I had a conversation with a fellow mother of four about never knowing what to say to the question, “How are you?” I don’t want to be fake and say, “Great!” because, let’s be real, I’m a mother of four, “great” is unachievable. But I also don’t want to be that depressing person no one wants to talk to anymore. So I generally make a joke that lands somewhere in the middle. “Eh.” “Well enough.” “Pretty good.” All the while smiling to maintain friendliness.
The truth is I’m everything. With four little people there is always someone crying, someone testing limits (often embarrassingly in public!), someone with wet pants, someone who has been waiting an hour for apple juice. I haven’t slept consistently for seven years. My clothes haven’t fit right for seven years. I have become a master of negotiation and logic. I have learned how to cook and bake and turn boy hand-me-downs into girl clothes, and vice versa. My limits in strength, endurance, will, and emotional patience are tested and pushed every day.
Everything is terrible, amazing, frustrating, rewarding, torture, honored, humiliating, important. With little kids everything matters and nothing matters. They’re crying over socks. They’re standing their ground over who sits on which couch cushion, with references of past claims dating back a month. They’re learning that the decisions of their siblings impacts their lives, and the other way around. They’re crying over the alphabet and its application. Often I’m crying by the end of it too.
Over time, they’ll figure out that a sock is just there to keep your foot warm, whether Elsa’s face is on it or not. They’ll learn that all the couch cushions are equally comfortable. They’ll learn to think of others and ask others to think of them. They’ll become masters of the alphabet and one day read and write without thinking about it. My friends, whose kids are grown, tell me I’ll still be crying because then they’ll be gone.
I often say that if God is the master craftsman shaping my children – I’m the anvil beneath them taking every hit with them. It’s all good, it’s all painful, and it’s relentless. So I make my jokes with a smile to smooth things along socially. But inside I’m crying.
There are a lot of roles in life that are similarly difficult and limit-testing like motherhood. There is also the fact that life often does not go as planned, sometimes 5 plans deep. How are we to reconcile the hard parts of life with the good? Do the negative parts negate the good parts? My default answer is usually, “Yes, negative negates positive.” Until I realized something I always knew through music.
Have you ever listened to classical music and felt like it was all over the place? It is very rarely just major (positive) or just minor (negative). It is almost always a complex mixture of both and that is what makes it beautiful.
In classical music the negative not only does not negate the positive, it enhances it. The negative interacting with the positive all along is magnificent. So life is not just bad or just good it’s both and that’s what makes it beautiful. A heart full of pain and joy is beautiful. A life full of failure and triumph is beautiful.
God loves to answer, “Both!” to our, “Which?” questions. We say, “It has to be either – or.” God says, “It’s so much better when it’s both.” We come before God and say, “I tried to be good, but I failed so much. Now I’ll never be good.” And God answers, “Ok, you’re not good, you’re better. You’re beautiful because you’re both. I can use you because you’re both. There is triumph to be found out of your failures.”
Moses’ life was both for sure. He was born at the bottom of social ranking: a Hebrew slave in Egypt. A boy, which at the time meant he was to be killed at birth. But God spared him. Moses was put in the Nile in a basket and found by the daughter of Pharaoh.
Moses was thrust to the top of social ranking: an adopted prince raised in the palace with Pharaoh’s other children and grandchildren. He had everything in nutrition, education, and comfort. His potential was great. Until he blew it. Moses didn’t like how the Hebrew slaves were being treated and he ended up murdering an Egyptian foreman. He had to flee the country.
Moses crashed through the bottom of social ranking: a nobody in the desert, taken in by a nomadic family. Moses learned how to be a shepherd, took a wife, and spent a lot of time alone with his sheep. It was hard work, uncomfortable living situations. In general his life was unglamorous and had no more potential. Until he encountered God and was called to return to Egypt and free the Hebrew slaves.
Moses returns to society, but on questionable terms: a fugitive with the gall to 1) come before Pharaoh and 2) ask for the release of his people, the Hebrews. They go back and forth quite a bit, the ten plagues happen, the Hebrew people are caught in the middle of this confrontation and their life becomes harder. So Moses is not popular on either side of things. Nevertheless, God works to free His people through Moses. So Moses is triumphant, and comes out on top.
Moses comes out on the other side of the Red Sea as the leader of a new society: the leader of the people, tasked with giving this nation a new identity as the people of God. They travel to Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God and receives the 10 commandments. But when he comes down again, the people, out of insecurity, had made a golden calf to worship and were in the middle of a rave festival with Aaron, Moses’ brother, at the head of it all. Moses had failed to lead the people to God, here they were with a false god.
Moses comes down the mountain angry: didn’t he tell God at the start, in the wilderness, that he was not the man for the job? Didn’t he warn God that he was a screw up, and here was everything screwed up? God was angry too, and ready to throw in the towel, start fresh with Moses. But Moses has compassion on the people (who are seriously making him look bad in front of the LORD). Moses pleads for them and God has compassion as well. Moses, the people, and God go through this cycle a few times over the course of 40 years. But they do make it to Canaan (Soon to be Israel). (The whole story can be found in the book of Exodus)
Moses ended up being one of the most celebrated heroes of the bible. He has been looked to as a role model for millennia, even by Christian leaders today. He was the only hero of the Old Testament to speak with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11) The negative in Moses’ life did not negate the positive. God accepted both sides of Moses, and used the strengths that came from both sides of Moses. It was all valuable and loved in the eyes of God.
Moses’ life was full of good, bad, pain, joy, failure, triumph and all together it made up an epic life that is still impacting the world today. His life was like classical music, it was beautiful. My life is both, I don’t know if it matters to the world but it matters to God. So maybe next time someone asks me, “How are you?” I might answer, “Like classical music.”