During the final hours of labor, I looked at my husband and whispered weakly, “This is hell.”
During my first few hours as a mother, I looked at my little girl and whispered gently, “This is heaven.”
I mean, Six Flags has nothing on the roller coaster of childbirth. It’s the extreme pain of the last few pushes juxtaposed against the extreme bliss of meeting that cuddly bundle for the first time and then finally getting to eat some pancakes. It’s hell smashed up against heaven, sin and salvation rubbing shoulders.
I sort of expected it. I’ve read plenty of blogs and talked to plenty of mothers, and I knew that Day 1 of motherhood is a mascara-irrelevant day full of pain-induced and joy-induced tears, tears that are no match for Cover Girl.
So yeah, I knew Day 1 would be a doozy. But Day 7, Day 45, Day 112—these are the days that blindsided me.
As it turns out motherhood is really tough, and not just because there’s a baby. Sometimes it’s tough because there’s a husband. And sometimes the husband doesn’t understand.
My guy is really awesome. Strong, decisive, never one to back down from a challenge, completely fearless. He loves God, he loves me, and he loves that baby.
Sometimes he would come home, exhausted from a difficult day of navigating conflicts at work, to two crying girls—one 27 days old and one 27 years old. Sometimes that would happen for nine days in a row. He’d need a break, so he’d go to the gym. And sometimes that was fine. But sometimes it wasn’t. I’d tell him, usually through tears with frustration in my voice, and he’d resent me.
He didn’t get it. Of course he needed a break—that other crying girl and I, we are a handful, and we know it.
But he didn’t get it.
Because the “taking a break” thing felt like a luxury that eluded me. If I wanted to go to the gym (or gosh, even Target), I’d have to do plenty of strategizing and arranging, like making sure he could be home with her during that perfect (impossible) window when she didn’t need to eat or if he couldn’t, get up even earlier to pump.
It sounds easy enough, and maybe that’s the problem. Because it is easy on those days that work like clockwork, but many days don’t. It feels too hard to leave, so you stay. And when your counterpart can leave so breezily, it grates.
So there’s stuff like that, little things adding up, pitting us against one another. The baby cries again, and the sound stings. I am raw and exhausted, and sometimes it feels like his fault. At one point I say, “I am so mad at you, and I’m always mad at you.”
What do you do when you both have a hard day, when your work uses up all your good graces? When you desperately need the support of the other person, but the other person is spent and needs yours? What do we do during these phases of marriage when nearly every circumstance is at odds with our ability to connect? When you finally get a date night but you spend it fighting?
I don’t really know.
But I do know this: My Dad invented love, and He can teach me how to do it when it feels impossible. He is strong enough to love me when I feel unloved and act unlovable. He is wise enough to remind me that feelings cannot always be trusted, that feelings are a shallow place, but love is deep, a choice that needs to be made while my feelings catch up.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV).
Real love puts the interests of the beloved ahead of the lover. When God explains love, He never once references the way the beloved acts. Our love is not to be contingent on the actions of others, and therein is the tension, the risk, the reward.
When I let God love me, when I remember how much, I am better able to love those around me in a real way—with patience, kindness, selflessness, letting go of that list of all the things my husband has done wrong and praying he will do the same.
The beautiful thing is that the guy teaching me to love is also teaching my guy. But as always, we are two imperfect people. Luckily for us, it’s not about perfection—it’s about process. We will keep trying because our Teacher is good, and our marriage matters. It’s the first picture our children will have of real love, of the character of God. It is how we will teach them that there is truly a God who can love them when they’re unlovable, forgive the things that seem unforgiveable, who offers kindness and patience when it is undeserved. They will know because of what they’ve seen.
Marriage is a roller coaster that’s blissful yet often blisters, a thing that seems easy in an expensive white dress or while reading Nicholas Sparks yet seems impossible when covered in spit up with yesterday’s banana matted into your hair. But in that place of tension—the place where sin and salvation rub shoulders, that’s where God teaches us to love like Him.
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