I had an infant who was starving. Like, literally, starving. My body didn’t produce enough breastmilk, and he refused any kind of bottle supplementation. He was also in pain with severe acid reflux and projectile vomited the little milk I could give him—sometimes splattering on the wall. And because he was constantly starving and hurting, he couldn’t sleep. Not for naps, not for nights. And because he couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep. For months.
Imagine being a mother who cannot feed her frail, helpless baby. Imagine your baby crying at your chest because you can’t give him enough food, and the little food you can give him feels like glass shards down his throat.
He would cry. I would cry. We were both broken and miserable.
I stopped seeing friends, because an infant that will only feed from his mother cannot be left for more than a couple hours at a time, and it was too stressful to make plans around his fickle feeding. I was trapped, isolated, and angry.
Oh, also, I had a 3-year-old running around. A very strong-willed, suddenly defiant 3-year-old with a penchant for violence—mostly toward me. I didn’t have the energy to discipline. Or when I tried, I was so fried from the baby drama that I overcorrected out of hurt and anger and exhaustion. The poor guy was my scapegoat.
And my marriage? Yikes. For months on end, my husband came home to find me crying on the kitchen floor—bitter and defeated. I was emotionally and physically unavailable as a wife, and I put him in a place of being in crisis control all the time. He was a saint for helping as much as he could, but he could only do so much.
You may or may not believe in God, but in times like this, I think most of us start calling out those desperate prayers to something bigger than ourselves. Since I do believe in God, you’d better believe I was begging for a breakthrough. Dear God, please just FIX this!
Can I tell you something else? My biggest life dreams didn’t really include motherhood in the first place (with the obligatory disclaimer that obviously, obviously, I love my children passionately). But this whole domestic circus of diapers and laundry and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was never my main goal in life. Staying at home with my kids was an assignment God had given me for this season (not necessarily for every woman, I should note)—and I knew it.
So not only was I trying to honor a “calling” I wasn’t super stoked about, but this version seemed unnecessarily hard and unfair. Why wouldn’t God just freaking heal us already and stop the suffering?
So, yeah, everything sucked. And it was God’s fault.
This is the part where, if you’ve ever been around church circles, you probably expect me to say something like, “But it wasn’t God’s fault! We have an enemy named Satan who’s plotting against us, and the world is broken because of sin in the Garden of Eden and blah blah blah…”
And I’m not going to say that.
It’s true, there is an enemy. The world is broken because of things humans collectively do wrong. But the suckiness of my life at that moment? I actually believe God was allowing it. Though it wasn’t His “fault” driving it. I’ve come to believe it was actually His love.
I’ll say that again: The suckiness in my life wasn’t God’s fault. It was His love.
Six months into this painful season, I heard a message about how to hear from God through other people. I asked some friends to pray for me and ask God if there was anything I needed to hear. I was desperate for answers, comfort, something.
Here’s what a friend told me: “Elizabeth, I think God is saying he wants you to fail in motherhood.”
Well, that just seemed downright cruel!
“You keep trying to prove you can do this,” she continued. “You’re trying to prove you can fix your baby and fix your toddler and fix your marriage. So you keep pushing and striving to make it all work. And you can’t fix this. You’re not enough for your baby. You’re not enough for your toddler. You’re not enough for your husband. And God wants you to accept failure.”
What the @#%?! Why would God set me up to fail? (If you’re an Enneagram nerd like me, please note that I’m a Three. And because I’m a Three, I want you to be impressed that I’m a Three, which means I’m wired to perform and achieve and untiringly seek the admiration of others. I’m also PETRIFIED of failure.)
God was setting me up for failure? Yes, that seemed cruel.
But as it turns out, it was loving.
So I took it to God. “God, why do you want me to fail?” I cried.
And I heard Him quietly whisper to my heart, “I need to break your selfishness and your unhealthy need for control so that I can use you for bigger things.”
And I protested, “But God, if I’m broken, how can I do anything? If I’m not constantly driving toward the next achievement I’ll lose who I am! I thought you made me this way!”
And He said, “When you trust me first, you will never lose who I created you to be.”
Talk about a truth bomb. God loved me so much that he was allowing me to hurt—a lot. He saw the twisted ways my mind was working (I must conquer motherhood! I must prove I can fix this!), and He brought me to my knees—for my own good. It became clear that the only way to experience relief from my pain was to give up. I had to embrace failure and actually trust God to show up as my only hope.
I started out just wanting God to heal my baby and fix our pain. But I realized that I can’t really let God heal me deeply until I admit how broken I am. Do I wish He’d just solve the immediate problem in front of me? YES. That would be so much easier. But if I trust He’s good (which is harder than it sounds), I have to trust he’s actually healing something that will benefit the longevity of my life as a parent. I have to believe He cares for me beyond the immediate crisis that’s hard for me to see beyond in the moment. And much to my surprise, accepting failure was a huge relief. It brought the freedom I’d been desperately seeking.
So the moral of the story is this: Sometimes, terrible things happen because the world is broken and we really do have an enemy who’s causing more pain. But I’ve come to believe that sometimes God allows it because he loves us enough to teach us something through the pain.
For the record, everything actually still sucks. My baby is still in chronic pain, and we don’t know why. I still don’t make sufficient breastmilk. He still sleeps like crap, which means I still sleep like crap. Do I think God is making my baby suffer to teach me a lesson? No. Do I know why this sweet little guy is hurting so much and no one (God included) seems to have an answer? No. But in those moments when I’m tempted to feel like a victim and be angry that God is allowing it, I can now say, “God, I would love for you to fix this now, but if you don’t, let me trust that you’re doing something bigger than what I can see. And don’t let me miss it.”