Motherhood: The Holy Way of Exhaustion

 

It’s Sunday, and today was everything but a day of rest for you, my wife, my beloved. It’s late, and you’re sleeping inverted from the norm: your head at the foot of the bed, your feet snuggled against the pillow. Because anything other than standing is serviceable at this point. You’re a mom, and this was your day:

 

Your boy couldn’t help but be wild in the early waking hours. He drives you out of bed because he believes his head to be a hilarious battering ram.

He couldn’t help but violently combat our buttoning up of his church attire.

He couldn’t help but shout his observations throughout the Liturgy, most especially during the silence.

He couldn’t help but spill his milk everywhere again, or crank the hot water in the tub while you showered, or dig his hands into the trash can, or thieve the metal loading rack from the dishwasher.

Outside, he couldn’t help but make us fetch his ball out of stagnant, muddy water, or stomp a fire ant mound, or toss a ball into the street.

He couldn’t help but spit out a mouthful of apple because he just likes chewing it and nothing more.

He couldn’t help but fall asleep on our bed because that’s how it was for the prior two weeks of vacation. And he’ll wiggle all night long and beg for breastmilk because that’s his only source of security when he wakes in the dark.

And you can’t help but love every bit of him through the chaos.

I know this daily grind is tiresome. I know you’re completely exhausted.

And therefore I can’t help but hear the Lord saying to you, “You now know my innermost life intimately, for my love for you is one of perpetual sacrifice, too.” Motherhood: it sounds and smells and looks like God. He reveals himself in a particular way to mothers through this contemporary Via Dolorosa: we may as well call it the Via Exhausta, or Way of Exhaustion. This portrait of God’s inner life is in view right here in the crumpled bedsheets, the stretched-out toddler, and you, my wife, in whatever haphazard way you collapsed upon your day’s final destination.

I realize this observation is little consolation to your daily toil.

But know that to your beloved husband, you are no longer just trying to be like Christ. It’s obvious by this scene that trying is no longer your game: You already look like Him. Your service to our little clan already reflects sacrifice of divine origin; it already bridges heaven and earth like a Sacrament. Jesus is there in your action; He’s there in your exhaustion. He’s incarnate amid the messy sheets, in the the wild, never-fully-tamed boy we raise together. And it’s been like this for two years. You may not be on your way to Golgotha, but this scene smacks of a Seventh Station of the Cross. I help you as much as I can, but in moments like this, all I feel like I can do is be a kind of Veronica, and this photograph is my version of her veil.

I guess this is why I publish my thoughts on family here: I’m being God’s photographer, and this is His family portrait. Because in you all our children will find an intimate portrait of the Lord come down in a particular way: unvarnished, raw and incarnate in this Via Exhausta. And the love you show daily in the Via Exhausta paradoxically proves that motherly love rooted in the Lord never gets exhausted, and our children will be able to trust that they are rooted not just in any family, but in a divine one. Our children and their children will know what you did for them, and all those generations will called you blessed.

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Hidden grace, Motherhood, Virtue, Wife

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