Motherhood was something I planned for, something I wanted, so why was living it out so drastically different from my expectations?” This is a question many an honest and searching mother has asked herself. If motherhood is so good, so desirable, so obviously the will of God, then why does it have to be so difficult? Why does it feel so unfulfilling? This was Sarah Mae’s question as she faced another day of caring for her children after yet another sleepless night–one of those days where she was just too tired and too worn out to be a mom. “Down to the bone, to the deepest part of my soul, is the love I have for my children. Every day of my life is imperfectly offered to them. But the little years, they’re hard and oftentimes lonely. It’s like a secret we fear sharing, just how life-altering motherhood is, especially when you don’t have training or support.”
Mae found both training and support through Sally Clarkson, an author who would also become a dear friend and much-needed mentor. Together they have written Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, a book that, judging by its early reviews, has resonated with mothers.
Sally and I want to encourage you to keep going even when it feels like you can’t, and we want to help you. We won’t offer you formulas, but we will offer ideas, perspectives, transparency, and wisdom. We have some ideas for you in getting help, and we are making a plea for older women to remember the tired years and come alongside young mothers, so that our children and our children’s children will know how to serve and to receive help.
Mae and Clarkson collaborate in a very natural way. Mae, whose oldest child is just six years old, describes motherhood as she goes through it. She identifies concerns, confesses exasperation, asks question. Clarkson responds as the mentor, the one whose children are older and grown, the one who comes alongside those who are in the trenches.
I have no first-hand experience of motherhood, but what I can testify is that the questions Mae poses are the very ones that Aileen and I have discussed so many times. Almost every area of frustration is here: the never-ending piles of laundry, the house that begins to fall apart before the cleaning is even complete, the children who won’t sleep, the children who don’t want to obey. But it goes deeper than that. Here too is the self-reliance and unrealistic expectation. “A good mom, in my mind, was up bright and early before her children woke up; she got dressed, did her hair, put on her makeup, had her quiet time, and had breakfast simmering in the pan as she went to wake up her babes. Of course in my fantasy she was always cheery, always smelled good, and never raised her voice. She was what God never asked us to be apart from Him: perfect.”
The authors’ solutions to such questions and frustrations uniformly lead back to Scripture.
Each of us has a story, but God, who originated the design of motherhood, is the expert advisor to whom we should turn. God has equipped us for every good work, and I am quite confident that He who designed this role to be so eternally significant is the one who is ready to help, support, instruct, and guide. He will provide all we need for the task He has given us to fulfill. But to hear from God we must become women of the Word and women who pray, so that His voice may lead us as we grow into this role with grace. I look back now through all of the huge obstacles, unexpected twists, and challenges on this course of motherhood through my life and see that at each point, He was there, helping, carrying, guarding, and blessing as a true and present advocate. He is the reason for any success or blessing I have felt as a mother.
As the authors share wisdom, they also share hope.
Our shoulders often falter under a constant weight of performance and duty. We get caught up in the hectic cycle of endless tasks and often end up finding our lives to be a barren wasteland of burdens. We ask half-heartedly for a sip of His grace, never fully expecting Him to listen and answer. Yet Jesus wants us to come for a bottomless lake of His mercy, joy, fun, love, forgiveness, power, beauty, adventure, and freedom. He desires to give us eyes to see every moment from His perspective, looking out with a view over all of eternity—and seeing the stark difference between what really matters and what will soon pass.
When I finished reading this book, I immediately told Aileen that she would find it rich and encouraging. I want her to read it, because I know it will bless her. It will reassure her of her own inadequency and call her to depend more upon Christ, it will remind her of the value of both friendship and mentorship, it will tell her that her experiences in motherhood are universal, it will encourage her again and again to read, to pray, and to find her deepest satisfaction in God. As Ann Voskamp writes in the foreword, “if I make God first and am most satisfied in His love, I’m released to love my children fully and most satisfactorily.”
Let me share just three small areas of weakness: First, there were times that I wanted the authors to dig just a little bit deeper. For example, when dealing with inadequacies and addictions they introduce the subject of heart idolatries, but they do little more than that. This would have been an ideal location to dig into the concept–such a helpful one–in a bit more detail. Second, there are several words and phrases that seem just a little bit too vague or cliche, where I believe the authors would have done well to expand on them a little bit (e.g. “Lean into Jesus”). Third, there are times when they seem to indicate that raising children in a Christian environment can predispose them to become Christians. There may be a sense in which this is true–the Lord does work through Christian families to draw children to the Lord–but that relationship was not made as clear as I would have liked. As so many parents can testify (and as Clarkson writes in a Q&A at the end of the book), the Lord makes no guarantees.
Those minor concerns aside, I very much enjoyed reading Desperate and am convinced that it will bless and encourage any mother who reads it.