Have you ever taken up running?
And I thought I was going to die. My heart burned, my muscles ached, and I was fairly certain my lungs would explode. I did it a few more times before
I wimped out my previously ski-injured knee wacked out and I quit.
Buuuut from what people tell me it gets better. You force yourself to keep going time after time and each run you go a little farther. Your lungs hurt less. You don't melt into a puddle of sweat three houses down from your driveway. You turn that corner, they say, and soon you're running a mile. Or two. Or if you put in enough effort and time, you've got a 5K or a 10K or heck, even a marathon under your belt. And then you look back and it seems crazy that when you started you could barely limpjog a block without stopping.
That's what those runners say anyway.
I'm gonna just take their word for it.
That's what that first baby is in so many ways.
You think you might die some days. For many of us it is the first taste of real selflessness. I mean, yeah, you lose a part of yourself in a glorious way when you get married and it should be a constant training in selflessness but you still for the most part get to do what you want to do and you're dealing (hopefully) with a rational, self-sufficient adult. But motherhood? Totally different. The full 24/7 intensity of the situation of caring as mother for another completely dependent human being can be world shaking and mind blowing at the beginning. I mean, you want to and you know it's good and you love this little person to death but man, it really does some days feel like your lungs might explode with the intensity of it all.
Because motherhood is a muscle.
That first run starts out with grand intentions and you know it's good and love the idea of health but then when you actually start doing it? It seems impossible. So it goes for many of us with that first baby. We plan for it, pray for it, and yearn for it. The idea of motherhood is beautiful and we want to do it and do it well. But then those first few days, months, years come with a complete paradigm shift and a whole lotta trial by fire. And it's harder than we ever imagined. We doubt that we can even do it.
Yet somehow we make our way through, some days skipping, many more slogging. Through the type of tired that you never felt before and through the world shifting to all new perspectives. Through the emotional stress of loving someone in ways we never experienced and through the stunning realization that you are now completely responsible for another real human and you often can't even just sit down and use the bathroom when you want to anymore. We keep on going day after day after day. We put in the time and training and suddenly we're that runner looking back and amused that it seemed so hard at the beginning. You get used to that level of training. It's true that once you've been at the motherhood thing a while and added more than a few kids to the mix you can look back and laugh a bit. I wonder just what the heck I did with all my time back then and why I freaked out at the thought of taking a newborn to the grocery store.
The more you do it, the more you can handle. Those first few years are the first few runs down the block. They're the first few excruciating (and possibly embarrassing) times at the gym. You think you're not cut out for it. You think there must've been some huge mistake. You realize that you don't know what you're doing and maybe everyone can tell. You think you need to reevaluate just how many children you were open to anyway. But whether or not it feels like it in those excruciating moments, you're building muscle. You're being broken down so that you can become stronger.
There's nothing wrong with you for feeling the pain at the beginning because all it means is that you've started and that it's hard. There is no shame in that. It means that you know this is a good and worthwhile work and that you are giving your all to do it. And in the day after day, week after week, you are getting stronger.
And I tell myself that again.
Because while there is nothing like that first few weeks of running, the process and strength training are designed to continue. If St. Paul is correct, then we are in training until we die. And this vocation here is where we train.
Just as in running, you push yourself more or new obstacles are placed before you. Five year me-as-mother looks back with a smile at the one year me-as-mother. Eight years me-as-mother smiles back at that five year mother. A few years more pass and I stand simultaneously noticing that it's not nearly as hard as it was at eight years and yet I feel pushed harder still. We get stronger. We can handle more. And then we go further.
There is no condescension looking back. I look with appreciation for the journey and the realization that the design is working. If this is our vocation then we are meant to grow stronger each day. If we started out at the end goal, there'd be no point. Each time, each season comes with new challenges and we are pushed still farther. But we do it. And it somehow is easier and harder all at the same time. Another baby, another illness, a family stress, another trial with one of the children. They all keep us growing in virtue, breaking us down to build us up stronger.
So if you're feeling the exploding lungs and tearing of muscle, sweet lady, don't give up.
Your stamina is increasing. Your strength is growing.
Keep running that race, sweet strong sister.
Your motherhood is building.
"Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."
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