick prayer before we went to our cars and headed our separate ways.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I thanked God for the small moment of commonality I had in the skywalk with 2 other moms, acknowledging how painful parenting can be at times. 3 different ladies, 3 different families, 3 different ethnicities, 1 common bond – motherhood. Then I remembered an experience I had in Honduras on one of my medical mission trips, where I met a father who was in much pain for his sons.
Over the past 6 years, I have gone on 5 medical mission trips to Honduras. I go with a group of orthopedic surgeons. I often write about my experiences in my prayer journal. Below is where I wrote about a father named Santos.
Today I spent most of my day on the maternity floor. Lots of babies born today – at one point, at least 65 born in a 24-hour period. We prayed and hugged on lots of moms. New life is such a blessing. I was honored and humbled to be there.
We also went to the pediatric general surgery floor. A doctor who had been here last week wanted me to make sure I visited 2 young boys who had been victims of gunfire. Their dad was Santos. One boy was 14 and his name was Angel Eduardo. The other was 7. His name was Estevan. The oldest had been shot twice. Once in the foot and messed up 2 of his toes. The other shot was through his back and came out through his front where his stomach is. His scar was about 12 inches long. He is a miracle. He should not be alive. The dad said his intestines were out of his body.
The youngest was shot kind of in the back of the leg near the calf. It did get infected, so they had to cut it open.
As we prayed for them, I noticed the dad tearing up. After Pati finished praying, I asked Santos if he was okay. He said it was very hard watching his boys suffer. At that moment, I felt as though you gave me your heart for just a moment. My heart hurt for Santos. His heart hurt for his boys. And your heart hurts for Santos. Therefore, my heart felt the pain you felt. I feel I heard you say, “I hurt when you hurt. Whether you hurt yourself by yourself or due to someone else, I hurt. I feel your pain.” Thank you for letting me feel that, even for just a second. And never let me forget. Amen.
I can remember over the years different times when my girls had been mistreated at school or on the playground. Oh, my heart would just ache for them. Or when they had been sick or hurt, and I felt their pain was my pain. And most recently, when we get appointed to new churches, sometimes that can be painful for the girls. To move away from friends you love and schools you are familiar with. And although I know as an adult that God has a plan and it will all be okay, it’s hard for my girls to recognize His plan. And when they are lonely and heart-broken, it breaks my heart as well. Like I said, parenting hurts. But I do find peace in the fact that just like I hurt when my girls hurt, God hurts when we hurt. I’m not alone in my pain. He walks it with us.
But what about those times that we hurt, not because our children hurt, but because they hurt us? Oh, sometimes I think that is even more unbearable. And as I wrote earlier in this post, it seems to happen more often the older they get.
I’m just going to be honest here. I pretty much lost it on my girls the other day. Not physically or anything like that, but basically with words and tears. I just felt as though I was done. I couldn’t do this mom thing anymore. It just hurt too much. Let me explain…
In light of our move to Fayette, Scott and I had told Zoe we would give her a big birthday party before we moved, so that all her friends could come. Her birthday is in July, so we were going to do it in June before the new appointment started. We knew we were going to be a little more extravagant than in years past, just to help make the move a little easier on her. She then asked if she could have a little beach trip and take some friends. Scott and I looked at each other, and then laughed in her face! I mean, we were going to have a bigger party than we normally did, but a beach trip? That is not how the Smyths roll! Especially since our June was already packed out with mission trip, VBS, and MOVING! She seemed kinda down that we couldn’t pull a beach trip off, and pouted much of the evening.
The next day, I thought about this beach idea more and more. I figured out a way to make it happen. And although Scott was not a fan of this birthday beach trip, he ultimately left the decision up to me. But it did cause some tension between us.
When we told Zoe that we had worked it out and I could take them to the beach, I was expecting some huge ‘Thank you Mom! You are the best!!’ type of reaction with a giant hug. I barely got a thank you. I let it be known I was bothered by her less than energetic response. She said it was just because she was in shock.
I took one of my friends from church, along with Zoe and 3 of her friends down to Orange Beach. She wasn’t out right disrespectful of me during the trip. But she had moments of snapping at me, as most middle school kids do. Once, she ran up to me and Beth asking us to not sit with them because she didn’t want us to embarrass them as they talked with some boys. That part didn’t really hurt my feelings though. It actually cracked me up! But the main thing I felt about this trip was her complete lack of gratitude. I had to remind her to say thank you for the awesome pancake birthday breakfast my friend Beth made her. I let her and the girls walk on the beach at night (with very specific boundaries), which is not something I would normally do, but never got a thank you from her. My love language is ‘words of affirmation’, and I’m telling you, she was NOT speaking my language!!
When we get back to Birmingham, Scott picks us up to take us back to our new home in Fayette. Elsie has been with Scott all week. If you didn’t know, Elsie is Scott’s mini-me. She is super smart, super driven, and super sarcastic. She often makes jokes like Scott does, except she lacks one thing. The wisdom to know when to joke and when not to. Scott messes with me all the time, but he also knows when not to mess with me. Elsie doesn’t. And her kind of joking is usually about how I don’t know something, how I didn’t pick up on something, how my question was dumb. Sometimes I’m okay with it, but sometimes I’m not. This was a time that I was not. She had spent a week with Scott, cutting on and joking with him, so she was ripe with cuts and jokes to welcome me back to town. She made quick little jabs in the car for the 80-minute drive back to Fayette.
We get home and unpack our bags. We eventually get ready for bed. I go upstairs to pray for each of the girls, something I’ve done their entire lives. My parents did that for me, and it’s something I continue to do.
I go into Zoe’s room, quickly talk about her new room, just trying to make small talk before I pray for her. She would hardly speak to me. Then I asked her if she enjoyed her trip to the beach. She vaguely said, “yes”, and that was about it. I prayed for her, while silently praying for God to give me self-control, because I was so angry and hurt about the lack of gratitude.
I then go into Elsie’s room, and ask her about the week. I mention something about her room, and she totally snaps on me like I’m a complete idiot. I was done. I prayed for her quickly, trying to hold back tears. As soon as I finished, it came pouring out. Tears and words flowing. I told Elsie that I deserved more respect than what she was giving me. That I was indeed a smart person, reminding her that I was 30 years older than her, that I was my school’s valedictorian, as well as a math major who graduated summa cum laude. And although she seemed to think I didn’t know a darn thing, that I was indeed smarter than her. Plus, I carried her in my body for 9 months, and took care of her when she could do nothing. I deserved her respect.
Then I went into Zoe’s room and told her that I was done trying to win her approval and give her things. I had bent over backward, taking vacation days, putting stress on my marriage, all in order for her to have a better ‘move’ this summer. And the least she could do was thank me. One nice, genuine thank you was all I was wanting. She could top that off with a bit of conversation, but I know that is asking a bit much. But instead, she barely acknowledges what I had done, and then acts like talking to me at times is the biggest annoyance of her life. I deserved her gratitude.
I walked into the hallway between the girls, still crying my eyes out, and said, “I’m done. Being a mother is killing me these days. Good night.” And I walked down the stairs.
I went into the bedroom, Scott asks what is wrong, and I tell him. The crying seems to get more intense as I talk. It’s like when you start crying, then it just won’t stop. I went to wash my face and calm down. I finally got into bed. Scott consoled me, and I tried to go to sleep. But I just could not get my mind or my heart to settle down.
My mind kept going over and over what had happened upstairs. And although the girls were the ones at fault, I felt badly about losing it like I did. What kind of a mom tells their children that they are “done”? A terrible one!! I felt such guilt and shame for my words. I felt like I had even let God down. I really wasn’t ‘done’ with being their mother. But I was serious about how painful being a mom had been these past few weeks. I remember specifically telling God, “it just hurts so bad to love them sometimes”. But my how quickly did His loving chastisement come! I heard Him say in my spirit, “yes, I know.” And that broke my heart.
I’ve said so many times in these blog posts that God speaks specifically to me through music. This was no different. He quickly brought to my memory a song called “18 Bulletholes” by a band called Waterdeep. It talks about people dying and people making bad decisions. Some of the lyrics are below:
Oh, God, it hurts so bad to love anybody down here
Why don’t You come and help me out?
Cause I can’t even see clear
Last night I dreamed that You swallowed me into Yourself
And I was floating on the sea inside
When I landed on the shore, I saw all these people that I thought had died
I hadn’t seen some of them for ages
They had left without a single word
And when I said something to them, not a single one of them had heard
They were all looking right through everything like it wasn’t even there
Some were full of anger, some full of fear
And then I recognized that something very sad
But very beautiful was happening right here
They were all caught outside standing alone in a very heavy rain
And when a raindrop landed on my tongue
I didn’t need You to explain
That these were Your tears
Oh, God, it hurts so bad to love anybody down here
Why don’t You come and help me out?
Cause I can’t even see clear
Oh, God, it hurts so bad to love anybody down here
Oh, that’s right, You know so well
One thorny crown, three nails, and a spear
One thorny crown, three nails, and a spear
And there it was. God fully knows how painful it can be to love people. So much so, He died a painful death on a cross out of His love for us. But not only that, He continues to love me, although I’m pretty sure I hurt Him on a daily basis. Like Zoe showed a lack of gratitude for what I had given her, I consistently show a lack of gratitude for all He has done for me. Like Elsie disrespected me and acted like she knows so much more than I do, I often think I know more than He knows and disrespect Him by questioning things happening in my life. He totally identifies with the pain I was feeling from being hurt by my girls, because I DO THE SAME THING TO HIM. And that realization crushed me.
I quickly prayed, asking God to forgive me for my ingratitude, my disrespect, and my poor mothering skills that I had exhibited earlier in the evening. But I couldn’t help but feel like there was something else that God was trying to remind me of through all of this. Yes, parenting is hard. It hurts. We hurt when our kids hurt, and we hurt when they hurt us. And yes, God feels those same exact things because He is our heavenly Father, who hurts when we hurt, and hurts when we hurt Him. I do find peace in those thoughts, as well as conviction. But what else? What else was He trying to say?
Well, I believe God answered that question for me this past Sunday during our modern worship service. Our worship leader, Sam Junkin, led us in a new song called ‘Sons and Daughters’. He talked about not truly appreciating God’s love as much until he had a child of his own. That God calls us His sons and daughters and loves us like that. And lastly he said, “It doesn’t matter what we do, where we go, or how far we stray. He’s always there and always wants us to find our way back to Him. His open arms are ready to receive us.”
At that moment, it clicked. I knew what God was trying to remind of. I had remembered that He was the Father. I recognized that I hurt Him like my girls had hurt me. But what I had somehow forgotten, or maybe just didn’t focus on, was the fact that I am His daughter. I didn’t forget who He was. But I had forgotten who I am.
By remembering who God is, I was able to identify with Him as a parent. Unfortunately, I’m not a very good one at times. Like that night, when I felt as though I was ready to throw in the towel. I was done. But God, our heavenly Father, is NEVER DONE WITH US. Even when we hurt Him, intentionally or unintentionally, He still loves us, even while dodging the very fists that we may be throwing at Him. Even when we are hurt, by our own actions or the actions of others, and feel as though we are a broken mess of a person not worth any love (much less His love), He still loves us and wraps us up in His arms until we finally feel our worth. And that’s all because of who we are… we are HIS.
In the middle of my motherhood meltdown, I had focused on how hurt I was and what a terrible job I was doing. I quickly realized I wasn’t alone in my hurt, because God feels the same type of hurt for me and by me. But I hung on to the ‘what a terrible job I was doing’ part for weeks, and that funk of negativity is what God was trying to get me out of. As Sam spoke, God reminded me that just like Zoe and Elsie are my daughters, I am His daughter. And although my girls will mess up in the future, and will probably still have moments of ingratitude and disrespect, I would never really be ‘done’ with them. I will always love them. Why? Because they are mine. Flipping the script, although I will mess up in the future, and will probably have many more meltdowns in my lifetime, God will never be ‘done’ with me. He loves me. He always has, always will. Why? Because I am His.
The fact is that I often feel like I’m not good enough, smart enough, skinny enough, pretty enough, or spiritual enough to be a good mother, wife, or Christian. I then let my girl’s ingratitude and disrespect reinforce those negative thoughts. So when Sam gently reminded me that I am a daughter of God, I realized that I didn’t need any other qualifiers. He loves me REGARDLESS. I needed to be reminded that He loves me in spite of…
My less-than-perfect mothering skills.
My lack of self-control.
My lack of faith.
I may indeed be an imperfect mom, but guess what? I’m also an imperfectly perfect daughter of the King. I am His.
Pingback: Tuesdays with Sarah… Like Mother, Like Daughter | Tuesdays with Sarah
Thank you “Say-hey” for sharing your life’s hurts, pains, blessings, and lessons with us! I know the struggle is real and the pain is great some days. Zoe and Elsie will appreciate you even more once they have children of their own just like you and your sisters appreciate things your Mom did more now that you’re adults. I would also like to add that you are DEFINITELY a great Mom, Wife, Minister, and Child of God….and although I may be biased, it’s still true! I love you “first born Daughter”.
My dear Sarah I laughed and cried. Your stories always makes me smile and cry. Things will get better❤️ My girls and I are friends now. I understand totally since I have 2 girls. Never really thought how I hurt God the same way! I pray for you every day! Your girls love you and you will get thru this. They are beautiful girls with great parents! God bless and please keep these stories coming❤️❤️❤️
Sweet Sarah, your stories always make my eyes leak and my heart ache as you touch so many familiar chords in my life. Remembering how hard it is to parent and all the mistakes we make in all our “human” imperfections is humbling. Hang in there, these are probably the toughest years you will face, but your heart is open to the Healer, Provider and Maker of all, our Heavenly Father and you’re doing a great job in all your many roles🙌 With prayerfully calloused knees, these years will pass very quickly and one day you’ll be the proud grandma🙏Perspective is everything and yours is very helpful for so many!🙏 Keep sharing your insights and blessing us with your honesty❤️