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Where's the Limit?

It was my sickest day yet. I got up queasy and rushed to the kitchen to make eggs while choking back gags I desperately hoped wouldn’t turn into those awful, first-thing-in-the-morning throw-ups when there’s nothing in your stomach to throw up. Meanwhile, my sweet and helpful children were trying to take our poor, deaf, geriatric spaniel out for his morning potty break, but he was so desperate, he piddled all the way out the door and emptied his entire over-stretched bladder the minute his paws hit the porch. Somehow, my kids failed to realize this and walked in it, then stood on the porch shouting at me for help. We cleaned it all up: the carpet, the porch, the feet and paws, while I snitched bits of fried eggs to keep from losing it. By the time I’d folded some laundry and gotten dinner in the Crock-Pot, I was ready to die. I sent a desperate text to my husband to bring us lots of Chicken McNuggets and sweet and sour sauce for lunch and collapsed on the couch to shut my eyes in the green haze and mumble reminders to my children about not screaming or taking toys from each other. Hubby arrived with lunch and kisses and headed out for his lunch meeting. I opened our McDonald’s bag. Chicken McNuggets, and…

Barbecue sauce. The McDonald’s people put barbecue sauce in my bag.

I sat down and cried. I sobbed. I worried that I was a terrible example to my children. And then I cried some more.

So, it was ironic that after lunch, I received the following comment:

I have two children. My husband is now talking of adding a third, and I’m going back and forth… I wish there was a way to skip all the pregnancy, sickness, anxiety over birth defects, birth itself, initial breastfeeding, lack of sleep, and all that comes with early infancy. I just don’t know how to handle this. Last time I was sprawled on the couch half the time of my pregnancy, watching cartoons with my toddler all day long. Was my second little one worth it? You bet, but I’m human. I have limits. How do I know what my limits are?

This is a post I didn’t want to write. There are two reasons. First, whenever I talk about family size/birth control, a lot of my close friends and family get mad. And I really hate having loved ones mad at me, especially when I’m so emotionally fragile that I cry over barbecue sauce. But you know what? A big reason that I have been crippled about blogging is that I spent a good deal of last year giving in to the fear of man. Our family was facing a lot of outside pressure and relationship struggles, and I just kept giving up more and more ground trying to get people to like me. Funny thing was, they still didn’t seem to like me, and I also got the impression they lost a lot of respect for me. I certainly lost a lot of respect for myself. And then one day, I realized that I had chosen man over God, and I’ve been praying fervently for God to show me what repentance looks like in my situation. And now a potentially unpopular blog post has dropped in my lap.

And the second reason I didn’t want to write this? It’s that I spent most of this year struggling with feeling like I had reached my limit. You read that right. The cocky woman who wrote Blessings, But and Let’s All Pause and Think About the Irony felt like she had come to the end of herself after five children. My husband had started his own business, and to say the buck stopped with him puts it mildly. He was responsible for everything, and he worked long, long, long hours in unbelievable stress trying to make everything work. I was facing long hours of my own parenting solo. On top of this, there was serious upheaval in several close relationships, and I spent the year feeling like I was breaking. I was leaning on the Lord and seeing miracles, but deep down I still believed that I could only do it because I felt good. I was strong and healthy and had ample access to caffeine, my precious crutch that saw me through from the groggy, rough mornings alone with my children’s low blood sugar in the get-breakfast-on race to the late nights sitting up waiting for my beloved. The thought of facing life tired and nauseous and without Coke made me feel like I was going to panic. And so I worried and fretted and wrestled with God for months. I even told Him, I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t have another baby.

I watched my older baby grow up and learn to eat solids. I watched him nurse less and less. And I knew. I knew the clock was ticking. I was reaching that tipping point where estrogen wins out over prolactin and fertility returns. I twisted and squirmed. What did I believe? What did I really believe enough that I could bet my life on it? Children: blessing or burden? God: all-sufficient or not?

And then, one day, I surrendered. It was suddenly so clear. I knew what I had to do. Okay, I said to God. This is me trusting You. Eleven days later, there were two pink lines. And everything started to change. My husband’s stress miraculously eased, and he started being able to spend a lot more time at home. The relationship issues that had clouded our year and tangled my brain suddenly became more black and white, and my husband got peace about how he wanted our family to interact with the people in question. I still had to give up caffeine. I’m still nauseous and exhausted. The house is a mess, and I am not a spunky little dynamo. God has not made my life easy and pain-free, but He has made it possible. The limit melted away as soon as I gave it up to God.

And now, I am a mother of six, truly, from my heart. And this baby I was so certain I could not handle is desperately wanted and dearly loved. A tiny little person, made in the image of God, someone I know I would rush into a burning building to save, and what’s a few months of feeling like barf on toast in comparison with that?

Where’s the limit? I don’t know. Some people would say that the limit comes as soon as it isn’t fun any more, but on the other hand, most people don’t find even their first pregnancy all that much fun. Other people would say you’re at your limit when you feel like you have no more to give, but that wasn’t true of me. I would say that only God knows where our limits are. Only He knows what grace He’s going to give us and how He’s going to help us make it through. And the thing is, every baby I have, I love, I love with everything I have in me. Every one of them is worth it, and I think probably every mother feels the same. Once we hold those little people, watch them grow, see their smiles, and hear them call us, “Mommy,” we would never go back and undo them, not for a million days of spunk and no nausea. As soon as the theoretical baby becomes a real baby, the cost/benefit analysis vanishes, washed away by an ocean of love. Every. Single. Time.

That’s why I have chosen, all over again, to give my limits up to God. He’s the only One with enough information to decide when and if I should have another child. I just need to trust Him and do what He puts in front of me, even on the days I’m crying over barbecue sauce.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. — Psalm 147:5

19 comments to Where’s the Limit?

  • Marie

    What a beautiful post. I am going through the exact same thing, worrying about that next baby, the clock is ticking and knowing it will be any day now. I still have 3 under five and worry how my mental state will handle a fourth (if an when Lord willing) but I always comeback to the verse “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

    A Christian life is not promised to be easy, but if we can remember the good Lord promised we are only given what we can handle, then why do we let satan in and stir those feelings??

    In love,
    Marie.

  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for taking the time to attend to my comment and write this post. You don’t know how much reading this means to me. You make such perfect sense, and I don’t want to get argumentative and take even more of your time…

    You write about how, when you became pregnant, things have suddenly gotten easier. So… should I expect our money problems will vanish, when I become pregnant? That my husband will treat me the way I would like? That my other children will behave? That all the things I have been trying and failing to do, will suddenly work?

    Would I be right to say to God, “I’m giving you control of my womb, and I expect you to give me miracles”?

    I KNOW I would love this baby. I KNOW that, retroactively, I would never “undo” this baby. I just already feel as though I am at the end of my rope. I know it might be sound funny for a mother of five (soon to be six) to hear from a mother of two, the youngest of which is already well into toddlerhood.

    I hope I will, somehow, have a clear path in front of me.

  • Elizabeth,

    I think it comes down to this. We can’t bargain with God. But if we are truly His children and are surrendered to Him, when we radically place our trust in Him, we know that He will not give us more than we can handle. It may be that your financial situation changes or that your relationship with your husband improves. Or it may be that God makes something different happen. He may even say “no more children at this time.” In my life, He worked by making some things (but not others) easier. He does different things in different people’s lives, but the one thing that stays the same is that He is trustworthy, that He works “all things together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God never promises to make our lives easy. In fact, Jesus said that to follow Him we’d have to take up our cross, but like Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

  • Charity

    I love this post and it was a real encouragement to me.

    But, in your reply to Elizabeth you said “we know that He will not give us more than we can handle”. Where does the Bible say that? No where. Therefore, that phrase has never give me comfort or encouragement. It just isn’t true. God does give us more than we can handle – all the time! BUT, I believe that it is so we will rely on HIM. If we could “handle” it all, the we surely wouldn’t feel much need for Him. (Just my two cents worth)

  • Mom2Five

    Your “barf on toast” phrase made me laugh out loud and even snort! I can totally relate. I am 25 weeks pregnant with baby #5. The all-day “morning” sickness stuck around ’til week 18 for me, and this is the first pregnancy that I’ve experienced major headaches up ’til wk 18. I am so delighted to be out of the yucky phase of pregnancy. Press on, sister, you’ll soon be there, and then you can have the fun of picking out baby names and not being in the awkward in-between stage with clothes. This post really blessed me. I haven’t even birthed this baby (#5) yet, and I’m already dealing with these emotions in regards to baby #6, despite the fact that I delight in each child and love each one SO much.

    ” A big reason that I have been crippled about blogging is that I spent a good deal of last year giving in to the fear of man. Our family was facing a lot of outside pressure and relationship struggles, and I just kept giving up more and more ground trying to get people to like me. Funny thing was, they still didn’t seem to like me, and I also got the impression they lost a lot of respect for me.” So interesting. Thanks for your transparency.

    P.S. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but my children and I went to the McDonald’s drive-thru for breakfast- many days a week for several weeks straight -during this most recent 1st trimester. (Hey! …They serve oatmeal now…)

  • Charity,

    Thanks. You’re absolutely right. I should have said that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle WITH HIM. That’s the key.

  • Kathi

    Mine didn’t come so close together (even though we didn’t use birth control), and I think that extra few months can make a huge difference, but I still remember all the agony of pregnancy like a black haze hanging over life. I’d cry over every Keys for Kids I read to the kids and often had to ask one of the older children to finish reading for me. I’d fall asleep on the couch in the middle of giving one of the kids an oral spelling test. I was so exhausted most of the time I couldn’t see straight or think straight. But, I kept feeling that—by faith—children were my heritage from God, and I didn’t want to pass up any gifts He was willing to give me. #8 spontaneously miscarried when I was 42, and I cried, fearing (rightly) that I’d never have another. I couldn’t IMAGINE by then not wanting another child…ever! Of course, at almost 62, I’m very thankful that the Lord stops giving us children at some point. Meanwhile, many people get over their heads and know that they’ve reached their limit. God has made us all so uniquely and differently. A very wise person told me this: “Every morning when you get up, ask the Lord what He wants YOU to do TODAY.” If we follow him one day at a time, we’ll know just what is right for us, and whether or not He wants us to keep going or to feel assured that He’s okay with our being done with childbearing.

  • G

    Thank you for writing this. Praying for you and yours xx

  • Marie

    Corinthians 10:13 KJV, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

    I am replying too since I felt I wrote the response aswell. I guess we modernise God’s word, but this is the actual scripture.

  • Love you! It’s hard being barf on toast. But a new miracle inside is worth it. And whether you are supermom or something average like me, I’ll still love you. I am thankful for the grace God has shown me over the years and through the struggles. He is so KIND. and LOVING.

  • Serena

    Yes, God may make finances or relationships better…or He may allow them to get worse. Do you think, maybe, that sometimes an individual might actually have a limit? I have been trying to puzzle this out for several years now and have not come to a satisfactory answer, but at the moment I am leaning toward the limit being there. I do believe that God can do anything, and I do understand that we are supposed to rely on Him in our weakness, but isn’t there, at least sometimes, a point at which we need to take responsibility for our actions? I’m not saying that a couple needs to be perfectly perfect in finances and relationships and all (because then no one would have babies), but we are all uniquely made. Where one woman has had four children and is hale and hearty (morning sickness being a passing thing), another has two and has lost two and her health is in shambles. Should that second woman try to get pregnant and trust God? Or should she prayerfully consider that perhaps right now might not be the best time to try for another baby? We all have choices to make. For some, choosing to not have another baby might be a wise choice that is extremely difficult for them. (Again, I haven’t fully come to a satisfactory conclusion on this, but these are some thoughts I’ve had.)

    And I know you’ve corrected yourself, but I just want to reiterate that the Bible does not say God won’t give us more than we can handle. It says He won’t allow us to be TEMPTED beyond what we can handle, which are two entirely different issues.

  • Laura

    Thank you for this. My dh and I have agreed to adopt a fourth, but right now I’m so overwhelmed I really can’t imagine how I will have the strength to add that fourth baby. It’s faith-building to hear how God provides what we need to raise the children he has prepared for us.

  • I loved this post so much it brought tears to my eyes. There’s that old saying that “every baby comes with a loaf of bread under his arms,” and I have found that to be true over and over and over again. I have had moments where I thought, “I cannot do this”…and I may have even been right, in that moment. But what I was not considering when I said that was that God might move powerfully in my life and give us what we need so that we could care for this new soul. And he does, every time.

  • Serena,

    Thanks for your comment. You raise a couple of really important points.

    First, there’s the question of taking responsibility for our actions. This makes a lot of logical sense. After all, we clearly need to take responsibility in so many areas: finances, our work ethic, how we train our children, and the list goes on and on. But when it comes to whether God expects us to take responsibility for finding our limit in childbearing and take steps to prevent further children from being born once we’ve reached that limit, I start to have a really hard time. I would never tell someone they were sinning for preventing children, but I can’t believe God wants and expects us to prevent children. Here’s why. Reliable birth control was not invented until the last century. You could argue that fertility awareness was always possible, but I don’t think that information about that was universally available throughout history. Early withdrawal was well known but far from fool-proof. The only sure-fire way to prevent children was abstinence, and the Bible makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that this is not an option for married couples. Since, for the majority of human history, it was not even possible for people to take responsibility for their family size, I have to conclude that God’s plan was a different one.

    It is also very telling that while personal responsibility is exhorted in many, many areas throughout Scripture, we are never, not even once, told to look for our limit in childbearing and prevent any children that surpass that limit. In Scripture, children are presented as a reward, as a blessing, as a benefit, but not as something to be prevented under difficult circumstances. Again, I’m not going to go so far as to say that preventing children is a sin, but the modern idea that it is somehow wise and virtuous (and even something that God prefers) to prevent children from being born when circumstances are hard, is exactly that, a modern idea with no Scriptural basis.

    Second, you are absolutely right that in English, the word “tempted” is a completely different idea from the concept of life’s being overwhelming, but the Greek word pierazo, according to Strong’s lexicon, also carries the meaning of “to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself.” This passage is not just talking about temptation to sin, it is also talking about the daily trials of life. And while it is very true that God constantly puts us in situations that are beyond our flesh, He does not give us more than we can handle IN HIM. He does not give us trials that are beyond our ability to bear them by His grace.

  • Leonie

    Thank you! My heart is with you!

  • Andrea M

    This is an interesting topic and the discussion up to now has really got me thinking. God meets and loves His children where we are in our walk with Him and where we are in our earthly lives too so perhaps it is worth considering that the answer to this question may be different for different people in different seasons of their lives. What does occur to me is this: God’s grace is infinite but our human capacity to handle life is finite. There are only 24 hours in day one person only has one pair of hands etc. Though God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s guidance we can discover and find the strength to use these optimally of course.

    Much of the anxiety I experience even with only two children comes from a largely erroneous mindset which comes from a “more-more-more” materialistic popular culture and suggests that children are some sort of add-on to one’s existing life and that letting go of anything one already had before children arrived is somehow an unacceptable compromise. Therefore according to this thinking adding one child will need x amount more resources (material, physical, emotional etc.)adding 2 children will require double the amount etc. which is why people cannot imagine having “enough” for 2 or 3 or however many more children. In reality adding another person to your family whether it’s a family of 3 or 8 or whatever requires a radical reshuffling of priorities rather than just doing more of the same. In order to accommodate another unique human being everyone is going to have to sacrifice some things whether they be material resources, time etc. but everyone will also gain a new and lasting relationship.

    In certain seasons of a family’s lives together there are just too many other variables at play and family members may feel impossibly stretched in other areas and unable to make the necessary shifts in priorities. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying “not now” to another baby under these circumstances. “Not ever” seems like a rather radical decision but again perhaps there are circumstances that merit this too.

  • Thank you for writing this: again another timely writing from you that comforts and encourages me. :)

  • Jen

    I have a differnt issue with having babies. I have five sons ranging from eighteen down to four. We have five babies in heaven. three of those were lost in the second trimester. I am currently pregnant again and am eleven weeks. I have no guarantee that I will keep this baby. I want it so badly as does my Dh and children. But I trust the One who made this little one. I have many bad signs that this little one isn’t going to make it but Praise the Lord, so far he is sticking.
    Is it worth it? Oh my, yes. If I lose another baby, though heart broken, Jesus will walk me through. And if I get to keep this baby? Joy unspeakable.
    I would love to be able to carry baby after baby and if I get pregnant, know that it will be here to love on.

  • Mum2B

    I have been battling these thoughts for over a year now…currently preg with our third (so 3, 3 years & under for us). The most simple thought I can come back to is: you can’t accidentally create a life. God is the designer & creator & sustainer of each life & He won’t create a life that isn’t meant to be…yeah? (Job 12:10; Colossians 1:16) He will never be ‘oops…that wasn’t supposed to happen’. It comes down to trusting in His sovereignty & His good & perfect will.

    That said, I’m still going back and forth with my selfish, sinful heart wanting to take control & my head knowing God is all-powerful & good (Daniel 4:37). The battle continues, until I truly rest in Him…

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