This summer, my kids participated in our church’s “Vacation Bible School” program (aka, VBS). Every day for a week, we left the house early to trek down to the church’s building, where the kids attended the opening and closing assemblies and rotated through crafts, music, Bible, snack, and movement classes each day. I mostly volunteered in the preschool Bible class, performing various roles in Bible skits for over 100 little ones. The whole week was exhausting for me.
Despite being surrounded by Bible verses, memory points, smiling people with what seemed like boundless amounts of energy, and energizing pop songs about God’s love and forgiveness, I felt spent, exhausted, and alone. The transition back to New York City after over three weeks away was a difficult one, and I realized in hindsight that I had not prepared myself or the family well for the adjustment. (I actually made lists of things to do differently next time. I love lists.) And to make things more difficult, it was a hot week in New York, my husband was working out of town, and I was 7-something months pregnant. And my kids weren’t sleeping.
Each day I’d show up, feeling beaten, and run into dozens of people I knew, some fairly well, most acquaintances I hadn’t seen in a year – and everyone was all smiles and “it’s great to see you!” and “how wonderful that you’re expecting!” and hugs. I didn’t feel like smiling, and I didn’t feel like it was great to see anyone, and I didn’t feel like it was wonderful to be expecting. It all felt like hard work.
But we were all there to serve the 300+ kids in the program, to smile and tell them how much God loves them and dance to the songs of God’s promises and instill them with energy and hope. So I held it together. Until we got home. The kids battled naptime and fought bedtime and were unruly and disrespectful. They didn’t just disobey my requests, but flat-out ignored them. I was out of energy, out of strength, out of ideas, out of hope. I yelled, bribed, and cried. I knew I needed to pray, I knew I needed a shift in my perspective and my attitude. But I couldn’t quite get there.
Until one day, sitting in the morning assembly with my daughter, I saw these words on the screen:
That’s just how I felt. Here I was, “trying so hard to do things right,” volunteering in a Bible class, taking my kids to VBS to learn about God’s promises, and yet at home I’d yell at them for getting out of their beds, for disrupting my precious time of quiet. Was I tender with them? Did I discipline them right away, mercifully but consistently? Was I praying with them? Was I holding my tongue, making the right choices about how I responded to my kids? I was trying to get things right, yes, for sure. But I was making the wrong choice, time after time.
I was choosing to muscle it out with my kids, and I was plowing ahead, blinders on, not looking up at God, not asking for help. I was choosing to pray for others’ prayer requests, but I was not being honest with God about my own – I was choosing to try to “fix” our home environment on my own instead of surrendering to God and asking for help in my weakness and exhaustion and desperation.
I wasn’t confessing my sins of selfishness and self-reliance, wasn’t coming to my God in weakness and asking for help. I was choosing my own strength over God’s. And my choices were failing me.
You take all the pieces of my life,
Put ‘em back together, make it all alright.
Oh you forgive me.
Only you can heal my broken heart,
make all things new with a brand-new start.
Oh, you forgive me.
Thank God for that cheesy, annoying, truth-filled VBS song. That day things started to change. I cried, finally. I called a friend and was honest. I prayed, not for everyone else’s prayer requests, but for my heart, for my kids, for my attitude, for help.
Jesus, help me, I prayed at every “quiet” time and bedtime. I feel so weak, so incapable. Take the pieces of my life, my heart, my family, and put us all back together again. Make all things new in this home and in this heart. Thank you that you are here, in my weakness, and you are strong.
The rest of the week was still hard. But I kept praying, kept being honest, kept reading Psalm 42, before I cleaned up the kitchen or folded the laundry or took a shower or responded to emails or worked on my writing assignments. I sang the VBS songs to myself and they became my prayer (even though they also drove me nuts). And, in His time, things improved, things got better, and we all made it through.
The kids adored VBS week. It was possibly their most-loved week of the summer…and my most-hated. Christ’s death was his worst, lowest, loneliest moment. He begged for things to happen some other way. But he sacrificed his own life, he put the rest of creation first, and his sacrifice became his finest hour – and also, mine, and ours.
I am NO Christ-like figure, that’s for sure. But I’m a Christian, and I’m a mother. God made me for a reason, to do His work here on earth. And that means living a life of sacrifice, of putting others first, of following Christ in his humility, in his life of service. And the most important service, the most important purpose that I have right now, is to my kids: to raise them, to love them, to teach them, to train them.
But I was reminded during VBS week that if I try to serve out of my own strength, I will fail. The only way I can fully realize the purpose for which God has made me, and live it out, is if I also fully realize my own weakness. Christ’s purpose was made complete in His weakness. My purpose can only be realized when I understand that even though I “try so hard to do things right, I make the wrong choice sometimes” – and God forgives me, and loves me, and will give me a new start. He has a purpose for my life.
I was made for this, I live for this,
God has a reason, a reason for my life!
I’m gonna shout it out, without a doubt,
I was born for this, built for a purpose!