The Back Burner

One of the few articles I’ve had published is the following. It appeared in Frontline magazine’s July-August 2005 issue. It’s been on my heart again because I think it is something that mothers wrestle with a lot. I wrote to Frontline asking permission to reprint the article here, which they granted.

The Back Burner

Every mother, particularly one who has very small children, can get discouraged sometimes. Even though a woman has looked forward to being a mother all her life and delights in her child, there are those days when she feels she is accomplishing nothing beyond wiping noses and changing diapers, when she feels her mind is turning to mush after reading Dr. Seuss and Curious George all day, when she longs to do something “important.” Certain intellectual and creative pursuits have to be put on the back burner because there are only so many hours in the day. Even some ministry opportunities have to wait until the children are a bit older. It is easy to lament what we can’t do.

Of course, young mothers are not the only ones who have to put things on the back burner. Newlyweds, new teachers, young singles getting started in a career, middle-aged children taking care of an elderly parent, and any number of other life situations will cause us to have to focus on the business at hand and delay other pursuits. But motherhood is the area through which the Lord taught me about the back burner.

Some 15-20 years ago I read something in a secular women’s magazine that greatly encouraged me and has stayed with me ever since. Unfortunately, I can’t remember even what magazine it was, much less what author. The writer was talking those things that have to be put on the back burner. But, she wrote, what is usually on the back burner when we are cooking? Isn’t it something that has to simmer awhile, that is all the richer in flavor for the time it spent there on the back burner? The meat gets tender, the flavors blend, the smell wafts though the house, and we can hardly wait until dinnertime.

Oh, dear mother….what you are doing is vitally important. Your little one may not remember the specific things you did together or all your loving care in their early childhood, but those loving ministrations laid the foundation for your future relationship. The time you spend together reading, playing, rocking, feeding, nurturing a new little life that God has given to you to care for is precious.

As the children get older, their need of your care is still vital, though it is different from when they were small. Instead of feeling isolated at home, you may feel you are nearly living out of your car with all the places you have to take your children to. We have to keep a balance between giving them opportunities and spreading everyone too thin, but some of those times in the car can be precious as well. One of my sons does not open up to me if I sit across the table from him and ask him how things are going in his life, but a casual conversation or observation made while we are out and about can give me glimpses into his heart. Sometimes children feel a little freer to open up while we’re driving.

Someone once said, “With children, the days are long, but the years are short.” That is all too true. You have heard it before, but they do grow up so fast. You always have a ministry with them and an influence on them, but your main years of training them are when they are little. Redeem the time and enjoy it to the hilt.

Don’t worry about those things on the back burner. Give them a stir every now and then. Perhaps you can skim over the newspaper headlines or watch some of the evening news with your husband, or spend 15 minutes or so a day reading a good book to stimulate your mind. Buy a craft kit, take a class, jot down story ideas, or somehow “stir the pot” of whatever your areas of interest are. Take advantage of opportunities to get together with other ladies for fellowship. Explore what ministry opportunities you can within the constraints of your situation, but remember that ministry doesn’t only take place within the four walls of the church: getting to know your neighbor, inviting another mother from the baseball league to church, baby-sitting for another mother for a doctor’s appointment, giving a tract to the repairman are all outlets through which the Lord can use you as well as being an example to your children.

Then, as you stir those things on the back burner from time to time, perhaps you can take a small taste to test the readiness of it. After all, if you start to write the next great novel, and find the timing still isn’t right, you can let it simmer a little longer.

Don’t get discouraged if other women seem to have all their burners going at once, accomplishing things right and left. I used to lament that I couldn’t do as much as some other ladies til I finally had to come to grips with the fact that God made us with different capacities, abilities, and personalities.

Ultimately we have to entrust those back burner issues to our loving Lord and ask His guidance as to when and how to proceed with them. There may be some things He wants us to relinquish completely, and here our back burner analogy breaks down: there are some things He never intended for us to pursue, and we have to set aside what was a personal desire that was not His will. We have to remind ourselves that, no matter how strong and even good a desire was, if it is not God’s will, it would not have been good for us and may actually have been harmful and taken away from what He did have for us to do. On the other hand, we can’t let the back burner become a place of excuses and due to laziness or fear place things there that the Lord does want us to pursue now. How can we know the difference? By walking with him day by day, seeking His guidance, asking Him to open doors He wants open and close doors He wants closed. When it is His timing to finally serve one of those “back burner” dishes, it will indeed be “just right.”

17 thoughts on “The Back Burner

  1. Thank you from a mom who is back on the back burner in life again. Our kids are older now and we started over with a 2 year old from China a year ago.

    Thankfully this time, I know how fast time flies so I’m enjoying every minute. But there are still times that I feel a bit out of the loop!


  2. I don’t think I’ve ever read truer words, Barbara. ” With children the days are long but the years are short.” So, so true. No wonder this article was published. It’s wonderful.

    I hate it when I hear a young mom say she feels like she’s useless. My word, there is no higher calling than to nuture and raise a child.

  3. Such wise advice and such a better way to look at the “back burner” concept, rather than seeing it negatively. I forwarded the article to all the young mothers in my address book- including my own daughters.

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  10. I just saw you link to this article on Bekahcube’s blog post. (I’m playing catch up with people today.) And this was precisely the message I needed to hear today. Granting permission (yet again) not to accomplish everything I want to. This, after laying on the couch one evening this week after putting the kids down and bemoaning how little in life I seem to accomplish aside from keeping everyone alive.

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