Author and Bible teacher Anne Ortlund once wrote, “There are two kinds of personalities in this world, and you are one of the two. People can tell which, as soon as you walk into a room: your attitude says either ‘Here I am’ or ‘There you are.’”
This quote has been with me since coming across it on my friend Cara’s blog last month, and I’ve felt convicted. I am realizing that despite my professed belief in Jesus, beliefs that call me to position others above myself, I am all too often a “Here I Am” kind of person. My initial thoughts and words and interactions tend to be self-focused, revolving around what I think or what I feel or what others will think about me. My intentions whisper “there you are” while my reality screams, “HERE I AM!” Even moments of insecurity or humility tend to be self-focused, inadvertently drawing my attention away from others as I indulge my personal cravings for fitting in or, at times, standing out.
Motherhood is the most humbling of roles, and it is this calling to parenthood that has pulled me out of my own narcissism and selfishness like nothing before. Motherhood is an extended exercise in selflessness and sacrifice. And yet. . . I fear that even in motherhood I can be more “here I am” than “there you are.”
Let me explain: I meet my children’s needs, but do I do that for their sake (sometimes) or because of how my care for them will reflect upon me (too often)? As a family we engage in activities of my choosing (not necessarily the ones they would prefer); I parent in ways that feel easiest to me (without always taking their interests and needs into account); I focus on raising children that I wish to parent (instead of allowing them to blossom into the children God created them to be). I aspire to be a “Good Mom”—for their sake, yes, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a whole lot of my own ego wrapped up in that label.
What might it be like to become more of a “there you are!” mom? The first step, I think, is to recognize my children as precious gifts from God, gifts entrusted to my care for a time but not extensions of myself. It is seeing Kalinda, Sullivan, and Charleston as unique individuals with specific wants and needs quite separate from my own, and honoring their particular preferences, desires, skills, strengths, dreams, and tender spots. It is prioritizing their long-term flourishing over my own short-term comfort or desires. It is disciplining them constructively but with grace, even when it would be easier to let their misdeeds slide.
Being a “there you are” mom is taking time to listen—truly listen—to what my children are telling me, with their words or their actions. It’s tolerating and even celebrating the silence and the noise, the chaos and the creativity, the poor decisions that will result in critical life lessons, and the wacky playtime that will result in more cleaning for me but even more soul nourishment for them.
Each moment of each day that I spend with my kids presents new “there you are” opportunities, fresh chances to practice the Golden Rule within my own home. Every one a building block upon the memory palace of their childhood that they can look back on, seeing a mother who saw, supported, and celebrated her children.
Being a “there you are” mom can extend beyond the perimeter of my home as I celebrate the other moms in my circles. On this Mother’s Day, I’m shifting the gaze away from me and towards other mothers whose skills and sacrifices I acknowledge and admire. Not for the sake of comparison, but because I truly see them and the work the Lord is doing in them and through them as they mother.
We have the poet Maya Angelou to thank for the pivotal reminder “that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I doubt my children will forget all the things I’ve said and done, but I hope most of all that they will remember how I made them feel—and that those feelings will be ones of being treasured, loved, and seen.
That is my wish for my kids. And, to all of you mothers and mother figures this Sunday, whether new or seasoned, content or burdened, overwhelmed or under-appreciated or simply worn out: I see you and I celebrate you. There you are, mama. THERE YOU ARE!