The self-directed jab was dealt with laughter, and although it may sound innocent enough, in reality it was packed with negative self-talk and insecurities:
“I realized today that people in their 30s can still be athletic! And I think I already missed that boat…”
I said this to my husband after a “warm-up” with some friends who play frisbee (and take it very seriously) left me feeling exhausted, sore, and embarrassed. What was I thinking, trying to go out and play with them when I haven’t touched a disc in three years and was an amateur at frisbee then? These people must think I’m ridiculous to have even stepped foot on that field. But as I kept putting myself down over how out of shape I am as the day wore on, I realized a few things. First off, the people on that field probably hardly noticed me. They most likely weren’t thinking any of the negative things I was thinking about myself. Second, of course I’m out of shape! I’ve had two babies in the past two years, and I’ve barely done yoga, let alone run, in between because I’m too tired!
But more importantly, I realized that my perception of my body that day was all wrong. I was looking at someone else’s lifestyle—one that includes sleep and prioritizes physical exercise—and expecting the same results to show up in my life. But that’s not my life. My life right now is full and good. My body may be “out of shape” by frisbee-playing standards, but it is doing wonderful, incredible work by my own “mama standards.” My body is strong. It carries and chases a two-year-old and an infant up and down stairs and around playgrounds and on all sorts of adventures every day (sometimes even both of them at the same time!).
My body is nourishing a sweet baby day and night by making milk for her to drink. She has so many squishable rolls that prove the hard work that my body does. She was born ten weeks early and to some may seem small for 8 months. But I know that she has grown to nearly five times her birth weight, and my body did that! I slept last night for six consecutive hours for the first time this year because I’m normally awakened frequently by at least one of these children entrusted to my care. Their needs know no schedule, and my backaches and neck pain and milk-stained clothes and bags under my eyes are the evidence that I’m doing my job well.
I may not be able to run a lap around the block (or even halfway down the street) in this season of my life, but that doesn’t mean I’m inferior to someone who can or that my body has betrayed me. No, my body is serving me well these days. It is more beautiful to me now in its somewhat battered state than it has ever been, because it is doing the hard, important, and rewarding work of raising children.
Having to give my thoughts this little talking-to about all of this made me realize something else about perception. The trouble with perception, if I’m not careful, is that it can quickly become deception. This is especially true if I let myself become trapped in comparison. I have to remember that I have an Enemy who is called the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and his job is “to steal, and kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). Why do I think the mom who is athletic at thirty is somehow doing this whole motherhood thing better than I am? Because I’m comparing one small, visibly successful part of her life to the sum total of what I know to be true of myself as a mom: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m being deceived into thinking she must have this mom gig more under control than me if she has time for exercise. But that’s unlikely to be true at all. We’re all just trying to balance and prioritize in healthy ways, and we all make sacrifices for what is important to us.
Thinking in terms of “better and worse,” “success and failure,” always either leads to self-condemnation or makes me proud and judgmental. Letting my view become narrow and focused on comparing steals the joy of building true, supportive friendships. It kills my confidence as a mom and as a woman, and it destroys my ability to enjoy my kids in this season while it lasts.
It does me no good to listen to lies that my Enemy whispers in my ear, clouding my view of myself and those around me and muddying the waters of friendship with the filth of comparison. No, it is better for me to tune that voice out and look around for the facts, for the bigger picture, and to be content with what I see.
Now when I look at myself, I see a mother who is tired, but strong. Tattered, but graceful. Limited, but full.