“This is my body, given up for you.”
Morning sickness. Heartburn. Backache. Sciatica. Weight gain. Labor. Stretch marks. Nursing. Everything I am, given for you. Sleepless nights, given for you. Anxiety, worry, arms holding you all night in illness. Every waking moment, given for you.
My thoughts are not my own any more. My time is not my own. And my body is beyond the recognition of my childless self. Then again, so am I.
“In order for something greater to grow, something lesser has to die.” This is the first rule of the spiritual life, according to a dear friend and trusted advisor. A man who knows and loves Jesus like I one day hope to. This principle has certainly held true in motherhood.
The act of being a mother has transformed me. Choosing to give of myself, again and again, for the sake of my children, has slowly transformed me into someone who is less selfish and more generous. Things I used to merely pretend to want to do, I now offer with genuine joy. The refiner’s fire has burned away so much of who I used to be. What’s left behind is something much more like the person I always wanted to be.
Physically, the transformation has been generally a negative one. And what a trap it is for me to dwell on! To dismiss this struggle is to belittle a genuine struggle. The desire of a woman to be beautiful is not inherently a superficial one. It’s written into our nature. My desire to be alluring to my husband is not trivial. The trap I fall into is that the ways I try to address this desire miss the mark.
St. Augustine believed that at the final Resurrection, we will all rise in perfected bodies – all except the martyrs, who will retain their wounds, wounds that will be beautiful. I wonder – will my stretch marks be beautiful?
“This is my body, given up for you.” The phrase crosses my mind often when pondering the mystery of early motherhood. Even “easy” pregnancies are exhausting. As a nursing mother, my body continues to provide the sustenance that my son needs – everything that he takes in that becomes his own body. In so many ways, my body is no longer my own. My arms are safety. My kiss is comfort. My kneeling form, bent over weeding the garden is a jungle gym. My eyes are essential, my gaze required for so many new dances and tricks to a chorus of, “Mommy, watch what I can do!”
I suppose as they grow, I will continue to see new ways in which this body will be offered up for the ones I love. Time will paint lines on my face from so many smiles and nights spent worrying. My hands will resemble my mother’s hands, and then my grandmother’s hands. So many changes, and what a trap it will be to dwell on them. My body, my life, is not a gift given to me to preen over and bathe in self-adulation. I was made to be poured out, offered up, and given away.
I hope I do just that. In the midst of so many competing desires – some holy, others less so – it is so easy to flit from attending one to the other without really considering where the desire comes from, or who it ultimately serves. That can all become so hazy. I suppose the only way to clarity is to check in with Jesus often. When my life on earth comes to a close, when this body last draws breath, I hope I will have given it in service. I hope I will have spent my time on the good and the beautiful. Lord, make it so. This is my body, given for You.
What aspects of motherhood are most challenging for you? What are most fulfilling?