The Bible occasionally speaks of a refining fire (1 Peter 1:7; Isaiah 48:10). It’s a metaphor using the purification process that precious metals undergo before they are usable. It’s a painful image, but that fits the process that Christians also undergo when they have to let go of the sin in their life or face trials. In the past year, I’ve learned that motherhood is a refining fire.
I’ve basically felt like the same person since I was fourteen. There were a few trials that – although painful – I passed through essentially the same: a mixture of impatience, stubbornness, caring, and faith that somehow attracted those who needed help. Those trials simply gave me a chance to put into action what I claimed to believe. They weren’t on the level of a refining fire.
That changed over this past year as the refining fire of motherhood systematically stripped me down to my core.
The Refining Fire of Motherhood
In Monday’s post, I mentioned how I don’t have a lot of memories from my third trimester all the way through Baby H’s second month of life. What I do remember is a conversation with my own Mom about how I felt like pregnancy had stripped me down so that I could be rebuilt into a new person. ‘Mother’ wasn’t a new title; ‘mother’ was a whole new identity. Some of that conversation was a little melodramatic, but there was also a lot of truth to it.
Revealing the Impurities
I have a hidden sin that I struggle with: pride.
I take pride in the fact that I, for the most part, can take care of myself. I take pride in the fact that I can read the Bible and teach others about it. I am proud of myself for generally being a good person who strives to handle situations in a Biblical light. I take pride in the things that I once did before Baby H came into my life: Children’s Church, mission trips, being reliable. While I certainly feel like some things are worth being proud about, the problem came when I focused on the accomplishments as what I did instead of what God did through me. When I can honestly say that I take pride in my outward displays of humility, you should recognize that I have a very real problem.
My Lowest Point
As I approached the end of my pregnancy, though, I started to lose some of the things I prided myself on. I started running late for work on my best days. On the worst days, I cancelled appointments a few minutes before I was due to be there because I just felt so sick. My clients were understanding, but I hated it. I was supposed to be reliable. Missing work wasn’t ME.
As I neared my due date, Baby H exerted pressure on my stomach. If I ate small amounts, I would be fine. Unfortunately, I ate lunch in the car while driving between houses on my work days. I took one too many bites of my PB&J sandwich. It hit me hard. I began to feel so sick that I contemplated stopping on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere until I could recover some. I remembered a random small park coming up, and decided to pray that God kept my steering wheel turned in safe directions until I got there.
Once at the park, I began what felt like a mile-long trek across the grassy field and up a tiny hill to the bathroom. I had my phone in one hand and my keys in the other. I reached the bathroom, only to find the first one locked. The tears started at that moment. Even when I found the second bathroom open, I couldn’t regain my composure.
I locked myself in the stuffy, humid, nasty park bathroom, sat on the toilet, and continued to bawl. I felt awful, and I felt awful about having to cancel yet another work appointment. I was ME. I was supposed to be reliable. It felt like a crucial part of my identity had been stripped away.
It was the refining fire of motherhood at work to bring me to my lowest point.
Life After Baby
Things didn’t improve after I actually delivered Baby H. I found myself having to step out of church services or unable to assist with ministries as the care of a newborn took me away from things. I continued to be late for work appointments as I frequently fell back asleep with my daughter instead getting around in the morning. And, since I’m one of those people who feels physically sick when they don’t get enough sleep, I still cancelled appointments without much notice.
Not only had my identity of pride been stripped from me, but I was unable to regain any of those old threads back. I felt like I was naked in front of people without my good points hiding away my flaws.
The Refining Process
As a young teenager, I had once made a very good choice in suppressing the ungodly traits that I struggled against. It helped me curb and break bad habits. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I hadn’t truly dealt with any of it. The ugly was simply camouflaged:
- While I could suppress impatience by accepting that I couldn’t rush other people, I still felt the exasperation of mentally being two steps ahead of my teammates. This kept me from experiencing joy while with others.
- While I could suppress by anger by resisting the urge to speak or act in it, that didn’t change the fact that I have a very strong temper. I may not have often spoke in anger, but that didn’t change the tirade in my mind.
- Suppressing all of the bad, ungodly things simple gave a chance for pride to take root. Because I had not surrendered my bad traits to God to handle, I could take pride in controlling my actions on my own.
It worked, until my own strength ran out. Motherhood, with its long nights, emotional strains, and inconsistent schedules, tore down all the barriers that I had built to hide the ugly. I had to come face-to-face with my own flaws. And I had to accept that I couldn’t handle it on my own.
I’m still in the Refiner’s Fire on a lot of things, but, for the first time in a long time, I can tell you that I feel like a different person. In a lot of ways, I am still me. I still have a lot of the core convictions and personality, but my impurities are slowly being burnt away as the refining fire of motherhood forces me to surrender my flaws over to God. Slowly, I am becoming a beautiful masterpiece instead of a gold-plated pendant.