Towards Motherhood

A Wilderness Sabbath: Towards Motherhood


Post Author: Mihee Kim-Kort


Editor’s Note: This article is one in an occasional series called “A Lenten Pause,” running on Fidelia’s Sisters until Easter. As many young clergy women plan to come to our summer conference, Sabbath in the City, in Chicago we’ll be taking a look at the sometimes terrifying topic of sabbath and the role it plays in our ministries.

Towards Motherhood

I changed jobs recently.

My family and I moved to the mid-west in April of 2011. My husband, Andy, who is also a clergyperson, responded to God’s call to serve the First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington as their head of staff. I was an associate pastor for youth and children at Presbyterian churches for more than 7 years, and found myself serving a much smaller parish. There are two members – my twin babies.

Upon their arrival, my vocational identity shifted quite abruptly, and threw me into the deep end into an unfamiliar world out of a space that was home to me for so long. Instead of reading theological commentaries, I found myself scouring books on parenting and baby’s development during the first year. Instead of leading devotionals for committee meetings, I was washing cloth diapers. Instead of crafting alternative worship experiences for the youth on Wednesday evenings, I was bouncing babies in chairs to help them fall asleep. Instead of writing sermons, organizing mission trips, training Sunday School teachers, and branching out to the community, I was doing the bare minimum to survive long enough to make it to the next day where the seemingly endless cycle of feed-burp-change-play-sleep began again. Instead of enjoying a happy hour at the local pub, I was counting down the minutes until bedtime.

Quicker than you can gulp down a shot of tequila, I went from full-time pastor to full-time parent. More accurately, and simply, I became a stay-at-home mom.

I was wandering in a wilderness. Anxious. Fearful. Delirious.

Throughout most of my life, my connection to God had always felt relatively straightforward. Though there were times when I may have felt distant from God because of certain choices or questions that felt like a struggle, I still maintained a sense of God’s nearness which would assuage any doubts. My first year in seminary, I went home every Friday afternoon after the Theology precept and cried into my pillow. So much was unraveling for me, everything I had grown up trusting, but even then, in all that was familiar being stripped from me, I miraculously felt God expanding in my life. Even in the deepest darkness, I never felt completely forsaken.

Nonetheless, becoming a parent was viscerally different. Fear colored every moment. If I was driving around with the babies at every four-way intersection I paused for much longer than necessary. Images of a huge Ford truck barreling through without stopping and t-boning my little Subaru plagued me. If I laid the babies down on the carpet, I literally walked on eggshells, dreading the possibility that I might accidentally step on someone’s head. If I was in the grocery store with the babies I steered clear of anyone coughing for fear of some unknown tropical, rare disease that might infect them. I became totally and completely irrational in my fear, and it paralyzed me as I flailed and floundered helplessly.

I continued to roam as I lost my bearings. The days passed in a blur, and I was disoriented, and constantly in a sleep-deprived haze. Others had told me over and over that becoming a mother would fundamentally change me, and I had no idea the extent. I just was not prepared for the depth of transformation that would accompany this stage of life. On the one hand, it was clear my body would never be the same again – I had residual aches from the pregnancy in the tips of my fingers from tendonitis and soreness all the way down to the tops of my feet. Even more so, I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually numb from pure exhaustion.

Even so, I tried to continue the same rituals that had always nourished and centered me. I tried prayer and quiet times. Sunday morning church. Devotional books. But, I was listless, unfocused, and of course, distracted by the needs of these very young and demanding creatures. Although I was no doubt head-over-heels in love with them, on top of the change inside-out, I was mostly overwhelmed with guilt about not doing – and being – enough for them, for Andy, for family and friends, and finally, for my faith. All of it was so overwhelming that I concluded if I couldn’t give my all, or at least what I had in the past, then I shouldn’t bother giving anything at all to God. I avoided thinking or feeling anything, and quickly hit rock bottom.

One day, I came across Brene Brown, professor and TED speaker, who spoke into my struggle:

The only choice we really have is how we’re going to respond to feeling vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, our shields don’t protect us. They simply keep us from being seen, heard, and known. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past decade and experienced firsthand over the last year, it’s this: Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose. Even if letting ourselves be seen and opening ourselves up to judgment or disappointment feels terrifying, the alternatives are worse: Choosing to feel nothing — numbing. Choosing to perfect, perform, and please our way out of vulnerability. Choosing rage, cruelty, or criticism. Choosing shame and blame. Like most of you reading this, I have some experience with all of these alternatives, and they all lead to same thing: disengagement and disconnection.

One of my favorite quotes is from theologian Howard Thurman. He writes, “Don’t ask what the world needs; ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive. Vulnerability is not easy, but it’s the surest sign that we’ve come alive.[1]

This word about vulnerability was a lifesaver. After months of being constantly awake at night, and feeling so empty and plain desperate, I sat down and finally, picked up my pen, something I used to do regularly, but had put aside after the babies’ arrival. The pen came alive, and the paper seemed to fill itself. I confronted my longing, and all my struggle with jealousy, despair, and even anger.

In the forced quiet, though brief as the babies drift off to fitful sleep, I can mentally write up all manner of to-do lists or lamely scour Facebook searching out in anything and everything for something to distract me from the inner reality: 

I long for where I imagine I might be in this moment – a beach, a conference, a New York City café. I am jealous of other women, pastors, writers, adventure-seekers, mothers who seem to have and do it all. I despair at the thought of doing this indefinitely, waiting around for the twins to fall asleep and stay asleep. I am angry at them for waking up, I am angry at myself for being so heartless and impatient and selfish. I am afraid that this is all there is for me now.

Embracing the affirmation of brokenness and openness was an oasis of sorts, and it allowed me to see other paths for my life. My plans were waylaid, but I could still pursue God, wherever I found myself, even if it would mean learning and re-learning the journey. The crack that appeared in my fear and guilt was significant enough to let in what was necessary – God’s grace – which allowed me to breathe in that air once again. It made me see the possibility of motherhood as an invitation to create – recreate, reinvent, redefine – my relationships, with myself, with others, and especially with God. It would compel me to new ways of experiencing God’s goodness.

And then, my dear friend, Christine, sent me a blog post called “The Desert Mothers Didn’t Change Diapers. But Maybe They Should Have,” written by Penny Carothers, a guest writer on Don Miller’s blog Don Miller Is. She articulated exactly what I was feeling in terms of thinking that my spirituality, my faith life, my devotional life, my connection to God needed to be a certain way. She challenged that obligation, and offered the possibility of “the sanctification of the ordinary” in these words:

[It] has got me thinking: what if there really is a different way?  What if God intended the hug of a child to mirror the numinous moment others achieve through meditation?  What if attending to the needs and the play of children – really attending, not reading the news on my phone or folding laundry while I listen with half an ear – was a window into the spiritual?  What if all I really needed to do was simply be present? After all, God calls himself a lover and a parent, and perhaps there is something to learn in embracing my life rather than trying to escape it so I can have real communion with God.

It’s still a little shocking, but perhaps the most spiritual thing I can do may be to embrace my life as a mother. Not a spiritual, metaphorical mother, but a snot-wiping, baby-chasing, diaper bag-toting mother. Because sometimes it’s not the bible stories or the lecti odivina, but the Help! and thank you that a relationship is built on.[2]

I realized this was what I needed most – to reframe this whole year, and whatever the future might hold for me as Sabbath. This time of restoration looked so different from what I had experienced in the past – bed and breakfasts with books or a trip into NYC and museums – but it eventually nourished me in surprising ways. Vulnerability and openness – these became necessary characteristics of Sabbath, and fragility allowed me to receive God’s presence. I began to approach each day drenched in God’s love for me. Though all the struggle had not completely dissipated, it didn’t have a hold on me. I was okay with not having a job…Not having an identity outside of “the twins’ mom.”…Not having anything official or professional to pursue in the future right now. I was more than okay to drink from the ordinary and the everyday.

Advent arrived, and though I didn’t read my usual devotional book, or attend all the worship services, or even have an Advent wreath, I spent at least once a week reflecting on the lectionary text. I relished Madeleine L’Engle’s short poem, “After Annunciation,” which says,

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

I played Christmas hymns on the piano. I preached one Sunday at the other local Presbyterian church, and feasted on God’s presence in a little corner of Starbucks as I listened to the David Nevue channel on Pandora, read commentaries and blogs, and wrote the sermon. But, the most sweet and savory, the irrational, the bright and wild that gave me life were these moments:

I dressed up the babies for Christmas Eve service, and held the baby girl in my arms as we stood to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” and “Joy to the World!” and I could hear her voice, too, as she sang “Ba-ba-ba-ba!”

I napped with the baby boy one afternoon since he wouldn’t fall asleep on his own because he was too excited to pull up to stand in his crib.

I stood the babies up on the couch and we all pressed our faces against the window to watch the snow fall.

I grabbed my daughter and danced with her, and swung her around, and danced with my son and watched his face fill with glee, as I threw him up in the air and let him fall back in my arms.

I let myself get soaked during the babies’ rough-housing and squealing in the bath – a veritable cleansing for my soul each night.

Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Though she finds herself most recently in the Mid-West she is still a Rocky Mountain girl at heart. She has served two parishes – one in NJ and one in PA. Her current ministry involves hauling twin babies around Bloomington, IN, and seeking ways to be intentionally open to the possibility of ministry around every corner. In the midst of mom-brain fog, she continues to try to engage issues close to her heart: Asian American culture (blogging at 8asians), spirituality and social justice, youth and college student ministry, and facilitating the experience of church in new ways.(http://www.miheekimkort.com).

Photo credit to the author (Mihee Kim-Kort).


[1] Brown, Brene. “The Power of Vulnerability,” The Huffington Post.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/15/brene-brown-vulnerability_n_1150976.html?1323965500, accessed on December 15, 2011.


27 replies
  1. Heather
    Heather says:

    Mihee — I grew up at First Christian Church in Bloomington. It’s a funky little town and I hope you’re finding a place there. Mostly, I want to recommend “Only a Mother” by Bonnie Miller McLemore. It’s a theology of motherhood and I’ve had friends that have found it really helpful.

    Thank you for this piece. It’s both honest and lovely.

    Reply
    • Mihee
      Mihee says:

      Thank you Heather! I turned a corner about a month ago – combination of babies sleeping a *little* bit better at night, running, and zoloft. It made Bloomington a lot better. 🙂 Will be looking for your rec on Amazon and get it on my Kindle soon.

      Reply
      • Leanna Fuller
        Leanna Fuller says:

        Sorry to butt in, but I wanted to let you know that Bonnie Miller-McLemore’s book is actually called “Also a Mother.” She also has one called “In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice” which is very appropriate for parents at all stages of their children’s lives. Professor Miller-McLemore is on my dissertation committee, so I know her personally, and I really think she tries to live what she writes about, so I highly recommend her work.

        Reply
  2. Sarah G.
    Sarah G. says:

    Mihee, this is so beautiful and captures so much of my experience this last year. Even though I’ve been working, I’ve felt that utter disorientation/fear/guilt/sore muscles, too. Thanks for articulating it so beautifully.

    Reply
  3. Christina
    Christina says:

    Oh, my sister. I hear you. Thank you for the honesty, vulnerability, and joy that permeates this post! Though I plan to return to work at my middle judicatory after baby #2 is born (in 18 days…please, LORD!), I understand the reticence and joy of the endless cycle of motherhood. My first “baby” is now a 7 year old leggy colt that is losing teeth and growing in leaps and bounds toward womanhood and I am utterly terrified. All the time. And yet, I discover God in our conversations, her observations and reflections hours and days after the sermon has been preached or the Sunday school lesson taught…and I am thankful that God can break through to me in those moments. It’s being mindful and fully present for those moments that is the hardest for me…maybe for you, too? Glad to be on this journey with you, friend.

    Reply
    • Mihee
      Mihee says:

      Thank you for giving me a glimpse of the future! Congratulations on the second pregnancy – will be praying for a smooth delivery. It is an amazing season – there are days full of wishful thinking, thankfulness, regret, hopefulness – it’s crazy. But, I’m discovering God anew. That’s something miraculous in itself, for sure. Your encouragement is food for my soul!

      Reply
  4. Susie
    Susie says:

    Beautiful. I needed this this week.
    Isn’t it amazing what can jump into our conscious and shape us? For me, it was an essay by Sam Potaro that talked about the spiritual discipline of being with the child pulling on your leg. Though I could stand to read it again. When B decides to take a reasonable nap.

    Reply
    • Mihee
      Mihee says:

      Please send me that essay, Susie! Sounds amazing. I’m eating up all that stuff right now. Hope there are some good naps for you – for all of us, please God help us…Thank you for your sweet words.

      Reply
  5. Ellen L-D
    Ellen L-D says:

    I really needed this as I seek to find my way as a ten-week old mother. Thank you for reminding me that everything I do is part of my vocation.

    Reply
    • Mihee
      Mihee says:

      Ellen, I remember the aches and pains all too clearly from those first months. Mostly because I still feel them. I have terrible tendonitis still in my wrist – I feel it all the time whether I’m brushing my hair for too long or running. My only advice – sleep when you are able and let everyone else do the work.

      Prayers for you as you live into this as a woman, clergy, etc.! Blessings to you and your little one.

      Reply
  6. Kelly Hough
    Kelly Hough says:

    Mihee – This is the first time I’ve read one of your blog posts and of course it came to me at 5:30 on a Saturday morning (when I could actually sleep in) as I panic, cry, pray, nearly vomit over the prospect of becoming a mother again in the next few weeks. So completely honest and refreshing. Encouraging me to look at my upcoming maternity leave as Sabbath rest and time for healing as well as a time to reengage the sacred. Thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable – others will learn and grow by it. I have, dear friend. Blessings.

    Reply
  7. Kirsten
    Kirsten says:

    As a mother of twins + single… oh. my. It’s like you are sitting beside me. I can say that with the young ones now a bit over 3 years, I am just now feeling more equilibrium. Parenthood has devoured my faith in ways I never imagined and brought me nose-to-nose with a terribly impatient person I hardly recognize. The children also have brought an incarnational aspect and urgency to my faith and ministry that would not have been possible: I want my children to know and love Jesus, and his people more than making them ‘behave’ at events (and being embarrassed when they act like… children), being silent and still in worship, or being ignored when inviting me to lead something. Oh! I learn new ways to hear, new ways to be, to ways to nurture my faith, and love my family in all the chaotic and cherished moments. May blessings be multiplied for you, Mother of twins!

    Reply
    • Mihee Kim-Kort
      Mihee Kim-Kort says:

      Somehow just saw this – must have missed the email notifying me of the comment. Thank you for the encouragement! It’s funny – now my twins are almost 3 and…our unexpected third is almost 1. It is a strange ride, and I am humbled by how much I suck at hanging on – but people are hanging on to me, and God is, too, which probably matters more.

      Thank you again!

      Reply
  8. Paige
    Paige says:

    My “babies” are 8 and 12 and I was in your position when our second son was born and my mom was too ill to provide the child care I needed to do parish ministry…..it was a huge adjustment, and you write about it much more eloquently than I could have at the time.

    Thomas Merton writes about when he became a monk and got assigned wrapping cheesecakes and how crestfallen he was at this assignment. Maybe what you describe is similar. I would have never learned some of the lessons I needed to learn if things had worked out according to my plan, and being present and engaged with your kids is like advanced tutoring in the school of life if you let it be.

    Fast forward 8 or so years and you know what–I’m still looking for and finding ways to do ministry (some of while give me gold starts from the institutional church and my peers and some that do not) but I will not have two more children of my own to raise and I don’t regret my choice for a moment. (I do wish I had a pension however at times). There will always be more work to do, but the window (the “wilderness”) of being a mother to young children is a narrow one.

    Reply
    • Mihee Kim-Kort
      Mihee Kim-Kort says:

      It really always helps to hear that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel/window/wilderness…Still feels heavy most days – long and slow – but I look at them almost 3 years old and I want to cry/laugh/freak out all at once because I’m amazed by it all.

      I love the Thomas Merton story. Thank you for the reminder to surrender to it.

      Reply

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  1. […] back to correct it.) Parker Palmer’s “On the Brink of Everything” My post called “Wilderness Sabbath” at Fidelia’s […]

  2. […] of all, remember: This wilderness isn’t your prison, and in fact, it may be your saving grace. If you let yourself be open and vulnerable to it, you […]

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