Last Sunday I was sitting in church and listening to the speaker talk about the farm animals that she and her children raised. This lovely woman spoke about the relationship that she and her children had developed with their various animals and how hard it was for them to have to give the animals away when their circumstances changed. As I listened, I thought of a blog I follow about an amazing woman who also raises animals and adores them, nurturing and caring for those animals the way I imagine a “true shepherd” would.
Our family owns two betta fish. Sometimes our fish go for a couple of days before they get fed. It is often months before I finally accept that we really need to clean their tank. I cannot imagine raising anything more complicated than a tomato plant, and trust me—I’m not very good at that either.
I sat in the meeting, listening to that talk, and despairing at my utter ineptness at that “womanly virtue of nurturing.” Thinking about how terrified I am to be having another child soon, another body who depends on me so fully. Thinking how I’m not ready to figure out how to do even more nurturing. I felt smaller and smaller. Here was this woman who loved not only her two teenage sons (who each have their own difficulties) but also all these animals too—she had so much love! She’s probably a good visiting teacher and volunteers for the PTA and stuff too. This is a pretty common reaction for me. I am easily overwhelmed by the caring attitudes and selfless service that other women put in to their various responsibilities. I barely manage my immediate family, and sometimes I don’t even do that very well.
So as I was sitting, shrinking in my seat down to almost nothing, I suddenly felt pulled out of it by a simple thought: “So what?”
Did it really matter to my personal life that this woman was wonderful at taking care of her animals, when I wouldn’t be? Did it mean I was a terrible person? While the guilt-ridden, insecure portion of me said, “Yes,” a better side said, “No.” She was doing her own life, and I was doing mine. There was no point in comparing our different abilities and strengths.
I could still sit up straight even though I had miles to go before I could even dream of being her kind of cool. In fact, I could sit up straight even if I would never be her kind of cool. I could be my own person and celebrate victories like that day I gave my kid a snack and a hug instead of yelling at her. It really would be okay if I never, ever, ever want to raise sheep.*
This came as a great comfort to me in the area of motherhood—since I’m pretty sure I’ve only got about half a talent at the whole loving others thing. But hey, if I end up with three-quarters, I’d say I’m doing pretty well.