What have you been looking at lately? Where have your eyes been? For me, my eyes have been fixed on screens more than ever before. This is in part because I left a campus ministry job that involved mostly people time to start a writing and editing job that is mostly done on a laptop. But my eyes have also been on Pinterest and Instagram a lot. On real estate websites browsing homes I cannot afford. Doomscrolling on my phone as my eyes take in bad news, frightening news, anxious news. Maybe the opposite question is just as important. Where have my eyes not been? My children? My husband? The Lord?
What we look at tells us a lot about our hearts. It shows us what matters to us, what has our attention, and what we think is important. But more than just being revealing, what we look at actually shapes us. The things we consume visually narrate the stories we live in, the things we believe, and the desires of our hearts. When you start to look at scripture through the theme of vision–what you are looking at, where your gaze is fixed, sight vs. blindness, seeing vs believing–the theme appears everywhere. Our eyes can lead us into sin, they reveal the spiritual health of a person, they can be fixed on God, and they can be brought from blindness to sight.
But scripture portrays a dual layer to sight. It can represent a literal dimension– Jesus literally gives sight to the blind, our eyes can literally lead us into sin– but it also represents a spiritual or heart dimension–the eyes of our heart can be opened to see God. When the eyes of our hearts are open, we have eyes to see his kingdom coming today. We see the gospel at work in the world, God’s renewing Spirit sanctifying his saints, his ongoing lordship as the head of the church. When the eyes of our hearts are opened, we see the world through the lens of faith, but what we look at with our physical eyes directly influences how we see the world around us. Both physical and spiritual sight matter, and we must choose with wisdom where we fix our gaze and what we allow to shape our hearts.
Looking at scripture
Spending time in scripture is essential for shaping the Christian’s heart. When I consider how much time I spend on social media, on work, or watching movies, it can be embarrassing to think about how little time I spend with my eyes on the word of God. Humans are narratival beings who are moved, led, taught, and encouraged by stories we hear and believe. Our world is made of stories. Not just books and movies, but also stories about what beauty is, stories about how we are supposed to use our bodies, stories about what dating relationships should look like and how we should eat. Stories construct far more of our daily lives and our meaning than we realize and they also dictate how we respond to the world around us. If I believe the story that money will make me happy, then I will act in ways that align with that narrative. will work and hustle so that I can have a nice home, fancy vacations, beautiful clothing, and ultimately, happiness. As Christians, the story we exist in is God’s story, and if our eyes are not fixed on scripture, where God’s story is revealed to us, they will be fixed on other stories.
Psalm 119 repeatedly refers to our eyes being on God’s commandments and word.
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (119:15). “Open my eyes that I may behold the wondrous things out of your law” (119:18). “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (119:148).
The psalmist’s eyes look at God’s ways, his wondrous laws, and stay awake looking at his promises. Christians must know the ways of God– his character, what he says, what he does. We must know his law– his commandments, what he says is good and lovely, and what he opposes. And we must know his promises–his covenantal promises of nearness, comfort, grace and provision. Though fixing our eyes on God’s word is not a guarantee that our hearts will be engaged, we must choose to actively meditate, behold and stay awake to God’s word his story of who we are.
Gazing at Jesus
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. But what does it mean to look to Jesus? These verses tell us that seeing Jesus requires looking back to the cross, looking around at the body of Christ today (our cloud of witnesses), and looking toward the reigning and ruling Jesus seated on the throne.
Though we do not see Jesus in the flesh today, we need to look to his cross, remember that he is seated on his throne and ruling today, and fix our eyes on Christ by participating in His body. The main place we will see God at work today is in other believers bearing God’s image and being conformed into his likeness. We see Jesus in a friend showing compassion to us, we see him in forgiveness being extended, we see him in lives being transformed by the good news of the gospel. The body of Christ is just that– the arms and hands and feet that are at work bringing God’s kingdom to bear on earth as it is in heaven. If you want to see God today, you must participate in his body. And as you do, others will see God in you.
What we look at shapes us. Today, consider your gaze. Fix your eyes on God’s word and look to Jesus, you just might see his kingdom on earth.
I recently read a New York Times article about how the economy of the pandemic does not allow for Americans to have both a job and kids and survive. My husband and I have twin 2-year-olds. He is a pastor and I work from home. My friend asked, “Why are people not screaming about this?”
We aren’t screaming because we don’t have the energy. Or the time. Or mental space to do anything else in our day. For almost 5 months my husband and I have gotten up early, broken work time into two-hour shifts where we work like there is no tomorrow. But there is tomorrow. And tomorrow starts at 6 am with two crying toddlers. And tomorrow holds what today held: maximized hours, exhaustion, and trying to do three full-time jobs between two people. We are screaming, but mostly on the inside.
As a seminarian, I used to be particularly interested in rest. Sabbath. What a wonderful God-ordained word. I read books, I practiced, I didn’t study on a single Saturday for 3 years. My church did two sermon series in two years on the concept of rest. My husband preached at least one sermon on rest in that time, and I remember him attempting to address rest for parents as someone who did not yet have children. I think his acknowledgment went something like, “For parents, I know this is different for you, but it is still important…” A few years and two kids later and all I can say is, yes, it’s different. Yes, it is more important than ever. But sweetheart, we had no idea the train that would hit us when we had twins, and then drag us through a pandemic and almost no childcare support.
We happened to move on March 1, 2020, to a new city. Two new jobs, a new church, leaving two ministries, and a decade of an established community. On March 16, we got the shelter in home orders. We had one Sunday at our new church. I met a handful of people. Our daughters attended children’s church for the first time which meant that I worshipped without kids for the first time in 1.75 years. And then it all happened. Shelter at home. Quarantine. Social distance.
I’m writing this because if you are a parent who feels like their insides are withering, there is no hope, no timeline, no rest, no difference between weekend and weekday because they are equally exhausting, you, and I, need to cling to someone as tightly as our children cling to us. We need a God who mothers us.
Lately, I find myself struggling with hopelessness as I trudge through never-ending dailiness. I know this is the place of God patiently molding me into His image but right now it feels more like a place of despair. I remember having my second of four knee surgeries and telling myself, at some point you will be done with surgery, off crutches, through the six months of physical therapy, and this will just be a memory. Because you know that, be kind to your mom, expect the pain, get through knowing it will get better soon. Hopefulness. I had something to hope towards, an object of hope. Having such a clear object as well as a clear timeline gave me the hope I needed to persevere in painful circumstances and the perspective to take the bumps that would inevitably come. But that is exactly why this season feels like a free-fall. How many months (years?) will this go on for? Who will I be when I come out on the inevitable other side? How do I stop the spinning to fix my eyes on an object, a direction to hope towards?
The concept of fixing your hope on an outcome or goal is actually deeply biblical. It is central to any understanding of discipleship– we live in a way that might challenge us or make us uncomfortable, but we sacrifice because we have a goal fixed in our minds–salvation and God’s Kingdom coming today as it is in heaven. The Apostle Peter describes this very thing in the first chapter of his first letter when he drops the loaded therefore. Therefore, because you have a hope laid up for you in heaven, a treasure imperishable and undefiled, be holy as I am holy, walk in my ways, conduct yourself with fear and reverence knowing that you will one day stand before the Lord Almighty. If you have a goal worth living for, an object worth attaining, then, as Paul says, run the race in order to win the prize. What we anticipate on the other side of trials shapes how we live today. I know this to be true. It makes sense intellectually, but my heart still fails.
Appealing to eternity creates a few practical challenges in my heart. Eugene Peterson’s voice rings in my ears as he writes in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction that believers today want fast discipleship, they want formation now! Most do not want a daily obedience in the same direction for a lifetime. But that is exactly where disciples are made. In the long haul.
Largely, I feel like I have emerged from life challenges as some kind of victor. A phoenix rising from my own ashes, I view my story as a success story– as most millennials do. But as a working mother, what does “success” look like right now when all you have is pasta on the floor, everyone wanting mommy, and another day of working while your children cry outside your door while your husband tries to calm them down? Where is my commitment to Sabbath? Has my joy in God’s refinement evaporated? I feel as though I used to believe in something and now I am just surviving.
When the pandemic began, I reached for Isaiah. I figured, hey, might as well live in scripture that reflects our current reality. The prophets have become a strange comfort for me– both harsh and exacting, and yet offering the crystal clear view of restoration that only comes from suffering and being humbled. When I taught Bible studies at Harvard and we spent a summer in Isaiah, I signed up to teach chapters 23-26, and the image I remember is that of a woman giving birth to a gust of wind. I remember chuckling at the silliness of that phrase. Israel’s hopes becoming a gust of empty wind, not a new life, not a crying infant bringing salvation. The uttermost of disappointment. Their object of hope seemingly drifting away in a breeze. I read it as a metaphor, which it is, but I read it not as a mother.
As I finished the book in this season, it was the final chapter that caught me. I think about reading God’s word like winding a ball of yarn. The yarn remains the same, the same thickness and width. But it is the habitual, daily wrapping that creates something solid and of value. Growing every wrap. Gaining volume and mass quietly, invisibly. You wind and wind and all of a sudden it’s the size of a grapefruit. Slow and steady. That’s how it is reading God’s word regularly. So while the gust-of-air-birth is somewhere in the middle of my yarn-ball, another image was added this time around.
At the end of this massive prophecy spanning two centuries of the story of God’s chosen people, their daily struggles, the promises of how they will be turn out on the other side, all of it is wrapped up with the image of a mother. God as a mother. Consoling her beloved child. Holding it. Nursing it. Tenderness. Hope. Our Father, like a mother.
“Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?” (Isa 66:7-8). A mother does not give birth before labor. A mother does not give birth before finding out she is pregnant. No child comes before a mother is scared, before she waits, before she grows and expands, before she suffers, before she loses sleep, before she loses herself to another.
Motherhood, like God’s formation of his people, is a slow maturing, an uncomfortable forming, a losing, a preparing. A long obedience towards literally bearing new life. And God, like a mother to his people, is the refresher and nourisher, the one who delivers that which is promised. He gives birth to a nation, a royal priesthood as Peter calls us. He sustains and feeds and consoles his growing-pained people on his abundant chest (Isa 66:11). This is our God. A God who extends peace like a river when our bones our weary, who hold his children close and feeds them with tenderness, who carries His children on his hip when they need to be held and bounces them upon his knee out of sheer delight (Isa 66:12-13). This is our mothering God.
The thing that has struck me time and again in my brief two years as a mother is how slowly we grow. How slowly our children grow. People see me with my young girls and say, “Oh, enjoy every moment! They go so fast!” I think what they are really saying is pay attention. I will not enjoy every moment. But I do need to be present because someday they will be grown. But today, they are not. Today they are two and still in diapers and stringing some nonsense words together and smearing yogurt in their hair. Growing up takes time. Just like being pregnant, growth takes time–there is no way to speed it up and keep it real. Isaiah is getting at this in the final chapter. You can’t give birth before you have labor pains. And God actually planned it this way. He likes watching us grow. He made us to be slow movers. The long days are where we actually choose him. Our lives and our children testify to this. We are simply not designed for fast discipleship. We are designed for slow days of choosing the good.
Somewhere in the middle of my reading of Isaiah, a young woman I know was questioning this “comfort” God gives. The imagery of Isaiah is tender to be sure—“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (66:13), but what do we do when we don’t seem to be experiencing it? I comfort my daughters on my chest. I hold them close after they wake from a nap. I rock them when they cry. I comfort them. And this is true enough comfort, but it is not the whole biblical picture. Reading The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, my husband came to dinner one night astounded with the new knowledge that when God talks about comfort, he isn’t talking about a warm blanket for nap time. He is talking about spurring weary soldiers into battle. As our comforter, God calls us into battle to fight for His Kingdom to come in the daily work of being his saints. God calls us to action. Comfort is both the tender faithfulness of a mother holding a crying child and the battle cry to fight alongside our God.
Mothers lead into battle. Mothers summon courage and strength. Mothers speak wisdom, truth, and life into their children. And this is only a reflection of our God. Right now, I need that mother. I need that mother so badly to carry me on her chest. To tell me the tides can change quickly, but she will remain the same. As I mother my own daughters and bear this image to them, I need someone to bear it to me. I need my Father in Heaven to mother me. To bounce me on his knee and also summon the courage I need to keep fighting.
Today, if you find yourself weary of mothering, weary of fighting on behalf of others, weary of the slow dailiness of being a Christian, remind yourself that your God chooses to identify with you, your motherhood. He deems it infinitely valuable. He holds your unique burdens and pains in such esteem that He chooses to wear the spaghetti-sauce-stained clothes of motherhood so that we might understand him more. And he does not grow weary. When your arms and patience fail, His will not. He will not grumble as he holds you, he will not resent your neediness. Today, find rest leaning on the chest of your mothering God.