True story: one of the most discouraging times of my life as a wife and mother was made dramatically worse– not better— by my involvement in a women’s Bible study.
It had been a long, hard season of slogging for my family. We had been wading through tight finances, lost babies, and health dramas. I had been poured out, again and again, and the little bit that remained of my spirit was battered and bruised.
The morning of the first meeting, I found myself assigned to a table of women I knew only peripherally despite my years in the church. There were several stages of life represented in our little group: a few retired, older women, a couple of new moms, several floating in the same general age range as me. I had come looking not only for Biblical wisdom and teaching, but also for fellowship. I needed a group of women to wrap their arms around me and pull me up, to remind me that at the end of the day, God was good, my service to my family was valuable, and that I was not wasting my life in the small, mind-numbing details of running a home on a budget so tight it pinched every line item.
I knew right away that I was going to find something very different around that table. I was in the middle of explaining that I had never participated in a group study because I had young children when I was stopped short by one of the slightly older moms.
“You will love Bible Study!” she smiled.
“Yes!” agreed the smartly dressed woman next to her. “Child care! Two hours of freedom!”
I was shocked. The feeling I had fought back as I had left Phineas in the classroom for 1 year-olds wasn’t “freedom.” It was a mixture of guilt over handing him off to strangers tinged with remorse that I would miss his sweet smile and big blue eyes. I had almost–almost— asked if I couldn’t just let him sit on my lap while we studied, but then I’d noticed that no one else was walking in to the classroom space with children.
“How many kids do you have?” the woman next to me asked.
Grateful for the chance to slink away from the concept of leaving my kids as “freedom,” I told her about my four beautiful children. Before I could begin to explain my soul-shattering struggle with loss, she cut me off.
“Four? Oh my gosh. I have two, and that’s plenty,” she began.
“I have four, too. I am just so glad they are finally able to clean up after themselves!” added another woman.
“I have three and I never get a minute to myself.”
Before the ice breaker activity started, I knew everything I needed to know about the women gathered around me. They all– every one— had something to say about their children… none of it positive. Their kids were whiners. Lazy. Had bad attitudes. Thought the world revolved around them. Took tons of time. Denied them the ability to sleep late. Lied. Wanted expensive clothes. Kept them from being able to enjoy adult life. Were finally grown and able to live under their own roof.
They had even less to say in the way of praise for their husbands. Each and every one moaned sympathetically when the table leader shared that she had almost been late because her husband hadn’t packed his own lunch the night before.
“I told him there was lunch meat in the fridge and bread in the pantry. He’s a big boy. He can fend for himself,” she laughed proudly.
“My husband wouldn’t know what to do with it,” joked another woman.
“Mine is hopeless in a kitchen.”
On and on it went: the tearing down of men and children, the vilification of anyone unfortunate enough to have been born male or, heaven forbid, in need of nuturing. By the time the video teaching session by a popular Christian author began (ironically, on the topic of being a good wife) I was feeling even darker and less full than I had when I had dragged myself through the door.
Maybe they are right, I pondered. Maybe everyone does ask too much of me. Maybe I need more of that “me time” I hear about everywhere. I don’t see it in the Bible, but maybe God just neglected to mention it? If all these church women are able to show up every week looking refreshed, maybe they know something I don’t?
I spent the intervening week in a different mindset. With each need presented to me, I found myself weighing whether I was really supposed to be the person meeting it. Didn’t I just give that child a snack? Didn’t I do the dishes at breakfast? Couldn’t he manage a little more laundry? Why was I always getting interrupted?
You can guess what the end result looked like: frustrated Momma, unhappy children, and a dissatisfied husband.
I lasted exactly one more session in that Bible Study before I realized that the refreshment I sought was not to be found in that particular setting. The table leaders never called to see why I suddenly quit turning up; I guess it was obvious that I was hungering for something different than what was being served.
I was a tired wife. The last thing I needed was a reason to despise my husband.
I was a hurting mother. I didn’t need to be told that my children were a burden.
I needed encouragement for the road, not a new reason to chafe.
I admit, the practice of making jokes at the expense of husbands leaves me seeing red. And the snarky, “children are a pain,” comments? Just as bad.
You see, each time we open our mouths and make light of our blessings, we not only mock the hand that so carefully chose the players in our story, but we also give weaker sisters cause to stumble.
Young women adjusting to their role as wives. New mothers struggling to define themselves within this fierce, consuming love they have just encountered. Ladies whose husbands are doing their best to keep the finances afloat but not quite cutting it. Women whose children have broken their hearts. The wife trying to let her husband lead. The Momma who knows in her gut that her child needs her. The single gal wondering if it’s worth it at all.
Society at large screams that marriage is akin to shackles, that men are clueless idiots, that children aren’t worth the trouble. Shouldn’t our churches look different? Shouldn’t our women open their mouths and speak blessing, not curses– life, not death? Shouldn’t a gathering of women who follow Jesus give praise to Him for a husband who is flawed, yes … but perfectly chosen for the process of sanctification that is a life together? Shouldn’t it be that our children never hear us malign their fathers, or devalue them as hurdles to our own pleasures?
Our families are not perfect. Our marriages are not without trial. No husband is all things at all times. But focusing on the good, sharing encouragement, showing respect… these are simple steps to keeping our eyes focused on our gratitude, and mindful of the giver of all these good gifts. It takes a loud voice to drown out those who tear down their own houses. Shout it from the roof tops: “I love my husband and my children, and I am grateful to have the chance to be a wife and mother.” Say it. Mean it. Show it.
You don’t know who you’ll encourage. It may even be yourself.
This post originally appeared on Heather’s blog, To Sow a Seed.