Let’s be honest, motherhood incorporates a whole lot of exhaustion. I’m sure people warned me before having children, but I was either deaf or in denial because I didn’t see it coming. I remember clearly the first time Ethan got sick at 2 months old. He cried non-stop whenever he was awake which seemed like all day. I remember Tracy and I took turns taking care of him and going to work, which ended up meaning we had several days with little sleep. I think we were on day 3 when we were bathing Ethan in the tub and he started screaming again. With tears in our eyes, Tracy looked at me and said, “This was your idea!” My response? “We are never doing this again!” We then called his parents and begged them to drive nine hours to come see us, so we could sleep. Two more kids later, I laugh at the young, naïve couple that we were because that was just the beginning of many, many sleepless nights. I’ve known pneumonia and croup. I’ve been thrown up on in the middle of the night. I have lived the walking dead of sleep deprivation more times than I can count, as I’m sure many of you have done or currently are doing. And now, as my children get older, I’m learning the extent of emotional exhaustion. Worrying about their choices. Worrying about their futures.
Yes, parenting is exhausting. Thankfully, it is also amazingly rewarding. Just as no one could possibly prepare me for the exhaustion I would encounter as a parent, no one could describe the intensity of love that I would feel for my children. My favorite way to phrase this is that pieces of my heart are walking around outside of my body. I love them like I love myself–many times I love them better than I love myself.
Parenthood has helped me understand my heavenly Father and my Savior better too. Jesus too knew exhaustion, both physical and emotional.
We see this displayed in Mark 6: 30-44:
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Preceding this chapter, Jesus had sent out his apostles on an amazing journey where they did some of the work of Christ: preaching, healing, and casting out demons. They return breathless with success and are eager to tell Jesus all that happened. I can only imagine the excited conversations around the fire where the disciples discussed what it felt like to be used by God in powerful, supernatural ways. I bet they were a bit tired too. Alas, no rest was available. They try to leave to get alone and eat, but the needy multitudes will not leave them alone. So desperate are these people to get to Jesus that, seeing Him leave, they anticipate his next location and go there ahead of Him.
Can’t we relate as moms? Have you ever just needed time by yourself or with your husband only to be mercilessly hounded by your children? I know I’m not the only one who has hidden in the bathroom for a moment’s peace! That’s also why those precious date nights are so necessary—adult conversation and the ability to complete a thought without being asked to wipe a butt or get a snack!
I am amazed at Jesus’s response when he finds they have gone to other side of the lake to meet him when he arrives. I’ll be honest, I’d be mad. But not Jesus—He instead is moved with compassion because He is touched by the fact that they need leadership. Maybe he is glad they are looking to Him and not elsewhere. In this moment, He recognized that their need was greater even than that of the disciples. They needed teaching. They needed instruction. They needed guidance.
There are many teaching moments we have with our children, whether they are little or they are adults. As one of our biggest priorities in life, we should take advantage of every single one of them. Any chance we have to speak truth into their lives is a precious gift, especially considering how hard the world is working to inundate them with lies.
So, in this less than ideal situation, Jesus teaches the people many things and the day slips away. Finally his disciples mention the need for these people to get physical nourishment. They expect Jesus to send them away (they might be hoping they will finally get rid of these people and get to rest). Then Jesus says the impossible. He tells them to take care of this huge need. This is impossible on so many levels:
- They don’t have the financial resources to meet this need. Note they mentioned that even 200 denari (a year’s worth of wages) wouldn’t be enough.
- The physical need is too big. Possible estimates put this group at a minimum of 15,000 people. Even though they just came back from a trip where they did miraculous things, these works were limited to small groups of people.
- They don’t have the mental or emotional resources to even imagine how to help this large a group. They are tired. They are hungry too. They have needs themselves that haven’t been met.
It is clear that there is no way they can do this on their own. Now Jesus could have called down manna from heaven in this moment but he instead he asks them what they have available. It turns out they have two small fish and five loaves of bread. John 6:9 adds the following information, but it is the question at the end that steals my attention: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
Have you ever felt that way? Felt that your offering was simply too small in comparison to the huge need around you? Whether it was your family, your neighborhood, or the world, it’s so obvious in so many ways that the need is beyond our ability to impact.
When I was in my 20’s I lived in China for a year as a means to share the Gospel as an English teacher. The year completely overwhelmed me in many ways—but the one overarching fear that coursed through the year was “Is me being here making any difference at all? Is it worth it?”
As mothers, while we work and strive and pray and plan, there may be dark moments when we wonder if it’s making any difference. Especially as our kids get older and we see them making decisions that we know will have painful consequences. Our sacrifices seem like they might be in vain.
And they might be.
Unless we give them to Jesus first.
In our text, Jesus takes this pitiful offering. Notice He doesn’t lament the tiny amount that He has been given. Instead, he puts the disciples to work getting the people organized. Then he takes the bread and fish, looks up to heaven, blesses then breaks the bread and then gives it back to his disciples to distribute.
It struck me that Jesus broke the bread. And, consistently, throughout the Old Testament (and the culture of its surrounding peoples), all offerings to God were broken. I can only guess at the beautiful symbolism of this. God receives the broken. God uses the broken. God transforms the broken.
Sometimes the only thing we can offer Him is our brokenness:
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalm 51: 17
I want to encourage you, ladies, that this is an acceptable offering to Him.
I don’t know at what point the disciples realized what a crazy miracle was going on, but 15, 000 people later, there are even leftovers. God’s distribution was not only sufficient, it was abundant. This is one of the few miracles recorded in every gospel. This was not a miracle to forget. A healing is done internally, but this was done externally for everyone to see. There is no way to deny its power.
Even if our offering seems measly, we can be confident that in the Hands of God, nothing is impossible.
Here are four things we do well to remember as Moms:
- Exhaustion is a part of life, and often means you are doing something meaningful.
- Teaching moments should be seized and are the greatest work of parenting.
- God often presents us with needs greater than our ability to meet to show forth His glory.
- Our offerings, broken and pitiful as they might be, are tools of great importance in the hands of the Master.