Dear Mother: On Shame and Who Loves First

Dear Mother,

Last week I gave up.

Many nights I go to bed and stay awake to the dark. I hate shame, yet I use it for covers and writhe underneath at all the things I know I should be doing better. I have to teach my boys the Bible; I’m not homeschooling Isaac well at all; I lose my temper; I think I might be pregnant with my 5th child (not shameful, just terrifying); I don’t feed them veggies; I can have 50 quiet times and still not meet with God – and these are just the things on the surface. I make vows, try to love more, and then I ruin it again, and the shame beats harder. I have tried harder and harder and harder. I can’t be dramatic enough about it here. Shame erases hope.

So last week I gave up on shame, or at least I made the first steps in trying. I woke knowing it was registration day for Fall kindergarten students. I gathered the needed paperwork, not just for my 5 year old, but also for my home-schooled first grader. I prayed and I cried, and I asked for signs. I asked for help in laying it down. I registered them both, and my oldest started 1st grade on Monday.

I stared at the clock the entire time he was there, and I was almost first in the car pick-up line. We made eye contact, and his smile was as wide as my dashboard. I asked him if he loved well, and he said he asked a boy to play with him, the one the others had called weird. He made friends. He loved his math and running at recess. Those public school tests that I loathe, they were this week. He thinks he did well and really didn’t raise an eyebrow at them at all, while I secretly died to even smell a school hallway, much less hear the word “scantron.”

I reckon it’s all going to be okay without my checklists. How can I mother well by showing them the hopeless weight of the world breaking my back? How can I show them how loved they are if I don’t live out how loved I am? I have been called to some things and not to others. Our callings are different. But I know we’re all called to be free from shame.

My boy has Holy Spirit, so I let him go with Him. God whispers to me over and over again, “You only love because I first loved you.” There’s no undoing or getting better for us. He already loves. He loved before my story began.

It turns out that I’m not pregnant, but even in that, in my untrusting fear, He whispered. It turns out that I commit the same sins over and over again, and even in that, He is there. Where can you go, Mother, that He isn’t there?

It turns out that all He ever asks of me is that I believe that he loves me, and even when I don’t, He’s there. God can handle our doubt.

Lay it all on Him.

Dancing in a semi-clean kitchen (Glory!),

Amber

***

So obviously, this isn’t about whether or not to homeschool. I would choose homeschool myself, but I believe with all my heart that God chose differently for me.  He’s asked me to do other things right now and continues to confirm to me that, for now, this is where He wants us.

This post is about shame and how mothers can tend to wallow in it. I would love hear some of the things you’ve laid down before, whether or not you’re a Mama. I’d love to even hear that you know what it is you need to lay down to get rid of the shame.

***

Also, if you haven’t yet, follow Mother Letters on Facebook. I think we’re about to start a group there to encourage one another in this motherhood journey. We’ll let you know there when it gets started, and we’ll want you to jump into that conversation. I need the encouragement and sometimes just to touch base with another Mama.

Comments

  1. I am new here…came across your place from your love letter to husbands. Shame is such an ugly but powerful tool of the enemy…and shame comes from all the shoulding we do…I heard someone say…we should not should on ourselves or should on others…and yes…we can only teach our kids how to Love God and trust God to the measure we are doing that ourselves. There is freedom here…not that we present to our children that we love God enough and trust Him enough…but we too are learning daily how to do this…we too fail daily. I can say…my children(they are older) and I think most children…especially teens…want authentic…not perfect. Blessings as you mother well.

  2. Yes, Amber. Just yes. No shame, no guilt, only freedom. This is the thing of the thing.
    Sarah@EmergingMummy recently posted..In which I write something down for Holy Week :: Tuesday

  3. These two lines stick out to me the most:

    “How can I mother well by showing them the hopeless weight of the world breaking my back?”

    “My boy has Holy Spirit, so I let him go with Him.”

    With our oldest son Sam, (who, we believe, has some sensory issues) we began in private school then switched six weeks later, after meetings with the teacher who thought he should be more happy about coloring for hours on end. The next year public school recommended moving him up a year, which we did. The year after that we moved to TN (school #3) and found he was much younger than the other boys and struggling socially, so the following year he went to a magnet school and did 2nd grade over. Finally, in 3rd grade, he came back to regular public school and we kept him in one place for the next three years (he asked, “please can I stay in one place?”) And now that he’s in middle school we’ve gone back to private. Not sure yet what we’ll do for high school, but I have shamed myself many times over the last 8 years because I was never able to try homeschooling. But it was wrong to compare myself to others. So now we have the attitude that each kid is different and sometimes each age is different too, so we try to assess what’s working and what isn’t — every single year. For that matter, each Mom is different too, and you have to do what works for YOUR family. Thanks for sharing your story here. You are right to lay down the shame.

  4. Oh, Amber. Kindred spirits doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    You know… I have never labeled it “shame,” more “failure.” I don’t lay it down… I didn’t know that was allowed, really. Mothering is so big and so important that I’ve always felt that to lay it down would be irresponsible, that the guilt is meant to prod me to focus my efforts on fixing what I’m always (seemingly) in the process of breaking, mothering-wise (and wifing-wise, too).

    Guilt is probably my #1 motivator. ICK.

    You mean I can let it go? Some of it? I must ponder.

    I truly love this and feel a little bit released by it already. Thanks for setting a new wheel spinning in my churning little mind.
    Megan (FriedOkra) recently posted..WIWW: VS Dresses on a Regular Old Imperfectly Perfect Body (Yes, Gertrude, It CAN Be Done.)

  5. Oh.
    I failed at absolutely everything this week. I cried defeated last night…
    I cry reading this with a bit of hope today?
    I don’t know…hope in the fact that at least I am not the only one.
    LOVE your heart, your writing…
    Thank you for sharing both.
    Meliss
    Melissa recently posted..Marriage Letters: Serving Together

  6. I think this was a good post for me to read on the day I forgot my son got out at 11:30 and almost left him at the school. :)
    Cassie Boorn recently posted..Global Warming and All That Jazz

  7. you are a good woman, Amber…you make us hunger to live “free indeed”. This very wrestle goes on in my heart..I live for the days where I might just pull it all off. The yoke of failure is just to heavy to bear and I hate when I hang it on my kids with the measuring stick. Thank you for your passionate pursuit of the the light burden and the easy yoke… Jesus=peace…not a lifestyle, a parenting style, schooling, etc. Reminded this special week, of all the agendas and “better ways” that were not co-signed by the King..yet how in quiet trust we find our safe place. He is our peace.

  8. “Shame erases hope.” Wow – powerful words and a reminder that I needed today!
    the Blah Blah Blahger recently posted..HEY FATTY, A NOTE TO MYSELF

  9. I needed every line of this today. Between this and emily wierenga’s blog, I am doing a lot of crying. I feel so much shame in my mothering not adding up some days. Like right now I popped in a leap frog dvd just to have 30 minutes of nothing, and I feel guilt. “How can I mother well by showing them the hopeless weight of the world breaking my back? How can I show them how loved they are if I don’t live out how loved I am?” This is echoing in my heart.
    Amanda @wandering recently posted..marriage letters – on serving together

  10. “How can I show them how loved they are if I don’t live out how loved I am? ”

    This pierced me right in the center. I truly believe this is the point to which we all need so much to return. If only we can grasp His love for us … how well, then, we can love others.

    I’ve been hiding under covers of shame about a character quirk/flaw/trait, but it is a small thing that He is gently speaking to me of dealing with, and now, I think I’ll go and do the thing He has asked.

    Thank you for your hope words today.
    Megan at SortaCrunchy recently posted..what i wore wednesday – a few skirts

  11. I think I could write a small book in this little comment box about how this post just…soothes my life-tenderized heart. But, I’ll just leave it at that. Shame, failure, dissatisfaction have been my constant bedfellows of late, and boy are they cover hogs. I’m tired of the cold they leave me in and have left that bed to find Hope Himself is a far better lover of my soul.

  12. Wow, still digesting and ingesting and pondering. My middle son has found a great fit private prep school. We are full of joy… but this is after trying several ,not sure if I need one or two hands worth of digits to count the school changes. But, but God is good and we are beginning to look at colleges and we are coming through and came through with Him walking right there with us. Hoping Peace for you in your decision. Blessings this Easter. Like your blog a lot.

  13. Clean house. I’ve laid down clean house. Well, to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever had a particularly clean house, but I’ve decided not to sweat it. I try to keep it from being gross. Otherwise, whatever.
    Brandee Shafer recently posted..How Things Hatch

  14. Yep, self-loathing and I have been friends too much lately. I say all the time that I feel like there’s so much to do that I don’t do anything well. And it starts the shame/guilt cycle all over again.
    Sometime park at my house and we’ll all walk down the street and pick up Isaac together.

  15. In the midst of schooling decisions here too. Me, I don’t want to homeschool but I think God is calling us to it, for now. And that, for me, will be laying it down.
    Laura recently posted..Wednesday Wisdom: Make friends in different places

  16. “My boy has Holy Spirit, so I let him go with Him.”
    Those words move me…I rearrange them to suit my situation…” my kids have the Holy Spirit, so I will let them go”…in God’s grace, with God’s grace and because of God’s grace.

  17. This post is very influential. I believe with all my heart that God chose differently for me.
    Crosby recently posted..How to Make a Solar Panel

  18. Amber,

    This was such a beautiful picture. A reminder to me of laying down my dreams and being flexible with Jesus on the needs of my family. Sometimes I feel so dag gum headstrong. Like I am a horse with blinders on to what I assume my future, the “best” , is for our family that I miss the fact that my “best” is really killing everyone.

    This was good for me today, on so many levels. As we face some “failure”s of late. Thank you. Always am touched by your words.

  19. On Shame and Who Loves First it was a great one. Thanks for sharing this influential post.
    Liz recently posted..Hcg diet reviews

  20. Yes. It is four a.m. and I have been wrestling half the night with shame, and all day long it is not the sound mind that God gives but the wracking and confusing voices of guilt that I hear. Surely there is a simplicity of abiding that I can only find in the deep deep love of Christ, not ever by my performance. Thank-you for speaking truth so beautifully, as always.
    Jess recently posted..Lent, Poetry, Being a SAHM, and why I don’t exercise

  21. and in the same way: hope works to keep shame at bay.
    beautifully written thoughts.
    so many decisions as a mama, and not a one of them should be made from a place of shame. that we could all live this way and continue to remind ourselves and each other of this fact. it would be a different world, i believe. today i’m laying down the shame which makes me feel that i am not enough. never enough. for in reality, i’m not. and that’s okay. for HE is.
    thanks so much for sharing your heart.
    steph
    HopeUnbroken recently posted..why i believe in God

  22. Oh, sweetheart! You are so right – shame erases hope and shame needs to be laid down – again and again and again. Your sweet boys will thrive in public school. And if perchance one of them should not, then you will flex and move where the Spirit blows YOU and YOUR family. There just is no one-size-fits-all for any of this. Except this one: God loves you exactly as you are, and your beautiful boys, too. And leaning into the winds of Spirit and grace will change you – slowly, deliberately – so that you (and they) will be your truest, bestest selves more and more of the time. Life is ALWAYS 2 steps forward, 1 step back. But see – God is there. In the forward and the back. Love to you this Easter weekend.
    diana trautwein recently posted..A Lenten Journey: Climbing to Calvary – Day THIRTY-EIGHT – MAUNDY THURSDAY

  23. I have one boy in kindergarten, and another due to arrive any day. Reading your words is like a hug, or an encouraging squeeze of my hand.
    Thank you.

  24. Amber,
    Great post, so glad I came across it today. :)

    There is a lot in my life I feel like I have to lay down… failures that I am tempted to ponder deeply and sway weakly over. One thing is this: I am not a good, Christian, Southern girl. What I mean by that, is that I don’t (and never have) fit into the mold of what SO many say a Christian woman is. There are a LOT of reasons for that, that I won’t get into her in this little comment box. Suffice it say, I have felt a lot of shame over it in the past, until I just decided one day that I wasn’t going to be ashamed anymore. This isn’t to say I don’t have a lot of purification ahead of me… there really are so many ways I hope I will look more like Jesus in the future than I do right now. But being independent and a little rough around the edges and a straight-shooter…. this is NOT for me to apologize for. I finally get that. So no, I’m not sweet, but it’s OK. I am loving…. He gives me grace and so I can give grace, too… and that is close-enough to sweet. ;>

    Thanks for your post,
    Kara
    Kara recently posted..Food Rules

  25. Hi Amber,

    I am a newer reader here and find such comfort in your descriptions of grace and motherhood. I have an almost 11 month old and 4 year old, and am finding it so hard to “keep it together”…even as I begin to realize that that might not be the point. My oldest was diagnosed recently with mild autism, and it has broken me. I am trying trying trying to lay it down before the Lord, as He knows my child inside and out even as I don’t, but find it hard because of fighting my fears and shame. Thank you for your honesty in posting and may God bless you and your family. Know that you are doing His work through your writing more than you might know.

  26. I’ve never read your blog before today…

    After reading this post, I know I will be stopping back by for every new post. :)

    I needed that good word. Thanks for sharing!

  27. It is just the hardest thing, isn’t it? How we expect so much of ourselves and think we’ve failed when we haven’t.

    Resting in the truth that we love because He first loved us. That is truly the way to freedom. Truly.

    Blessings, friend.

  28. Why o why is it that you nudge what you do from me? Is it okay to leave you with this?

    Smallest messenger of the heart, more sedate
    than the Bee Hummingbird, a tiny jewel, who comes solitary
    to sip from a thousand petal’d throats−
    you compass the ordinariness of morning
    before coming to rest
    where a parasol of emerald leaves part the sun.
    I suspect you have journeyed here from childhood,
    a nostalgic song from the same pools
    as all other innocent meditations on reluctance.

    – me

    I won’t clutter your space with more superlatives about this post … only, perhaps to say this …

    my womb has long since forgotten how to carry the particular kind of promise that life is however from my very depths I have not forgotten how to carry shame and its offspring, reluctance. As to the thing to be laid down. I’m recalling the beginnings of this prayer … “Now I lay me down …” Seems as good a place as any to begin.

    Write on …

  29. Yes. To all of it.

    I can’t begin to form the words, just tears.

    Yes.
    Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting recently posted..That’s The Way, Uh Huh Uh Huh, They Like It, Uh Huh Uh Huh

  30. What shame have I laid down? Boy, this speaks to me. I’m at a different place in my life than most of the mothers here. My daughters are 23, 23, and 22, and we have a 3 year old grandchild. I am recently coming to terms with laying down the shame of having children that chose a different life than the one you raised them for. Two of our daughters have chosen lifestyles that we really find hard to support. We love our daughters, but can not be a part of the lives thay have chosen, like we would like to if things were different. When our children were small, we never dreamed we would be on this road.

    • You are not alone. We have 5 children, daughters 30, 27, sons 23, 20 and daughter 12. Daughter 27 is in her 3rd lesbian relationship, son 23 has been in jail for possessing and dealing drugs and has broken up with long term partner with whom he has a son.
      Son 20 has a non-Christian girlfriend although still wants God in his life. All were home schooled, and like you we never thought they would take these roads. Shame? yes, tons of it. Sometimes it has almost taken me down and out. Thank God that I have found forgiveness and abundant life in Him. I have asked the forgiveness of our children whom I failed through my own sinfulness, and I believe Him for their futures.

      • Honey and Esther dare I tell you that I think I understand?

        I have a 31 year old son I no longer know and a 4 year old grandson by him that I’ve never met. I’ve seen what the locusts can do to a life through drugs, alcohol, and numerous incarcerations.

        Once upon a time I too never dreamed any of this for my son.

        • Esther and Laure,
          Thanks so much for showing me that I am not alone. I will pray for both of you and your families. I will keep praying for my own, and will pray that I know the plans God has f0r me!

  31. Oh, how I recognize . . . shame is such a battle for me. As I was raising our daughters the girls always knew when something was bothering me. When I was struggling with feeling shame — not being a good enough mom — I would bake cookies. They didn’t know about the shame but they knew I was worried about something.

  32. Shame…this is the word that caught my attention. I have been drowning in it. I have things to be guilty for. I have been forgiven, but one of my adult children keeps bringing my failings up and then I sink again. I hurt her and even though it was 20 years ago, I can quickly be back in the prison of shame with just an angry word from her. Your post was so helpful. We have to decide to believe God and live in that belief. It takes a determination to hear the truth and choose to deny the accuser. I am not experiencing victory in this so am not modeling an abundant life for my children. I want to live in the freedom that Christ offers. I accepted His forgiveness long ago and became His child. Through Him I can walk on water rather than sink in the quicksand. Oh God, help me.
    Beverly White recently posted..Favorite Christmas Memory

  33. Susan Lezotte says:

    Dear Amber,
    I’m not sure how I even stumbled across you post, but I do know why. I too just sent my precious, innocent 1st grader off to public school 2 weeks ago. She loves it, but I am still reeling from an overwhelming sense of failure. I have been so consumed by my own thoughts and disappointment that I have not stopped to rest in God’s mercy and grace. Your post shook me and I now want to rest in my Father’s arms. Thank you for reminding me that He is bigger than all my trials, failures and disappointments. May God bless you on your journey.

  34. Oh, I needed to read this.

    I haven’t laid anything down – and this is a real problem, I’d say. (My husband would say it too.)

    I need to lay down the ‘ideal’. I could not get more idealistic. (Growing up, I begged my mom to wear dresses like Lucy and Donna Reed while she vacuumed. It’s true.) I need to lay down my house being perfectly cleaned and my food coming out of the oven looking like the picture on the recipe and…I could go on and on.

    Great post for me. So good. THANK YOU.

    – Kate :)

  35. Jennifer says:

    Hi, I just came back from a trip to my parents (alone! I have six kids) and have been dealing with the shame of not being “successful” in this world. We’ve always struggled financially and God called our family to homeschool which I’ve never done particularly well. Funny how God has different plans for different people. I’ve tried several times to send my kids to school and the answer is always NO. Anyway, thank you for the reminder that shame has no part in our walk with Christ.
    “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

  36. I needed to read this. Thank you.
    Mozi Esmes Mom recently posted..F is for Follower

  37. Such truth! And a reminder again of our universal struggles. Freedom in Christ! Let’s live it!

  38. Look at you here, doing this hard work of shaking out your heart, searching it for need and digging deep into the corners to uncover what might be hidden. This is it. This is the good love- work you should be doing. (How many of us just stuff it all down and never peer into the hard spaces and so we miss all this wonderful growing and stretching?) We’re so hard on ourselves with our ideals and our should-do’s. That boy coming home with his smile, his stories of loving, those are things to be proud of mama. All my children started out in public school…I’d never have survived the early years if we were homeschooling too. I don’t mind saying it. You can make all kinds of choices for them as they grow, year by year, and God will fit them together into a good plan for each one. Thank you for loving and stretching and growing and sharing it all honestly. That’s good work too, and you are blessing your readers with it.
    tonia recently posted..100 days and counting…

  39. There are so few things that I’ve truly and fully laid down… that laying down thing is so very hard to do! Right now I think the thing I’m wrestling with laying down is being a working mama… it is the reality of where we’re at in life right now… and I’m so desperate to make peace with it and lay it down, leaving the shame of not being at home, not homeschooling my kids and not being fully there for them. Trusting that God will work wonders in them despite our family’s need for me to work outside our home right now. But oh the grappling that goes on in my heart… I would be a better mom if… My fuse would not be so short if… I would have more memorable moments with my boys if… I could actually cook a dinner or two if… and the list goes on. But I will trust that God will be greater and more amazing than I can ever imagine, and will raise my boys (in the moments that I’m physically present and the ones where I’m not) to be strong and passionate men of His Spirit and heart! Thank you for the sweet reminder of hope, and the painful reality that the shame I allow to creep in robs me and my little family of the hope that God has so lavishly poured into our lives’!

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