When You Feel Torn Between Motherhood and Another Calling
The mid-June evening was heavy with promise as we parked next to an open-air barn strung with lights. A table stood to one side filled with casserole dishes, salads, and desserts; another boasted beverages sparkling in glass containers. Under the roof of that welcoming barn, forty-some mamas squeezed old friends and were introduced to new ones, loaded plates with the summery repast, and settled into assorted chairs to dine and then be inspired.
Our hostess was a gracious mother of older children, who called this gathering out of the goodness of her heart and let the word be spread far and wide. Her subject that night was the life of Lilias Trotter, an English artist from the late 1800s. Noting her extraordinary talent for painting at an early age, Lilias' mother arranged for her to meet John Ruskin, the most noted art critic of the age, who was similarly astounded by her talent--one he was surprised to find in a woman, as men dominated the art scene of the day. Ruskin worked with Lilias for years, advising her as to technique and form.
Lilias wasn't only an artist, however; she was a disciple of Jesus. She found herself compelled to reach out to one of the most neglected elements of English society at the time: women who had become homeless or were working on the streets. Ruskin, who had declared her to be capable of becoming the greatest artist of the time, began to lament and complain to her that the work she was doing with those less fortunate was causing a degradation of her craft, and warned that if she wanted to progress, she must leave ministry behind and give herself entirely to art.
The young woman, 26 at the time, spent several days in anguish over this issue before determining that Christ's call on her life could not go unanswered. She returned to England full of resolve, throwing herself into her work and the training of young women with passion. Painting was still part of her life, and Ruskin, too, but she would never again put her art first.
Many moms feel as if we've left part of ourselves behind as we find ourselves with full hands, many demands and constant tasks filling our days. Some cling tenaciously to a past which is no longer present, trying to remain at the top of careers or lists or categories which demand more than a person with multiple responsibilities can possibly give. Others bury their talents, putting away paintbrushes, computers, glue guns, passports, as if into some sort of funeral urn, sure motherhood requires the relinquishment of all claims to personhood.
Might there be another way?
Lilias knew God was calling her to be more than the best artist of her time. He wanted her to be His servant, and in particular one who ministered to the street girls of London. But He is the one who had given her the gift of art in the first place. Many years later, she would turn her attention and efforts to Algeria, where she would begin a missionary outreach to the people of North Africa which would last decades and eventually include more than fifty workers. Throughout this time, she continued to paint the world around her, illustrating and writing several books, many letters and daily journal entries which tell of unconventional methods of outreach which others claimed were a hundred years ahead of their time as well as the lessons she learned as she walked with God in the desert.
If you've felt torn as a mom, striving after accomplishments while being naturally pulled toward your sweet ones at home, or if you've felt grieved, having locked your interests and creativity in a box, perhaps it's time for your own Lilias Trotter moment. Take some time to lay everything out before the Lord. Wrestle with the questions vying in your own heart.
Your children only have one mama.
The Lord has only one you.
How does He want you to own your life in this season?
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