One day, as our collective brood of six children (later to become eight, between our two families) played in her yard, my dear comrade-in-arms, toddler-mom friend said something that did me a world of good. One of the boys (of our eight, seven were boys) asked her if he could do something both dangerous and downright wrong (mildly so, but still) and she said, “Whatever. Go ahead.” And then as an aside to me, “Sometimes I just get so tired of being consistent.”
This, coming from the most consistent mom I’ve ever known—a real hall-of-famer. No, I did not judge her. Instead, my heart did a little jig. First, I must admit to a bit of schadenfreude… she struggled to keep it together just like me. But, mostly, the exchange between my friend and her son pointed out the nature of parenting small children: It is hard and there are moments, many of them, when we don’t have what it takes to do this kind of constant, unending hard. It’s an ambush in a desert. You just want to stare at the whining, wheedling, or wailing kid and say, “I got nuthin’.”
To the dry mom, listen to God.
In case you don’t have time to read further, I’ll go ahead and tell you today’s parenting advice: Listen to God—hard—and do whatever he says.
This is generic advice, I know, but I think it may be hardest for moms to heed than for any other people group on earth. Moms get sucked dry so easily. And, I don’t know about you, but I do not do well with dry. When garden-variety fatigue or hormones or the viruses your preschooler shares so freely with you just drag you down. When the Word of God sounds like a whispered echo across a canyon, and I don’t mean in the dramatic sense. When his voice is almost unhearable because all the other voices in your day are so loud. When days feel purposeless and dull, conversations lack zing, and stories fail to captivate.
The nature of parenting small children is this: It is hard and there are moments, many of them, when we don’t have what it takes to do this kind of constant, unending hard.
Moms are often dry, which doesn’t seem fair when you add in the hard part. A mother’s day is a series of crises that need quick fixes, and sometimes God doesn’t seem all that interested in the quick fix. Even when the crises stretch into our older kid’s issues and seasons of struggle, God maddeningly ignores common wisdom in favor of some crazy ideas of His own.
This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord.
Thankfully, the Scripture is full of plots that combine drought and crisis. And we’re in those stories, smack inside of them. In the book of 2 Kings, three kings convened during a drought to fight against a common enemy. After “a roundabout march of seven days” in the desert, they had no water. Of the three, Jehoshaphat was the only king who had the gumption to ask what God had to say about it (which in those days meant, “Get me a prophet!”). So Elisha was brought in to consult with the three kings. “We’ve got a drought and a military crisis going on here,” they told him in so many words. “We need a quick fix.”
Elisha’s advice? “Make this valley full of ditches.”
Okay, Elisha, I’m thinking as I read this in the middle of my own crisis during an extremely dry time in my own life, dig holes in the ground? Because, that’s encouraging.
Carve out more emptiness in an already empty place?
Make for yourself a tableau of metaphors that represent exactly how bleak things are at this very moment?
Dig ditches? A job that is euphemistic for failure and defeat, as in “I didn’t even get my GED, so I had to dig ditches for a living.”
Even when the crises stretch into our kid’s issues and seasons of struggle, God maddeningly ignores common wisdom in favor of some crazy ideas of His own.
You’d think God would have offered those kings some Iron Age action steps, you know, building ramparts or catapults or counting men and horses. Instead, they got out their shovels and made holes in the hard, dry ground.
The truth is, I cannot make the rain or the conditions for it. I can only be ready for it to come.
Being ready means I have carved out an empty space for the water to fill me. In this light, digging ditches provides dramatic tension. An ultimate act of anticipation. At first, I imagined this:
A raindrop falls on Jehoshaphat’s outstretched palm. A grin yanks his beard up to his ears. Then a light pattering of rain, and the soldiers begin to dance and shout. Before long, a torrential downpour commences.
But that’s not how the story goes. It didn’t even rain on those ditches, not one drop. God filled them with water that flowed out of the streambeds from the enemy’s territory into theirs. Water came from an unimaginable source pouring into dry gullies… it doesn’t seem possible. But Elisha knew something about God the others forgot: “This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord.”
In other words, “God’s got this.”
Then Elisha adds, almost as an afterthought, “He will also hand over Moab to you,” as if to say, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to take care of the drought, and I’ll throw in a stunning solution to your crisis in the process.”
These ditches were a complicated battle ploy concocted in the mind of God, something no human warrior could have conceived. In the early morning light, the water looked like blood. Thinking their enemies were dead and could be easily plundered, the Moabites charged straight into an ambush.
God is asking you to prepare for His plan, dig the ditch, so that He can provide.
As military conquests go, this one is pretty amazing. But the main story here is that God wants to fill us. For me, that’s the apex of the drama, the miraculous bootstrap out of a wartime drought. And that’s exactly what we moms need. Rain. Whether it falls down from the sky in a customary way or it fills up our dry places in ways we could never imagine if we tried.
Digging a ditch, for me, usually looks like being quiet when I really want to open my mouth. It looks like waiting when everything in me wants an action step. Sometimes it means choosing loneliness when I think a crowd would cure what ails me. It means closing my ears to the current parenting trends (do you realize this stuff goes out of style?) and listening for the Ancient of Days to give me lasting wisdom. It looks like time. Like being still when I think I should be polishing my sword.
When our kids were small, I told the Lord I would give him the first available space in my day. With four small children who woke up with the sun until they hit puberty, you’d think this an impossibility. But every day there would come that moment. The one I’d want to fill with undone tasks, unread books, or unslept sleep. But I’d promised the Lord this moment was his, so I got out my shovel. I will never regret those times. God expanded them when I needed more of them, more of Him. He surprised and delighted me with the insight I needed for that day’s crisis. And he provided a trough full of rainwater for my soul when I was parched, which was most days.
Digging ditches means allowing enough time and space for the words of Scripture to seep into the dry places of our hearts. I guarantee this: if you dig a ditch, God will fill it. And sometimes you will even hear him say, loud and clear, “By the way, I am going to handle your crisis, too…
Big or small, this is easy for me.”
The main story here is that God wants to fill us. That’s exactly what we moms need. Rain. He provides a trough full of rainwater for our souls when we are parched, which is most days.
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