A Mother’s Refuge
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.Psalm 46:1, 2
Motherhood is stormy.
Motherhood can feel like you are gardening—all alone. Sometimes you feel as if you can’t escape the suns heat. Other times, storms begin to roll in. As the rain pounds and the winds howl, you feed and weed. You feed and weed again and again, hoping that, one day, you will get to harvest some fruit. The labor is intensive, and the outcome is uncertain.
Who are you? And what, exactly, is your role as a mother? We must be clear on the answers to these critical questions. As we ponder these questions, we look back to Scripture for clarity and guidance.
In our culture, the dominant parenting model is intensive parenting. Intensive parenting is “child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive, and financially expensive”. How do you feel when you read that definition? I feel crushed. This dominant parenting model tempts us to take on false identities and false roles. Perhaps, we see ourselves functionally as the “the shock absorber” of the family. It’s our job to guarantee that our children’s lives run smoothly. Perhaps, we see ourselves functionally as a “human complaint box” or as a “human throw up bucket” whose job is to internalize or to catch all of our children’s struggles. We believe the lie: I must anticipate and address my children’s felt needs so that they are happy and we don’t have meltdowns as a family. I constantly have to think about how much sleep they’ve had, how much activity they’ve had, what friends they are spending time with, what clothes they need clean for next weekend, what food they’ve put in their bodies, what they need for their next school project, what will meaningfully fill the time of those long summer days ahead, how much time they’ve been on screens, how they are doing in school, etc. The list is never ending. If only I can anticipate all that they need to live a good life and I am able to provide it, then they will be happier and family life will be more peaceful.
If we believe the world’s message about parenting, we must ask an important question: What are the consequences of adopting this identity and mothering in this way?
Total exhaustion comes to mind. The fatigue and failure multiples with more children—although it is certainly a reality with just one little person in your care. And what if you were successful? Let’s ask for the sake of argument: What if you were able to anticipate and address all your kids’ felt needs so that your family ran smoothly? Consider this. Your kids would miss out on knowing Jesus.
Here’s what I mean by that. If you met every need all the time they would end up placing their trust in you, not Him. Why? Because Mom always keeps it together. She always has the right answer. She never struggles. She is always strong. She always knows just what to do or say. You would rob your children of the opportunity to find refuge in Him when they suffer or to receive transforming grace for their sin.
Sisters, we are not called to be shock absorbers, human complaint boxes, or emotional throw up buckets. Scripture teems with better options for our identity under the banner of motherhood. Although there are many identity candidates to pick from (like ambassadors for Christ or loved daughters of the King or members of the body), I would like to invite you to focus on this identity: a refugee.
If we strip the word of its modern political context, a refugee is simply a person who flees for refuge or safety. What would it look like for us as mothers to become refugees? What would it look like for us to stop trying to do the impossible and instead run to the LORD for refuge? As we learn how to run to the LORD when we struggle we can in turn lead our children to the LORD in their struggles.
Let me invite you to grow in two specific skills as a refugee:
First, grow in the skill of lament.
What is lament? Lament is bringing our griefs to the LORD. It is how a Christian lives faithfully in the gap between what God has promised and our painful reality. It is wrestling with sorrow coram deo, before God’s face. Lament is risky and hard, but there really aren’t any good alternatives. We could refuse to cry out to God. However, when we go silent on God, we make ourselves spiritually vulnerable to temptation. The most painful parts of our life fester, seemingly out of His healing reach. When we start to believe that God is irrelevant in one area of our life, we easily believe that He is irrelevant in all parts of our lives. But lamenting, coming before God with our sorrows, puts Him front and center to our sorrows. It invites Him in to act and meet us where we are in our pain.
Second, grow in the skill of engaging the LORD with your strong emotions.
Yes, this skill is challenging and takes time to develop, but once again, there aren’t any good alternatives. We typically respond in two ways. We either dismiss our emotions or crown our emotions as king. The former approach makes us less human. Our “emotions are a God-given gift, an aid in obedience, a constant occasion for connection with the Lord, and a vital source of information about the deeper problems of our hearts.” The latter approach, unbridled emotional expression, leaves a path of destruction and despair. In the kingdom of God, loving people well is more valuable than “just being honest.” A healthier alternative is to acknowledge our emotions and take them to the Lord.
Let’s take the pressure off. We don’t have to function as our children’s saviors. Rather than trying to take our kids’ pain away or manage their emotions, we can lead them to take refuge in the LORD. Rather than fretting, we could respond to our struggling children with words like, “That sounds so hard. I am sad with you. Jesus wants to hear what is on your heart. Do you have any questions for Him? What do we need to ask God for?” and then, we could pray with them on the spot.
We are naturally going to seek refuge in something or someone. Our kids are going to do the same. The options are endless: food, drink, binge watching, sex, scrolling through social media, calling a friend, cleaning frantically, over-working, busyness, etc. In the end, none of these false refuges will deliver. None can keep us safe from life’s storms.
Mothers, it is a privilege to lead others to find True Refuge. Let’s make sure we seek refuge in the LORD.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!Psalm 34:8
In the footnotes below, I’ve included some resources that might help you grow in these two skills. The counseling team at Better Days is committed to helping all people—not just moms—practice running to the LORD for refuge.
“The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood” – Sharon Hays
“Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy” – Mark Vroegop
“Untangling Emotions” – Alasdair Groves
Rachel Chaney serves as a BetterDays counselors. She received her Masters in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. She also has obtained a level 1 certification from The Association of Biblical Counselors. She is trained and has interest in issues such as grief, suffering, depression, anxiety, conflict, women’s issues, and life transitions.
She lives in San Antonio, TX and is married to Greg. They have three teenage children. She is passionate about teaching, learning, feasting, hiking, photography, and the color green.