Blessed In the Mess: Awakening to the Holy(!) Work of Parenting

by Rachel S. Gerber

headshotRachel S. Gerber is an ordained minister in the Mennonite Church USA and the proud mama of three young boys. She has a Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and an education degree from Goshen College. Married to Shawn for fifteen years, Gerber and her family live in Bloomington, Indiana. She is currently the Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister of Youth and Young Adults. Rachel has written articles for a variety of publications and in 2014 her first book was released, Ordinary Miracles (Herald Press), about awakening to moments of grace in the everyday grit of life with kids. In her spare time between balancing work with diapers, dishes, and dinosaurs, Rachel enjoys biking, slow mornings, and a good cup of dark roast coffee. 

Being the mother of three boys is always interesting. I write this with a huge smile on my face and…heartburn. It is always a balancing act; how to have fun letting boys be boys without it getting too out of hand, because boys simply can not keep their hands off of one another; how to teach compassion; and let’s not forget manners. Learning manners is second on my list, “I Will Die A Happy Mother If…” right after loving Jesus.

Anyway you slice it, growing little ones is busy. As I was playing soccer with my oldest, Owen, followed by a quick round of indoor hockey, it struck me again how physically demanding boys are. I mean wow. Arts and crafts, please? Not a chance—well, maybe for a moment until they turn their paper into a sword, bow and arrow, or gun. What is it with boys and firearms, by the way? This is another article all to itself.

Parenting can often feel tough. Some days it can feel like one big mess. Sleep deprivation, whining, temper tantrums. And sometimes the mess is literal. Muddy footprints, spills, Legos all over the floor.

It is no wonder that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was deemed with an iconic status. She probably deserved it. Ever wonder why the Bible never included stories of Jesus when he was 3? or 8? or 14?

Now, I never thought that parenting would be easy—but I never imagined the all encompassing, all demanding, exhausting nature of it all. It is gritty and raw and messy. Sure, it is also lovely and sweet and rewarding. But I don’t think we are honest enough with one another about the real struggles that life often holds. It is often easier to live in the land of Facebook half-truths, Pinterest neuroses, and Instagram facades that our life is simply charmed.

If I’m real honest, sometimes things can feel too much, and all I want to do is run away and call it quits. I often find myself going through the motions, getting wrapped up in the daily chores of life. Meal preparation, laundry, nail-trimming, which with little boys, keeping up with hygiene could almost be a part-time job. I see my kids and all they need, I see the schedule and all it contains, I see the laundry continue to grow, and feel the monotony and burden of picking up my foot to do it all again, and again, and again.

But this is not how it is supposed to be. Where is the joy? Where is the peace? Where is the patience? Because I’m pretty sure that Monster Parent is not on the list of fruits of the Spirit.

The question, “What am I doing?” haunts.

How in the world did I ever think I could raise a human being? The expectations of what I thought parenting should look like, feel like, sometimes isn’t the same as the reality of what it really is like. And living in this intersection can feel awfully hard. I often wonder, where are you God in this mess?

I find the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24) to be especially helpful these days. For these two disciples had similar feelings of being overwhelmed, disillusioned, and tired. As they walked away from Jerusalem, they were met by a stranger who walked with them. In time, the road led them home to Emmaus, and here these three gathered around the table, “took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it together, and suddenly, their eyes were open, and they recognized him as Jesus.” (Luke 24:30-1)

What was it that enabled these disciples, that were just moments ago disheartened, now able to see Jesus in the midst of their mess? Is there a gift here for me to discover?

I wonder if the disciples awakening had something to with them gathering around the table together. For the table in our homes is the place where we can be most fully ourselves. The table holds and gathers us round and it is here that we pause in the midst of the hubbub of life and are present to one another and to God.

As these disciples who sat gathered together around the table returned thanks for the crumbs in their lives, they finally awakened to this blessing in their midst. They recognized Jesus and saw that he had indeed been there the whole journey long. And joy burned deep in their hearts.

What does the role of gratitude play in awakening me—in awakening us—to the blessings that surround us in life?

I have a thing with laundry. I love washing and drying it. I hate folding it and putting it away. One morning, after realizing that no one could find matching socks, I had to do something. I grumbled as I climbed up the stairs to the tackle this HUGE pile of laundry that looked like a mountain of clothes. With much reservation, I knelt down to the floor to begin folding. And as I did this task, I was struck at my posture.


Knees bent low, arms folded in lap. As my arms reached out and to touch the crumpled shirts, socks, pants, and unmentionables, I realized that here I was, in the presence of the Holy, worshipping. I was not in Sunday dress, and my hair uncombed. But like Sunday morning, I was offering myself up in prayer. For from this posture, I was reoriented to seeing this dutiful chore, this never-ending pile, as burden to blessing.

Dirt. Of course.
Laundry. Of course.
Loud, crazy, wrestling on dirty piles of laundry. Of course.
Because I have three boys. And one amazing husband.

As I bent low, I realized again that these tasks are really an offering of love, an act of gratitude, to the four blessings in my life. For there are people who wear these clothes,
who wash and dry with these towels, who sleep in these sheets. I am reminded that offering gratitude, although not changing the status of the situation at hand, has the power to radically change the situation of my heart.

Gratitude, this is the bread that sustains.

Ultimately, this is how I make meaning out of the daily grind and find the joy and energy to try it all again today, tomorrow, and the day after that.

For as I care for my boys, I am reminded that these are the same ones that Jesus called near and gathered on his own lap. This is the kingdom of God. And as I love them, I love One who created them, making my work both joyful and fruitful. Truly, Parenting is holy work. (As well as holy! work.) But here God meets me, surprising me in the midst of my ordinary life, reminding me again and again of what is truly important.

This is exactly why I am so ever thankful and grateful for the moments that God breaks into my ordinary and breathes grace over me, as I learn to offer what I have, and give thanks in all circumstances. For by God’s grace, if I am willing to see, I can catch a glimpse of the goodness life holds, even in the midst of the mundane and the messes. A slobbery kiss, a homemade card, a bear hug. It is in these small moments that I realize that I am not alone. I am surrounded by love. God reminds me again and again of the meaningful work I am privileged to do turning my ordinary into the extraordinary. For shining in these little ones is the very face of God.

Here with us, always.

Take heart. You are doing holy work. May Grace continue to surprise you, and may Joy accompany you every step of the way.


Connect with RaOrdinary miracleschel on Everything Belongs (her website), the Everything Belongs Facebook page, Twitter @everythingblngs and on Instagram @rachelsgerber.

To order a signed copy of her book Ordinary Miracles send an email directly to Rachel. You can also order it through MennoMedia.


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