Our first and only child is 18 months old, and for 27 months now, I have been a mother. There are no words, experiences, or amount of pre-anything counseling that could have prepared me, or anyone I suppose, for the realness and emotional rollercoaster that is motherhood. I remember the nervous excitement and anxious anticipation the day I saw a positive reading on the pregnancy test after months and months, maybe even years, of trying. I remember the butterflies in my stomach the first time we heard her heartbeat, a heartbeat that spilled awe from my soul, surging joy through my body until it seeped out of me through a smile and tears. I remember the excruciating ineffable pain of totally natural birth and staring hazily at the lights on the hospital ceiling, still very much in a postpartum state of numb mindlessness as a 7 pound 5 ounce baby girl was laid on my chest for the first time.
I remember a smile I had never seen before creep onto my husband’s glowing face as he held our daughter for the first time. I remember sensing the grand wonder and capability of life—realizing that this baby girl’s coming to be had caused us all to “come to be.” We became more, fulfilled more than we could ever have without her. This child changed who we were—changed me. She even gave us all new names: wife became “mother,” husband became “father”…
The first time she smiled in recognition that I was her mother, the first time she said my name, the first time she walked—all these moments are more precious to me than any physical thing I could present to you. Those short moments brought more joy than any other had in all my 26 years of life.
I remember the bankrupt sense of utter failure and helplessness as my child cried from hunger. I remember trying to feed her from my own body, my own body that was sore with pain and chaffing. Feeding her will bring her life. She needs life; she is hungry. But the pain—the tender, throbbing, torturous pain. I remember crying from the pain, wincing from the pain as I tore my daughter away from myself. She screamed. I screamed. We cried together.
I remember the bitter isolation, cold remote isolation that came short of a year after she was born. I was dying. Not physically, but in a very real way, I was dying. I used to do things. I used to go places. I used to have friends. I used to put on real clothes and read books and play music and discuss theology. And sleep. I used to sleep. But now, I was dying to myself and I felt alone. I remember feeling desolate, like I had no friends. I knew no one within 100 miles who was a new young mother, who had a new joy-bringing life-sucking baby, who was trying to learn to breastfeed or to care for another human being on an hour’s sleep. I was and am a stay-at-home mom, and those stay-at-home hours were long and hard, and in the beginning very lonely. I had so many people in my life who loved us and would ask about our baby girl. “How is she doing/eating/sleeping/adjusting? If there is anything I can do for you, do not hesitate to ask.” I love all those people and am amazed at their love for my child. So many asked what they could do, or how was my baby. But too few asked, “How are you?” Too few saw my baby, and never really saw me. How am I? Am I? I am not. I am dying to myself.
Jesus talked about dying to yourself. “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) We have to take up our cross: we have to die. The message of the gospel can be communicated in different ways, but simply put, Jesus came and died so that we might live. His death brought life.
For me, motherhood has been a process of learning to die to myself so that others might live, so that I might teach my daughter what Jesus’ selfless love really looks like and how it really does change the world and bring the kingdom come. It has been incredibly isolating at times, but I remember that Jesus felt isolated as he was dying. It has also brought me joy, and allowed me to become more like my Father.
Sure there are days I would love to sleep more or buy myself clothes for a change, days I wish I could go back to work full-time or just “go” without thinking twice about it. None of these things are bad. But through motherhood God is teaching me to die to my own wants and needs, and to esteem others as more important than myself. He is teaching me to be like Jesus for his glory’s sake.
Being a mother sucks the life out of you—figuratively in that you give everything you have, and literally if you breastfeed. But I say, let it suck the life out of you. Let it change who you are. Let it take your life until you die to yourself, and in dying to yourself are more conformed to the measure of Christ’s full stature, able to bring life to those around you, to your children, your husband, your family, everyone you encounter. Jesus taught us that death brings life. He died for God’s children and in doing so made them live. As mothers, let us die for our children to the glory of God the Father.
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Paul to the Philippians (Philippians 2:3-11)
Courtney Bradley is a wife and mother, and somewhat of a theologian and philosopher. She is a graduate of Asbury University in Wilmore, KY where she studied Bible Theology and Philosophy. She married the love of her life and best friend, Patrick, in 2012 and they have one daughter, Claire (born 2015). She is a proud stay-at-home mom. She cares most about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.