On being a Christian, motherhood and life after forty

Now really, I’ve just been dragged along this techno revolution where one had to upgrade every few years to a newer and sleeker version of a gadget that was only in the realms of science fiction during my adolescence. Thus, you did not find me ruing the fact that  Facetime and Viber are banned in the UAE. Because – goodness! With so many channels for communicating, why would one need Facetime and Viber?

Still … maybe it’s a good thing that there are apps that allow people to chat without being physically tied to an oral conversation over the phone. A person can reply at one’s leisure. The negative side is that one is always distracted by the constant stream of messages from different sources. Also. They do not afford privacy, according to my privacy-obsessed 13yo who uses ProtonMail and has converted my smartphone browser from Safari to Duck Duck Go. Hubby says it’s appropriate for me since I am constantly making dakdak, ha, ha.

Anyway, several days ago in a group chat, someone posted “If and when (insert hubby’s name) loses his job (hopefully not), that’s only when you’ll find your true allegiance.”

Duh? Being a writer, words are my love language. I feel their implied meanings, the emotions they convey, the angst they arouse, etc … I was tempted to reply. But did not .

Later, I discussed it with the hubby. Implicit in the statement, we both agreed, was the insinuation that my Christianity hinges on the comfortable life we have abroad in contrast to those residing in the Philippines. Yet. Much as I resented the innuendo, I had initiated a conversation on that same topic two years ago with close friends. We’d asked ourselves: What if we were to be suddenly destitute? Would our Christianity suffer or would we remain faithful till the end? And we agreed that it’s not so much that we’re shallow Christians, it’s that we don’t know ourselves that much to be sure that we will never complain of hardships. I mean, if we can’t help but compare and complain of financial and physical strains right now, how will we be able to endure financial and physical suffering in the future?

Now I’ve been a born-again Christian for more than 20 years and being one is at the core of Me. It permeates nearly every decision I make, nearly every thought I have, and nearly every action I take. I say ‘nearly’ because clearly there are some things I still grapple with. For example, were I not a Christian I would buy a pair of shoes every month. It’s not difficult to do so when UAE stores average four to five sales every year (four seasons plus Ramadan). But how can I teach my children not to be materialistic when they see my row of handbags imported from the US, some of which have not been used for several years?

Then again, I struggle with the injunction not to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. I think we should tell our children where our tithes, offerings and donations are going just so they’ll know we are obeying God’s call to give back what is rightfully His and that we’re not spending for our needs and pleasure only. I believe we should model financial generosity but will that make them more generous when they become wage earners? How does one model generosity in a town where there are no slum dwellers or homeless?

I know we’re supposed to reach out with the gospel but really, how can I reach out when I’m tired all the time? Heck, I can’t even keep the house in order all the time, what with the laundry, ironing, cooking, homeschooling two kids, and the sand, the sand, the sand! that gets into the house even when there hasn’t been a sandstorm. How can I reach out to others when just keeping my sanity is wearing me down all the time?

Life may begin at forty but I know there are others out there who will agree that middle age sucks big time when you’re undergoing perimenopause. It’s a sisterhood that one is violently inducted to by nature. And it’s exacerbated by the fact that those around you have no idea why you can’t sleep when you’re so sleepy and why you feel inflamed for two years then feel frozen all of a sudden all the time. Believe me, the first time I visited an ob-gyne, I broke down. It was a relief to finally have someone completely understand what I was going through. Without. Any. Judgment. (I once confessed to a friend about trying not to use my situation to excuse my bad behavior and I was downright disheartened when she pointed out someone who was able to do so. Caveat was that mother had several maids to attend to her needs! To me, if you’ve got a maid, I can’t reach you. Sorry.)

I look at Jeremiah and wonder how he continued to be faithful in the face of scorn and ostracism. How could he? What was God thinking when He chose Jeremiah to deliver a message that He knew would be rejected? Maybe I should be inspired by Jeremiah’s devotion to his creator. After all, I have teenagers who are increasingly stubborn about doing things their way. But no. Methinks my diatribes sermons speeches started falling on deaf ears years ago when they began going to school.

How does one contend with a God who tells you to proclaim an unpopular message? Surrender to Babylon or die! Today, that would be tantamount to sleeping with the enemy, nay, treason. If I were in Jeremiah’s place, would I have been faithful?

I. Really. Don’t. Know. But I have a suspicion I may not be. Just like in the hypothetical situation above wherein our source of income has been cut off.

Perhaps I think like this because I belong to a church that equates growth with active service and regular attendance in church activities. Which, to me, seems like a stunted way of becoming like Christ because honestly, how can one grow spiritually without practicing the spiritual disciplines and being connected to the source of that spirituality in the first place. How can one grow in love or mature unless one is in the path to which God has called you? Why isn’t motherhood honored as a worthy calling? If your primarily calling is inside the house, why isn’t it affirmed to be as worthy as visible ministries? I suspect that many church workers would have less discipline problems at home if they prioritized their families first.

And really. Without being mean about it, a person’s level of personal spiritual growth is reflected in one’s words and values not by 100% attendance in bible studies. Thus, even though one has no intention of measuring a fellow believer’s spiritual maturity, one can know just by learning what a friend watches or does in his/her spare time. Paul’s injunction to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Philippians 4:8) may be archaic, yes, but they’re still relevant to our times in light of the trash that is produced by television and film producers.

Not saying here we shouldn’t watch movies but that we should practice discernment concerning our spiritual intake much the same way we control the food that we eat. Because the world’s values seep in and permeate our mind without our knowing it. Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t be surprised that we are in a church where most believers values are shaped not by the Word (“they deserve to die because they’re bad people” is a common refrain for defending Duterte’s drug war) but by the world.

Last night, my eldest asked me to call. So I did. In our conversation, he remarked “You never call me, it’s always Dad who calls.” That sort of blanked me. I’d sent messages via SMS, What’s App and Messenger without getting a reply sometimes. I thought I’d been gradually letting go gracefully. I’d greeted him “Good morning!” and kissed him “Goodnight!” with nary an emoji save for a thumbs up. Sometimes. And now this. Just when he’s about to return. I was at a loss and stammered “It’s your Dad who’s always upset when you don’t communicate. Just a sign from you in the morning and before you sleep is okay with me.” And then we discussed sundry things.

The truth is: I’m trying to find the right balance. How does one let go of a person whom you spewed out of your womb without breaking down on the outside? How does one try not to smother a child? Boys are funny creatures, you know? They don’t like the feeling that they’re being controlled. They don’t like being told what to do. Wily creature that I am, I thought I’d been giving my boy more independence. Yet “I’m always low priority” is what I now hear. And. The Old Testament isn’t much help. It’s a struggle to find inspiration.  Tell me, how does one navigate midlife motherhood beyond the feels?

PS. Here are some noteworthy articles on motherhood in the Old Testament by Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary

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