Letters to My Friend -

by Mary Stephens
July 2021

Dear Struggling Mother,

We see you. We see you and we are not judging you the way you may be feeling judged. No, I'm not speaking for everyone. Obviously I can't. But there are more of us than you may think.

We see you struggling with that baby that is giving you sleepless nights or is constantly sick. We see your tired eyes and that you don't believe that it will ever end. Sometimes we wish we could do more to help. We also know that this time is limited and won't last forever. We can't make it go away. We watch and feel your pain as you stand quietly and try to politely listen to that lady who has lost touch with reality offer more "helpful" advice than you need. We know she is thinking that somehow that will make it better. You know it won't and we know it won't, and we appreciate your frustration and your patience with people hard to bear. We see you. We're on your team. Even, when we forget ourselves and are that "helpful" lady.

We see you dragging that toddler out of church meeting again because he can't be quiet or still or good or whatever it is. We see that you feel humiliated and that you blame yourself. We wish you knew that we don't see you or him that way. Maybe we even tried to say so, but you didn't hear us or you didn't believe us. We don't know how to lift a burden that you are determined to carry against all reason. You can train, you can instruct, but you can't make him good by your sheer will or effort. And if you try too hard, you may do irreparable damage. To him, to yourself. And our hearts hurt because you see yourself and your child as failures at a time when you both have only just begun the long and tedious process of training. Please don't make it harder on either of you than is necessary. There are those of us who realize this isn't "all your fault," and that all that both of you need is time and perseverance. Don't give up. We aren't.

We see you with that small herd of children in tow and hear you trying desperately to keep them in line and behaving in the way that you want them to. We try to speak to you or encourage you, to hold out a helping hand, but you are too focused on the kids to notice. And we are sad because you are shutting out the very women who could help lift your load a little, whether physically or through prayer and wise conversation. We see you starving for spiritual nourishment and yet too busy staring at your own responsibilities to see that we have more than we need and are eager to share. We see you losing the opportunity to form friendships, especially with older women. We see you so focused on pouring every possible experience into the lives of your kids - sports, music, arts, drama, educational excursions, etc. - that you are losing touch with the most important things - the things of the heart and the home and the church, and the friendships for both you and your children that will outlast all of that busy-ness of the present. We see you exhausted for things that too often count for very little in this life. Please don't let the precious and needful things fall by the wayside while you are grasping after activities and entertainment. And please remember that the older women, the women who don't have a bunch of kids in tow, are also important parts of the body of Christ that you need. Yes, you. That single lady who you think you don't have time for has a spiritual gift that would bless you in some way, if you could look up long enough to notice her. We're waiting here for a chance to listen, to speak, to pray with understanding. Please let us.

We see you, discouraged and exhausted because you were forced to have more children than your body could handle. We hear the exhaustion in your voice. We see in your eyes that you are hurting in places you cannot talk about. We know this wasn't your choice, but that you are desperately trying to keep this marriage and family together because you really do love them all. We don't want to make your burden worse by casting blame or encouraging bitterness. But, we wish you would let us into your life a little ways so that we could put our arms around you spiritually and help keep you from falling completely apart. We know you don't have the strength to talk about many things that might help strengthen your spirit, but we wish you would try a little, because we can see you need it so much. Please don't assume we are all judging you, or your husband. Some of us can recognize a problem without feeling like we need to point it out or fix it. But, you need to reach out to someone for help. Trying to do this alone won't work out well.

We see you laboring under the burden of chronic illness. Some of us understand and some want to understand. Yes, we know how hard it is to bear with the ones who don't, the ones who imagine that you are lazy or faking it to get sympathy. Some of us know how hard it must be to keep up with those kids and all the duties you have while carrying the burden of constant limitations as well. We know there are days you just can't make it, when you are forced to lie in bed and let others do "your job." We know you feel like a failure because of it. Please don't carry guilt for things that you have so little control over. And know that, although sometimes it doesn't feel like it, some of us do see you and know that you are hurting or suffering. We may try to help if we can, but you also need to let us in more sometimes. We know it's a risk and you may feel afraid because of things others have said, but we're not all "those people." We want to help, to pray, to lift with you as we're able. Don't let the littleness of some cheat you of the fellowship you could have.

We see you grieving those babies in heaven. We can see that that pain never goes completely away. We know it is ok if it doesn't, but we would like to sit with you in it. We want to say something to show that we care, but we may not say the very best things that we could. We may not understand how that pain feels personally, but it isn't something to be taken lightly nor passed off as not counting. And we know that your little one is safe with Jesus and you will see him or her again someday. But, that doesn't always make it feel ok today. We want to let you know that. We believe that life mattered and your grief is to be expected. We also see those of you whose children are all in heaven. We hear you silent pain, but only if you will let us. Please don't hide what you could use to encourage and lift up others. Remember God's comfort is given to be passed on.

We see you grieving over that wayward grown child who has made poor choices. We know that you can't make your kids do the right thing or follow the Lord. We also know that there are people who will blame you. Worse, though, is that we know you are blaming yourself. You are forgetting that no parent is perfect, all make mistakes, including you, and yet each child still has to choose for themselves whether they will do right things and walk in God's ways or not. It hurts us to see you embracing guilt and shame that does not belong to you, and we don't know what to say to help you see that. If you have done wrong, confess it - to God, to your child. But, please don't allow your whole life to be absorbed with this tragedy. We know that God still has good things for you to do for Him. Don't let the devil convince you that this has utterly disqualified you from serving the Lord in any way.

We see you trying to raise those kids alone. We see the grief over the situation that led to that. Our hearts hurt for your loss and for you loneliness. It is not an easy path with a husband, and without one it is so much less easy. We know that this is every wife and mother's worst nightmare. But, we also know that Christians are meant to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ is to love one another. Sometimes you have to let other people in the body of Christ be His hands and feet to help you through these rough times. You owe it to your children as well as yourself to let God's people minister to you when and where they can. Please don't think that you have to do this alone just because that one person you always thought would be there isn't any more. Minus one does not mean minus all.

We see you longing to be closer to your grown children who are far away. We also see those young women in your church or next door who could use a mother figure to help them learn how to live for God. We notice the kids who could use an "adopted" grandma to help them learn the things they need to know about life, to play with them, to show them love, and to be Jesus to them so they find their way to salvation. We see the young ladies in your church family who need to be taught to love their husbands, love their children, be keepers at home, be chaste, discreet. Some of us are those young women. Please don't quit because you are disappointed you can't do those things for your own flesh and blood. Look around and see those who need that attention and love you want to lavish on others. We know that maybe you have physical limitation or health problems. That doesn't mean there isn't still a work for you to do where God has placed you. Please don't give up before your work is done.

But, maybe today you're a happy mom. Maybe you are rejoicing, content, and not struggling. Who have you reached out to today with words of kindness and comfort, with words of wisdom and understanding. Whose load have you helped to lift? Because, we all have our turns at struggling and hurting and failing. You have needed help yourself sometimes, and you will probably need it again. So, today, while you may not need it, be the arms of Christ bearing another's burden. Be His mouth speaking words that edify, encourage, and instruct. Let the comfort God has given you flow onward to others in need. We see you too, and we're thankful for your blessings. But, we hope you don't let it make your selfish. We hope you don't let it blind you to all the struggling moms who are laboring along beside you.

Because Jesus loves you,
A Sister
on behalf of all of us who see.

Philippians 2:4 Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others.

background and graphics by Mary Stephens
vintage graphic: unknown source
painting by Mary Cassatt