Laboring with Littles

My cousin and I live over 14,000 miles apart and yet our lives are often similar- diapers, laundry more laundry, keeping the family fed, seeking to bring hope and healing to those we come in contact with. We both spent many of our formative years on African soil. It shaped us, grew us, taught us about some of the harsh realities of life that break you but can also draw you closer to the Savior. Coming from a family of four generations of overseas workers is a gift, but it can bring an unseen weight of expectations and this weight rested heavily on my cousin’s heart. She just wanted to do more.

Neither of us ended up settling back in Africa although we both left pieces of our soul there. She never saw herself being planted in a small town in North America. I never dreamed that I would end up in Papua New Guinea. But there we both were, laboring for Christ in our own ways both with small children, both longing to do more. “It’s a bit ironic,” I told her. “Even though I’m technically on the field I also feel the pull of wanting to do more.” When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I get envious of my husband’s freedom to go out and do life-changing things while I’m at home so our two-year-old can actually get in a good nap.

I am so blessed that much of the work we do with widows and their children we can do as a family, but those days of action and ministry don’t often seem like laboring. For me, laboring is hand-washing laundry when I would rather be in bed. Laboring is being consistent with disciplining a very active two-year-old when I just don’t have the energy. Hard laboring are the mornings that I end up having to stay home even for what would be a simple errand in another country because it is just not practical to drag a small child around a hot city while waiting for hours in bank lines. Some jobs just make more sense for my husband to take care of.

I want to do—to go. That is why we are here right? Some days I am all Martha. We are doing the Lord’s work. Let’s do it, make it big, plan it, go for it, and pack each day until it is so full there is no room for silence because doing is often so much easier than sitting bored on the floor singing “The Itsy-Witsy Spider” one more time praying that your over-tired toddler would just GO TO SLEEP already.

Then that still voice whispers, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Easy—how is it easy? How do you have boundaries when a little person seems to need you constantly?  And then, in my need to cling to a sense of purpose, I take on more than I should and later find myself mentally screaming out to God, “This is too much. I can’t handle it.” Like Martha I ask, “Lord, don’t you care? Shouldn’t someone be helping me?”

“Ruth, Ruth,” the answer softly comes, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Only one thing is needed. I can have that one thing, too, if I’m willing—willing to step back and be OK with just sitting at the Savior’s feet. Willing to learn the lessons that can only be learned from the intense season of loving a toddler. Lessons like patience, finding joy in every day moments, the importance of being flexible, having childlike faith and the reward of laboring when no one sees.

How do you find laboring with small children? Do you bring them along with you while you minister or is this more of a season of spending more time at home then you did previously? What lessons have your children helped teach you that nobody else could?


  1. Laura September 25, 2018

    Yes! Normally my husband and I both do some ministry – I spend more time with the kids but still get the chance to “do” something. But right now my husband is on a trip for two weeks so I’m just parenting 24/7. I totally agree that the hard laboring is being consistent and patient and loving with young kids who struggle with the ever-changing nature of our life, in a place where the normal challenges of parenting littles are magnified. My kids have taught me that I’m not the patient person I thought I was. They remind me daily that I need Divine intervention and strength. That’s not all bad.
    By the way, I’m in PNG, too! 🙂

    1. Ruth Potinu September 26, 2018

      Solo parenting is hard! We have one of those two week trips coming up and I’m not looking forward to it. I completely hear you on the whole “I’m not the patient person I thought I was.” This seems to be my current daily struggle. So cool that you are also in PNG.

  2. Stephanie Dias September 25, 2018

    Such perfect timing! I was just writing about this to my Velvet Ashes fb group! I have a 16 month old and we’re entering into a season of learning language….again. I’m also homeschooling 2 of my sons each morning. So I’ve found myself feeling antsy and panicky about how it’s all gonna play out. We didn’t expect to find ourselves in this boat again, but 7 years later, our Joanna came along! I’m trusting God to use our little one to propel us forward into areas of language that would otherwise take us longer to get and into relationships that otherwise might never have been made. Lord, give me patience to enjoy this season of life!

    1. Ruth Potinu September 26, 2018

      So glad that this was an encouragement. Sounds like you are juggling a lot at the moment. It is amazing though how kids help you learn languages. I was hoping to keep up with my two-year old in learning the local tribal language, but he has already passed me up in vocabulary.

  3. Mary Dady September 26, 2018

    I have been learning and readjusting over and over during these three years on the field. I wanted our first child to be one who we could easily take along, but when we kept him up late he had night terrors. He’s a delightful, smart boy that has also been super challenging. And now we are looking into a diagnosis which may explain some of that. Now with two kids (who don’t sleep) my hands are fuller than ever! And I’m so aware of my lack of patience too! I’m learning that I do need a little time outside the house but I also can’t pull my husband away all the time. And I can ‘work’ at home with two little ones. So we are getting a nanny 8 hours a week. I’m 24/7 parenting right now too while my husband is out if the country. So glad to hear this today! Bless you!

    1. Ruth Potinu September 26, 2018

      Flexibility is hard. I’m finding more and more that you just have to find what works for your family for that season. It sounds like your doing just that. Interesting enough today I was at an all day ladies program so the little guy got lots of Daddy time. A nice change in laboring.

  4. Abbie Smith September 26, 2018

    Wonderful thoughts, Ruth. I wrestle with many of these same questions in a book being given away over in this month’s book club (“Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting”)! If any of you gals commenting here want a free copy, simply comment and you’ll be in the running :). Such a gift to be able to process motherhood this season alongside each of you!

    1. Ruth Potinu September 26, 2018

      Sounds like a wonderful book. I actually tried to get it for my Kindle last week but it didn’t download properly (probably due to poor Internet on my end). I need to try again because it sounds so relevant.

        1. Ruth Potinu September 26, 2018

          Wow, Abbie, thank you so much. That is so kind of you! I was pretty bummed when it didn’t work. Looks like a great read.

  5. Ruth Potinu September 26, 2018

    I feel like I should add a bit of a side note to this article. I am very grateful to have a husband who does pitch in and even hand wash clothes. Yesterday he took care of our little guy all day so I could minister at a women’s event, and a couple weeks ago he again watched our little guy so I could attend a baby shower in peace and not only did he do that but I came home to a clean bathroom. On the days when he does go out for ministry and I end up at home he reminds me that whatever he is out doing he is doing as a representative of the family not just a solo endeavor. We don’t try to make things fair or equal in our family (because really what is equal about being pregnant or nursing that kind of has to fall on mom) but I’m thankful that there is a drive for balance and partnership.

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