I can count on one hand the number of babies I had held before I held my own daughter. I had no idea the physical, mental, and emotional toll that having and caring for a baby would make on my earthen shelter (Wis 9). And how many times in the last sixteen years have I lamented my corruptible body—its weakness, its exhaustion, its increasingly floppy shape?
Jesus warns his disciples in today’s Gospel that it is wise to count the cost before embarking on a new project, but I suspect even years of babysitting won’t really prepare a woman for the enormity of the task motherhood turns out to be. Who can accurately count the cost of bringing a child into the world? And not just the rising monetary costs of braces and college, but the time and emotional guidance children require as well?
Motherhood isn’t like building a tower. However much you plan, whatever you think you’re prepared for, every little human comes with unique surprises. I had one child who refused to potty-train till age four, one who scooted on her bottom instead of crawling, and one who was born premature at twenty-eight weeks. I’m not musical, yet I find myself raising a violinist and a dancer. I wasn’t prepared for any of this—it’s been both an anxiety-inducing and a joy-filled adventure.
Some of the adventure is wonderful—I never anticipated the utter bliss of snuggling a newborn, or the laughter caused by a toddler’s attempts to be more grown-up. But we all know that a lot of motherhood is difficult as well. The literal heartburn of pregnancy, the night-and-day demands of young children, and the heartache of trying to communicate with teens who seem to speak a different language—all are heavy burdens to bear. As much as planning can help, often all we can do is get up in the morning, pick up our crosses (whatever they might look like today!), and stumble along after Jesus as best we can.
And this is when I feel, as I often do, that the psalmist somehow—all those years ago—was writing directly to my heart. Psalm 90 has one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture: Prosper the work of our hands! I especially appreciate that the psalmist thinks this is important enough to say twice. Day after day, this is my prayer. I didn’t know what I was signing up for, or that I would be summoned daily—for years on end—by that cry from the bathroom, “I’m done!” But I’m here now, by the grace of God, and I’m not on my own. God has promised his help to all of us—to get up and pick up our crosses with joy, again and again in this difficult, challenging, beautiful work. So, I’ll pray it again (and again!) as I mother God’s children, who also happen to be my own: Prosper the work of my hands!