How Does God Feel About You as a Mother?   The Tiny Button Analogy

I was pregnant with my third child and feeling pretty miserable.  Everything ached, I was nauseated, I wasn’t sleeping well at night, but my two older children still needed me. All. Day. Long. I am embarrassed to say that I was completely grouchy about all of this. I felt forgotten by God, somehow.  I believed that God valued my sacrifices to bring life into the world, but I just couldn’t feel it.  Very little positivity penetrated my perpetual discomfort.  One day, I had spent some considerable time asking the Lord for help.  I wanted to feel the joy of motherhood.  I wanted to feel valued by Him.  His answer came subtly, but I still feel the echoes of that quiet voice in my heart.  It happened like this:

Picture me wallowing like a beached whale, trying to muster the strength to be useful. Meanwhile, my 4-year-old son decided to get his little sister dressed that morning.  He helped her into a happy sundress with bright flowers. As they wandered past me on their way to play, my mind registered two thoughts.  First, I felt gratitude for his simple help.  Getting the children dressed had become hard.  Secondly, I zeroed in on the tiny hook-and-eye button at the back of the dress. It was difficult to button. For the sake of simplicity, I always left it undone. But today, It had been faithfully fastened.  I knew this would have taken some patient effort on the part of my four-year-old, as his fine motor skills were still developing.  I felt my eyes mist over at the mental picture of him carefully buttoning that little button for his sister.

At that moment, a thought raced through my mind like lightening.  This is how your Heavenly Father feels about your work as a mother.  He is filled with love over even your tiny efforts to serve.  I felt God’s glowing affirmation that my service as a mother was highly valued in His heart.  Profound realization dawned as I followed that line of thought. 

From the perspective of God, I am very much like my four-year-old.  Here I am, watching over these children, who are not really my own, but His. I labor over tasks and stress over situations which are infinitesimal to Him, even tinier than a hook-and-eye-button.  Although my capacity to help is nowhere near His, He honors my feeble efforts because I am still learning.  He knows this work is difficult to me and He loves me all the more for that. 

He appreciates even the tiny services mothers render, for they are known to Him. Our work is sacred because He cherishes these children whom we are serving.  In this way, I understand the spirit of the scripture, “If ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt 25:40) applies thoroughly to parenthood.  All that we labor over as parents, all those thankless tasks are known to God.  In fact, our service as parents is received by Him as if we performed it “unto Him,” just as the scripture states.

If you’d like to test this, think back to a time when someone did something kind for your child.  Didn’t your heart melt with love and appreciation for them?  It probably felt EVEN BETTER than if hey had done that kindness to you.  I am certain that God feels just that way toward us as we provide for and nurture His children in our homes.  And just think!  God is moved with love as we dress our children each morning.  As we feed them, or get them a snack, as we worry over their friendships at school.  He loves us for our careful nurturing as we help children develop their talents or their sense of integrity or even good habits of hygiene!  And how much more God rejoices to see us teach them, or share our testimonies with them.  I am certain that every noisy, imperfect attempt at family scripture study is precious and hallowed service in His eyes.  Let’s think more about THAT and claim more of the joy of knowing we are pleasing our God with our service as parents.

It is so easy to get overwhelmed as parents.  Neil L. Anderson affirmed this feeling with an anecdote in his talk, “Children”, from October 2011.  (Read it again! It’s so good!)

“Having young children is not easy. Many days are just difficult. A young mother got on a bus with seven children. The bus driver asked, “Are these all yours, lady? Or is it a picnic?”

“They’re all mine,” she replied. “And it’s no picnic!””

On the hard days, I feel guilty that it’s hard for me.  Shouldn’t I always feel joyful that I am a mother?  Why is it sometimes very difficult to feel fulfilled in this role?

I was struck by Rachel Jankovic’s comments on the blog, desiringgod.org,  when she stated;

“[Growing] up in this culture, it is very hard to get a biblical perspective on motherhood. … Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get.” She then adds: “Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling.”

So, is it any wonder that we have to work at feeling fulfilled as mothers?  There are voices all around that seem to shout, what do you have to show for yourself, woman?  Yeah, yeah, you’ve got kids, but what have you done for you?

I had a great conversation with my cousin and friend on this topic.  She expressed something profound saying (and I’m paraphrasing);

Sometimes I’m afraid to take my kids anywhere. People in our culture are wired to be critical. I’m half frightened someone will take a video of me in an awful mom moment and post it on the internet for all to critique. That’s what our culture is like. Sometimes I can’t stand the ridicule. But, then I realize this culture is seriously wrong! It’s unhealthy. Ours is a society where 1 in 5 children are sexually assaulted. It’s a culture where elective abortion is celebrated as a basic right.  So, no, I don’t choose to listen to what our society says about motherhood.

These facts are sad to contemplate, but the sentiment is strangely liberating.  In our culture, God is not valued. Life is not valued. Parenthood is not valued. Negative sentiments about traditional roles are sometimes blatantly, and often subtly woven into popular literature and media.

In Dalin H. Oaks’s wonderful address Protect the Children from October 2012 (read it again, it’s so good!), he references the idea that in our society, children have become mere shadowy figures in the background of selfish adult interests.

I believe that there is great strength in recognizing these societal shifts and calling them by name.  Or, maybe just by the name of he who works hard to muddy the water, the father of all lies.  In contrast to modern philosophies which minimize the importance of children and belittle motherhood, I have often thought back to Julie B. Beck’s words from, A Mother Heart (read it again, it’s so good!), when she stated:

“I was recently at a park where I met a group of women with mother hearts. They were young, covenant-keeping women. They were bright and had obtained advanced degrees from respected universities. Now they were devoting their considerable gifts to planning dinner that evening and sharing housekeeping ideas. They were teaching two-year-olds to be kind to one another. They were soothing babies, kissing bruised knees, and wiping tears. I asked one of those mothers how it came about that she could transfer her talents so cheerfully into the role of motherhood. She replied, “I know who I am, and I know what I am supposed to do. The rest just follows.” That young mother will build faith and character in the next generation one family prayer at a time, one scripture study session, one book read aloud, one song, one family meal after another. She is involved in a great work. She knows that “children are an heritage of the Lord” and “happy is the [woman] that hath [a] quiver full of them” (Ps. 127:3, 5).”

I love the way Julie Beck acknowledges the faith of mothers who are willing to place their own aspirations in the background to make children the central focus of their lives.  Marilyn Faulkner describes these early years of motherhood as a time grow deep roots. Dedicated mothers can figuratively prune back the showy leaves and blossoms of their branches for a season, allowing deep roots to develop below ground.  These foundational roots may not be much to look at, and it’s hard to see our own progress. However, The Master Gardener knows that in the end, the willing mother is the stronger for it, bearing sweet fruit in other seasons. 

At times, I find the philosophies of our culture subtly seeping into my work as a mother.  Invariably, these invasions tend to squelch my joy in motherhood.  Here’s an example about rushing:

The work of motherhood often revolves around repetition.  We do the morning routine.  We pick up the house.  We play together.  We pick up the house. We make dinner and while we’re doing that, the children decide that the tidy toys are just too inviting and so, we pick those same toys up yet again.  Sometimes I have caught myself feeling very antsy about the repetition.  I start rushing the children through their routines.  Hurry, let’s pick up the house.  Hurry, let’s brush our teeth.  Hurry, get in the car.  “Move. Move. Move. Move people!” I find myself thinking, as if I were a drill sergeant coordinating military operations.  It’s surprising how long it takes to wake up and see myself in these moments.  When I feel irritated that my two-year-old wants to stop and smell the roses, it’s a good mental check for me. And I take an internal survey:

Why am I rushing?

What is more important than this?

More often than not, I am frustrated because I want to get something done beyond the basic routines of motherhood. Okay, I’ll be honest, I want to get many somethings done.  I want to cram in the extras, the cute little details, the freelance work, the guilty pleasures.  Or, I’m just antsy with a nameless frustration.  This gnawing sense of something else important I want to do.  Frustration that this is all we’re doing today, nothing but the necessary tasks of family life.

The other day, I caught myself stressing over the kindergarten pick-up routine. I didn’t want to be too early, standing around waiting for my kid, because the other moms might think I was a bit pathetic.  I didn’t want to appear as if I had nowhere more important to be… What? “Hold up!  Wait a minute!” I said internally, “I am grateful that I get to watch over my child with care.  I am grateful to be a parent, and there is no better use of my time.” What could I possibly be doing that would be more important that this? Than being there for my child? Than literally being there, showing up. Showing him that he is important to me—-My fist priority. Why should I feel afraid of making my children my first priority?

I found that it was very helpful to have this internal dialogue.  Talking back to that negative voice in my head was validating.   In a world where children are marginalized, we have to work at valuing motherhood. Our efforts might never be applauded by the world, so we must give ourselves permission to value the role of nurturer. 

I noticed that when I changed my thinking, joy blossomed in my chest.  I was owning it. I was claiming my role and my blessings as a mother. Instead of feeling the tiniest bit ashamed, I felt a blanket of peace.  The day seemed rosier. It was as if I could feel the warm rays of Gods approval on my shoulders. I felt like I was basking in the light that had always been there, which I had rarely before chosen to see. My self-consciousness slipped away with the assurance that this was God’s work for me. Even in this tiny act of service, I felt I was on His errand.

When did our culture stop valuing hard work? A few examples of this attitude from our politics and print media: In 2011, the CA senate voted on a bill requiring hotels to use fitted sheets.  People felt it was demeaning/dangerous for maids to be required to tuck in the corners of a flat bed sheet.  Corner tucking was called out as crude, menial labor that could lead to injury.

Along the same theme, Jojo Moyes wrote a great line in Me Before You. On working as a caregiver she says, “Most people assume you’re only doing it because you really aren’t smart enough to do anything else.”

These are just two examples, but I think the attitude is widespread. Honest labor is to be pitied?  Laboring with our hands is degrading?  It’s a sad way to look at life. No honest work is demeaning. Good, respectable, hard work is exalting. Caregiving is noble. When did we, as a society, loose our pride in that? There is more nobility in a stable, in the hard work of mucking out the stalls, than in all the amoral business ventures of the glass-panneled-high-rise world.

Motherhood is incredibly humble at times. It is incredibly invasive too. Yes, it’s messy. It’s literally a sack of diapers. It’s a whole landfill of diapers! And, it’s hard work.

But I sense that in the lowly work, we claim our truest selves.  The great paradox of motherhood is that in the mucky work, we stand beside angels. We earn something of infinite value. Didn’t Jesus Christ come to a lowly stable? In the most grubby of circumstances. A diamond. At His humble birth, very few saw the divine in Him either. That did not diminish His work, and it does not diminish ours.

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin gives a great address where he describes his reign as king saying, “And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you…And if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?”  He emphasizes the nobility in giving service with our own hands and also in giving service to God. He was a servant-King. I like to think of a mother as a servant-Queen. Yes, she is capable of accomplishing much outside the home, but she chooses to labor with her hands to serve.  This is also a great lesson for her children.  She chooses them.  She serves them.  And, she shows her children an example of service.  Saying effectually, “If I, the adult decision-maker in this household, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye value and serve one another?”

To them it is a powerful lesson, even if an unspoken one.

The world wants us to cast our eyes downward. To be offended at the menial nature of life as a mother. I can choose to be exalted by it. It is my choice to view myself that way, to value and claim my role as a woman, as a mother.

I want to tuck in the corners of my little-one’s beds. What a privilege to tuck them safely into their beds. And, I feel like when we do that, we tuck them into our affections, too.  They know they are at the center of our lives.  Not because we have no other self outside of them, but because we really believe that whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life shall find it.  Through this amazing cosmic enigma I can’t fathom, the journey of parenthood brings us more self-actualization than the pursuit of self-actualization alone would bring.

Sometimes, it is difficult to grasp how needed we are as parents. Ready for a parenting pep-talk?  I want you to leave with a little rallying cry in your heart.  You are irreplaceable!

We have these infinitely precious, eternal souls in our care. It is just a few short years. A few short years that are incredibly formative in their lives. Parents are meant to guide through this journey from innocence to knowledge. Their first experiences, attachments, habits, explanations, patterns of belief, family traditions and home will make an indelible mark on their lives that will create literal pathways in their brains unlike any other period of time. We can make life so much easier for them.

It takes an insane amount of effort. It is more than I can do. I battle my own confusion at the hands of many worthy or sometimes just worldly ideas. I battle my own flaws.  But, through the Savior, I can be enough. 

As a mother, my part is to pray, study and ask.  I know that He sees me in this work.  He, the perfect listener, is right there waiting.  I can come to Him and counsel with Him over even the small daily decisions and trials of parenthood.  In motherhood, we get credit for trying.  God knows what we are up against psychologically, in a world where homemaking is all but a forgotten art, in an era when service is undervalued, He sees us. He is the only one who sees every sacrifice we make for our children.  He knows of our sleepless nights, our over-taxed self-control, our perfect desires despite our imperfect execution.  His gratitude for our service is deep.  I am coming to understand just how much He values me as a mother.  In the words of Jeffery Holland:

“To all of our mothers everywhere, past, present, or future, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for giving birth, for shaping souls, for forming character, and for demonstrating the pure love of Christ.” …To all mothers in every circumstance, including those who struggle—and all will—I say, “Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are. In fact, you are saviors on Mount Zion, and like the Master you follow, your love ‘never faileth.’ ” I can pay no higher tribute to anyone.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.12.17 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.12.55 AM

We have another son! Our third baby, a complete miracle, a wonder, a gift.

Everyone, even people who aren’t overtly religious, recognize that one time in their lives when they truly felt the presence of God was at the birth of a child.

I always like to record my experiences after a birth because it is one of those rare moments where you take leaps and bounds toward your divine destiny.  Of course being a parent adds volumes to your eternal identity and purpose, but also just the birthing process draws you out of yourself, your barriers, your pride, and gives you a glimpse of your true relationship to God.

Namely, that He holds all of life in His hands and while you have many liberties given to you, ultimately, you are His.  You came from Him, you will return to Him, and when it matters most, He is the only one who can help you.

I am reminded of a scripture from the Pearl of Great Price which echoes my feelings, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10)

And concurrently, I remember these wise words, “This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast.” (The whole address by Dieter Uchtdorf is amazing, you should read it.)

Every new mother knows that there is something more to her child than just their physical creation, majestic and awe-inspiring though it is.  There comes with every baby a sense of that more-ness, which Uchtdorf calls “the spark of eternal fire”.  I feel it also as a grave importance, a discernment that this child is not mine, but Gods; not mortal, but an immortal spirit in an earthly frame.  Not solely an infant, but a fully-formed soul to whom I am beholden to protect, nurture and prepare for a unique purpose under heaven.

Don’t worry. That’s not staggeringly overwhelming at all…(picture me sinking out of my chair, landing in a puddle of ineptness on the floor)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we often hear new parents in testimony meeting.  One common phrase that’s said is that their newborn “brings a sweet spirit into their home”.  I’m going to be completely honest and say that I have, at times, found that statement annoyingly trite.  “Oh, come on,” I call their bluff internally, “You’re not sleeping a wink, the baby can’t even smile yet, let alone interact.  Having a newborn is just plain hard!”

Which is true.  Having a newborn is hard. (Did I mention that I’m nursing WHILE I write this?  BTW thank you for picturing that, it’s as awkward as it sounds. I nurse 40 hours a week right now and feeding the baby is just one aspect of the job. It’s a big undertaking.)

However, with this baby perhaps even more than the previous two, I have been reminded why this experience is so transcendent that it’s hard to find words (and we tend to grasp at the familiar ones, even sensing that they can’t do justice).

So, I’ll also add my imperfect attempt to describe a glowing, knowing mother heart and the thoughts that trail from clouds of glory along with the birth of a child:


I know that God stands at the helm of this life.  He loves us.  He sends us here to earth, and while that seems like a cruel fate at times, He is so much closer than we can understand.  He is eternally and endlessly interested in our well-being.  When the dust, drudgery and distress of this life have passed away, we will be shocked to realize that while life felt so real, it was more like a dream (albeit sometimes a nightmare) and the reality is that God had a plan and a place for us all along.


Why is it that it’s so much easier to see these truths on behalf of our children than for ourselves?

Perhaps that is why God has given us parenthood and family.  Little children help their parents fathom the mysteries of life.

Humph. Imagine that.  And all this while I thought I was in charge.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.13.27 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.13.18 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 10.13.37 AM