I’ve never loved the “Mama Bear” analogy. When I think of “Mama Bears,” I picture moms who bite teachers’ heads off, and elbow their way through crowds so their kids can get the best seat at story time. I’d much rather be a Mama Swan, peacefully gliding through life with all my little cygnets in a row. But I’m not. I’m the Swan-faced mom with the heart of a Grizzly.
The truth is, you don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a Mama Bear. You just have to care too much about the well being of your family. You have to idolize it. To bow down and worship it, so that if anybody in your household isn’t okay, nothing’s okay. You see, the thing about Mama Bears is that deep down, we long to control our universe so that we can protect the people we love. If we’re Christians, on some level we know this is impossible. But that doesn’t stop us from trying. How can we stop trying? Then things might really fall apart. So we spin our wheels endlessly, longing for that moment when we can take a deep breath and say, Life is good. Nobody’s in the hospital. Nobody’s having nightmares. Nobody’s miserable at work. Of course, this kind of peace is fragile as an eggshell. It’s like building your home on a foundation of toothpicks.
And boy, is it exhausting. I knew there would be a lot of work in becoming a wife and mom; I just didn’t realize how much of it would be done with my heart instead of my hands. The more people we add to our family, the more my heart has to carry. Worry, concern, love, joy, pain, affection, fear. I don’t even want a dog, because I don’t have the emotional capacity to care for one more living thing! There are days when my husband walks through the door with a heavy expression on his face, and I want to hold up a hand and say, “I’m sorry!! The anxiety meter has reached maximum capacity. Put one more burden on my plate and I will drop dead right here in the kitchen! Then you’ll have to finish cooking.” Instead I usually opt for the quick-fix: “What’s wrong? Just tell me. Tell me now.” Maybe I can slap some gospel truth on this one real fast and check it off the list before the spaghetti sauce burns.
But it doesn’t work that way for one simple reason. I’m not Jesus. All my outward attempts to “fix” our universe are just that—outward attempts. They’re the toothpicks straining under the weight of the house that will always crush them flat. I still remember the day Clint looked at me and said, “Can you just let me be not okay? Can you just love me when I’m not happy?”
But if you’re not okay, then I’m not okay, I thought. And just like that, I finally got it. Wanting him to be okay was never really about him. It was always about me. I didn’t want to abide with him in a season of long-suffering. I wanted it over. Fixed. So that I could go back to being happy. I’ve known that Mama Bears (like me) are protective and controlling. But this was the first time I realized we’re also selfish. So selfish, in fact, that we’re willing to short-circuit what God wants to do in someone’s life, just so we don’t have to endure the discomfort of watching it.
When little Susie has no friends at school, Mama Bears (like me) don’t want to walk the long, painful road of teaching her to trust Jesus. We just want to make the heartache go away. We want to throw a block party and invite every 5-year-old in Georgia. But what if God destined this to be the first time little Susie turned to Jesus with a real problem? What if this heartache set the stage for her first experience of believing God and seeing Him act on her behalf? Isn’t that worth a little suffering? For Susie…and Mama Bear?
But the only way we will become the kind of woman with the ability to abide instead of fix, is if we abide in Christ. David once sang, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Ps 46:1-2). Don’t you long to have such assurance on the day your private mountains fall into the heart of the sea? On the day your husband loses his job? Or the pediatrician says you need to see a specialist? Or your grown child phones to tell you she’s getting a divorce?
I guarantee you, Mama Bear longs for it. Because she understands life on the other side. She lives in the house built on sand, and even on the good days, she fears it’s sinking. I wish I could say it’s easy to pick up that house and plop it down on the Solid Rock of Christ. I wish it was a one-time thing. But it’s not. It is a moment-by-moment choice to yield and to trust. Then, and only then, can we minister to our families with the sort of love that says, “Come as you are, messy and in pain. I will abide with you. As long as it takes.”
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