“That baby is just going to fall out of you”
That was the common comment as I reached the end of my pregnancy. And I figured they were right. I had always had fairly quick labors and this was after all, number six for us, but we were all so wrong. After 20 weeks of endless contractions, 4 weeks of labor starting and stopping, watching my due date come and go, and then 18 hours of intense back labor, our little Clay finally made his appearance.
And just like his birth was so much harder than I expected, our first year with Clay was so much harder than I expected. I have done this before, many times. I know how to care for a baby, right? But every baby is different, and the circumstances surrounding them are different. I found myself more exhausted than I had ever experienced in life, and with that, I found myself in a depths of darkness in my mind and emotions that I had never experienced before.
I pulled back from some of my ministry responsibilities because I knew I needed to be more focused at home during this season. I’m still sure that was the right thing to do, but it added another layer of hard to the situation, because I gave up the aspects of ministry I found exciting and meaningful. However, I still found myself wading through the more difficult things that come with being a pastor’s wife, namely helping troubled women behind the scenes and filling in childcare gaps on a weekly basis.
I’d like to give you some sort of six-step plan on how to thrive as a Pastor’s wife postpartum, but honestly, I don’t have it. Seasons of mothering can be very painful. Seasons of ministry can be very painful. When those seasons collide it can feel like more than we can bear.
Of course, I try to take the steps to be an emotionally and spiritually healthy person – sleep train the baby, set boundaries with dramatically needy people, fight for time in the Word and prayer, find others who can fill gaps at church – all of those things are good and helpful, but they aren’t the thing I’ve needed most when I’ve found myself in a postpartum pit.
The greatest gift in a postpartum season is knowing that God is greater than our own hearts. When my mind and emotions are in a black fog, and I fumble to keep doing the next thing or even remember what the next thing is, when all I can see is the walls of my own limitations, a limitless, compassionate God draws near. He isn’t frustrated with me or disappointed in me. How do I know? Because I’ve experienced it. And because the Bible tells me so.
Psalm 73:23-26 have been precious to me for a long time. I memorized them as a teenager and was saying the verses to myself again recently, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” That last verse suddenly gripped me like it never has before. “My flesh and my heart may fail.” What is this acknowledgement from David? All this time I’ve thought that if I am a good Christian my flesh and my heart won’t fail, and here David readily accepts that that very thing can happen. David is a Godly man, a “man after God’s own heart” and he acknowledges that his flesh and heart may fail? This is grace. Maybe I’m not alone in this battle to pull myself out of dark places. Maybe my struggles right now don’t disqualify me or make me unusable to God. But then there is more.
What grace is this? When my flesh and heart fail, God doesn’t walk out? The very opposite, He draws near. In these failing heart and flesh moments God draws near with strength, not condemnation. After all, he “remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) He knows my spirit dwells inside a weak, broken, earthly body, and when our spirits suffer because our bodies are suffering, He isn’t surprised or disappointed. He is ready to intangibly supply what we are incapable of producing in that moment.
All that is so much easier to see in the rearview mirror. My Clay is 18 months old now. We are finally starting to get more sleep and the brain fog is clearing. I’m starting to do some of the things I enjoy that I set aside for a season. Recently I started making a list of all the things God has done in our home and church in that first year of Clay’s life and it grew to be startlingly long. It was surprising and joyful and humbling to see all the ways God can move and work when I’m not much of a help.
Maybe even further down this road I’ll be able to look back and see the hurts and hardships from this season with greater clarity and have some really great advice, a list of do’s and don’ts for every pastor’s wife having a baby. But for now, I’m rejoicing over a much different list – the list of what God did anyway.
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