I called home for Mom and Dad’s 54th wedding anniversary. Mom answered, a bit breathless, and started off with an apology. “Sorry, I’m out of breath. I was just vacuuming. You should see the dog hairs . . . they’re shedding all over the place.”
Nothing remarkable about that, except that Mom’s scheduled to have major surgery tomorrow, risky surgery. But with two collies shedding their beautiful fur all over the place now, vacuuming wins out over worrying–and resting. Mom’s got an engine that rarely sputters and never quits. She needed that strength to raise ten of us.
We talked a bit, joked back and forth and then somehow the conversation turned around to her. I just had to tell her, once more. “Thanks, Mom. You’re a great mom.”
She got serious for a moment, paused, and then stated simply, “You take what you’ve been given and you do the best you can with it. I’m not rich like Paris Hilton and I’m not a saint like Mother Teresa. But you do the best you can with what you’ve got.”
One thing’s for sure: Mom’s philosophy of “do the best you can with what you’ve got” had practical application when we were growing up. Unexpected company coming and not much meat to go around? She’d add more sauce or potatoes, and say “FHB,” or “family hold back.” You do the best you can. Wearing K-mart sneakers in my first high school state track meet? Just run faster. “You do the best you can with what you’ve got.” (K-mart showed well. I doubt Nike could have done any better.) Overwhelmed by a math test, history quiz, and a paper due, all on the same day? “Do the best you can.” (To which she was likely to add, however, “Just get the [deleted] things done.”)
But it wasn’t until I became a mom myself, that I understood the meaning behind her words more deeply. “Doing the best we can with what we’ve got” means taking stock of “what we’ve got,” both humanly and spiritually–and realizing that perfection is humanly impossible.
Our limitations don’t hide for long. We see them when we’re bone-weary from the day’s work, but more work awaits; when we’re bewildered, sensing that something’s wrong with a child, a relationship, or a situation, but we don’t know what; when we face decisions that need experience, expertise, or time that we don’t have; and when we see others’ emotional needs go unmet, because we are running on empty. These are the times when our human weakness overwhelms us.
But these are the times that lead us to make room for God.
For most of us, our hearts are crowded places, where big ambitions, selfishness, and concern over others’ opinions all jostle for space, leaving little room for God. And we’re often unwilling to clean house, spiritually, until our failures, weaknesses, and imperfections drive us to do a clean sweep. And then we’re ready to invite God in— which leads me to the rest of my conversation with Mom.
Her prescription for motherhood, “You do the best you can with what you’ve got,” is just the beginning. With the confidence born of experience, prayer, and many struggles, she declares the next steps, “Then you let God do the rest.” (I could imagine her shrugging) “And, you don’t worry about it.”
Motherhood, as my Mom has shown me, means letting God fill the gap between what my family needs in a given situation and what I have to give. It means living in the truth about who I am --limitations aplenty-- and who God is: power, and perfection.
And it means developing that confident faith and expectant hope that God will indeed “work all things to the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28).
There’s no need to be the perfect mom. All I need to be is a mom who depends on the love of a perfect God.
Photograph by Dr Case - (CC)