When Boundaries Are Needed in Unexpected Areas
Some people know that I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day about ten years ago. It just hurt too much. Sitting for an hour or so and hearing all about the joys, and often struggles of motherhood broke me every time.
In addition to the pain, when I started to become emotionally aware, I realized these services also brought with it the sting of shame. Brené Brown teaches the difference between shame and guilt is guilt says I did wrong, but shame says I am wrong. And that is what I heard over and over as I had sat through Mother’s Day services. There was a shame because no one had ever asked me to marry them. For years I struggled with why I was too broken to be loved. There was also a shame because I had struggled with physical issues and silently wrestled with my own fertility. I would watch seemingly happy couples and hear the women berate their men or constantly complain that they weren’t enough. I remember I had one friend who would bring up her husband’s weight, which was just a little higher than year's past as a natural result of hitting thirty something. I remember thinking why was keeping the same pant size such a big deal to her when he was working so hard in every other area of life. Being unwed and middle aged but still longing to marry can often be shaming in itself. I mean I was a pretty, healthy, and happy woman living a great life and doing what I loved. I can’t even count the number of people who, when I was vulnerable about the pain, pointed out all my spiritual children. I was told over and over the influence I'd had on other's lives should be enough. People who couldn’t sit with my pain because it made them uncomfortable tried to silver lining my grief and in effect, shamed me. Although it has been years since I’ve watched “Friends” there is one episode that will forever stick out to me. Chandler is describing Monica and the fact they can’t get pregnant and as a result are wanting to adopt. He describes how amazing she is and then says six little words that gave voice to the pain I had been feeling. “She’s a mother. Without a baby.” I finally felt I had words to describe the pain that had been ever present for over a decade. Then thirteen years ago God gave me the gift of motherhood through an unofficial adoption of my first daughter. It is a relationship I hold most dear but because of the circumstances of her first mother’s death I rarely talked about it to respect her. Her pain is her story to tell and I will always honor that. Through her deepest pain I got to see one of the biggest blessings of my life. Have you ever suspected something and then found out you were right? That’s how I felt because I always knew I had a lot of love to give. It has been such an honor to be her mother, and I have to admit, she makes it easy. A few years ago I realized that if I never have any other kids, children I get as children and not teenagers, she was definitely enough. But as anyone who has an unfulfilled dream knows, you can live in the dichotomy of contentedness and longing. I was content and fulfilled because I got to be a mother an amazing young woman. I got to pray mother’s prayers and have a deep relationship knowing I was an example of unconditional love. An unperfected love, she can attest to, but being a part of something bigger than myself was… more than words can describe. And even though there was such deep joy and happiness, on the back burner of my heart was a longing for more. You know when you have your favorite food. That first bite is amazing, but it just makes you want another and then another. So I did my best to keep hope for what could be while loving what was. I learned to create boundaries and push against shame, which led me to stop attending church on Mother’s Day. Instead I started hiking my favorite trails on those Sunday mornings. This practice was so life giving, I started doing it on Father’s Day too.
At the time I wasn’t sure if I was doing the “right” thing; I just knew it helped. Then I came across a podcast of Matt Chandler from Mother’s Day where he briefly recognized it was Mother’s Day. He went on to explain why their church would never have a service devoted to the day because He knows it brings pain to so many of us.
It was amazing to have my pain validated from a pulpit. Like inhaling fresh air after being pulled under the current of the ocean and tossed around until your lungs hurt, my soul felt truly seen in that moment. And I started to open up to more people about why I avoided church those two Sundays every year. I quickly found out I wasn’t the only one. I realized it is a painful day not just for the motherless, the barren, and all of us living in our “not yet.” It was also a painful day for women who have lost their mothers and women who had been abandoned by their mothers. So I gained more courage to be vocal about the pain I lived in and more easily shut down the people who tried to sterilize my grief so it fit into their limited view of God’s goodness. A view that foolishly says that to sit in our pain is to deny His power. The kind of view that tells the griever to move on and confuses healthy processing with wallowing. I have come to have a zero tolerance policy for people like that in my life. I am a grown woman who has done to work to stay as emotionally aware as possible. If I say my heart is hurting I don’t need anyone to throw a cliche about trusting God at me. Those cliches are offensive not only to me, but I think also to the Creator Himself because He Himself grieves. He weeps. He mourns… oops. I got on a soapbox that is for another time. All that to say in order to create a healthy boundary for my heart, I can’t tell you the last time I was in church on a Mother’s Day. It had been at least ten years. I use the word “had” because four days ago I attended a small, local, fully social distanced service on Mother’s Day. When I woke up in the morning and spent some time alone with The One Who Loves Me Most, I quickly realized something had changed inside of me. There are several reasons for this change. One being that my Baby Girl, my oldest daughter who will always hold her special place in my heart, is at a place of healing where she talks more openly about our relationship. The pain from grief that caused her to need a second mother is healing more and more. Even though I will leave the details of her adoption vague out of respect of it being her story to tell, instinctively I always now refer to her as “my kid”. The second thing that took place almost two months ago is I married a man who also wants a big family. Our dreams of life collide in a way that quickly I knew I could spend the rest of my life with this amazing man. The fact we have the same passions, dreams, and convictions is nothing short of miraculous. And the fact that he has embraced my kid makes my soul smile. So this past Sunday I realized the shame I had often had to fight off on Mother’s Day was gone. I found myself, for the first time posting on social media about my own mom. Well this year it’s moms with an “s” because I’m blessed to have two amazing mothers. Years past I would avoid social media on that day but instead this year, I was loving everyone’s posts about their mothers. As someone who tries to continually keep her thoughts in check, the boundary of not going to church on Mother’s Day in the past is what I needed to enable my mind to fight more easily. I do my best to keep healthy boundaries up in all areas of my life. I don’t get on the scale very often and when I feel the strong urge to measure my worth by that number, it’s a huge red flag. To be honest, I’m fighting it this morning. Like the addict I was, I have had to fight the compulsion to go into the closet where it sits unused. Chris, my husband and I, are in the last week of a Whole30 and after putting on 10 “happy relationship/quarantine and the gym and trails are closed” pounds, I have found myself itching to see what that arbitrary number is. It’s a sick craving to see how close to 150 I am. If I am close, the lie wants to validate my effort, but in contrast if the needle has moved farther away, it tries to give me a reason to spiral into self deprecation. I also don’t go to most pot luck’s or barbecues I’m invited to because when food is laid out like that, I find old habits of eating past my point of fullness coming back. I have discovered in the long run it harms me in so many ways. In fact I don’t like to eat on paper plates because I have learned for me, when I treat food like an event to be savored, I am less likely to fall back into mindless eating. Another boundary I’ve established is I’m careful who I let in on current heart struggles because I don’t want to be given bad advice or cliches that make it harder to cling to the truth. I don’t go to the mall very often because seeing all the shiny new things lends to my heart being ungrateful for the home and wardrobe I have.
I also limit the amount of things I watch and listen to where people have different convictions in my core areas because I want to stay vigilant in what’s most important to me. I could go on and on about the boundaries that I create because they are what’s needed for me to live my life to the fullest. Looking back over this post it’s not what I intended to write. The working title was “When Shame Gives Way to Hope” and I was going to share how amazing it was this Sunday to not have to fight any shame on Mother’s Day. But I feel God putting it on my heart to encourage anyone who finds themselves being beat down by circumstances. It could be financial. It could be fear because the world has shut down. It could be barrenness in your body or in your relationships. Whatever it is, whereever you are today I am praying for you to feel the freedom to do what your heart needs in order to establish healthy boundaries. No one may understand what you need and that is OK! Take your heart to The One Who Loves You Most and ask Him for wisdom. He knows. He has an amazing game plan for your life, that at times can feel scary. Oh man can it feel scary. And lonely and defeating. But when you see it through until the end, you will see Him moving. And you just might find yourself not needing those boundaries any more because the mental battle you fought for decades no longer holds any weight.