This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Laura: Hey guys, Laura here. Welcome back to another very special episode of Risen Motherhood. This week on the show, we’re excited to have Hannah Anderson on, as a guest. If you’ve been a listener of the show for much time at all, you’ve probably heard us talk about her book, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. This book was one of the first books in a long time, that both Emily and I found to be one that we literally needed to put down and think about what Hannah wrote. We needed to think about the implications of the truths that she shared, and what they had for our lives.
Today, Hannah will be sharing a bit about her book, but specifically she’ll be speaking to how humility and giving our burdens to Christ impacts motherhood. She’ll be answering questions regarding dealing with comparison, shaking off that feeling of trying to do it all, and how to determine your calling. We’re even getting deep into postpartum body image. Of course Hannah is not just an author. She’s also a pastor’s wife, a mother to three children, and she hosts her own weekly podcast, Persuasion, which you should totally check out. You can find her writing on many of the major websites, as well as her Homebase, sometimesalight.com. Or find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Let’s get to the interview.
Laura: Hi Hannah, thank you so much for joining us on Risen Motherhood today.
Hannah: Hello. I am so glad to be here.
Laura: Yes, and of course I have my sister-in-law, Emily Jensen here as well. We are both big fans of your book, as we have expressed online, offline, and [laughter] I am sure it’ll come out a lot here today on the show. But Humble Roots was really one of those books that just challenged our thinking a lot, and we’ve found a lot of ways to apply it to motherhood. We are excited to pick your brain, especially about the concepts from Humble Roots that you wrote about. But really, diving into how that applies to mothers, and the things we’re facing these days.
Hannah: Like I tell people, Humble Roots was born out of my own crises, both as a mom and a pastor’s wife, in trying to navigate this space, with all these things that I was responsible for. It does have a unique connection to moms and women. Men can read it and enjoy it, but it was born out of the heart of a woman wrestling with these questions. So I am very eager to be able to share it with you today.
Laura: Perfect. Yes, they’re all things that we wrestle with as well. To dive right in, one thing I love at the beginning of your book, you’re kind of struggling to articulate the connection between anxiety and busyness, and then humility. You run into a man and he says, simply, “Oh, I know what the problem is. You’re not God.” I now repeat that to myself, “Laura, you are not God.” It’s [laughter] actually quite soothing to remember. Can you explain a little bit more about the premise of this book, and how biblical humility offers mothers rest from the rat race –the feeling of needing to do it all?
Hannah: The full title of the book is, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. The concept comes from the passage in Matthew 11, where Christ calls all of us, who are burdened and weary, to come to Him, who are heavy laden. If that doesn’t describe motherhood, I don’t know what does. [laughter] Christ calls us to Himself and He says, “Come to me, take my yolk upon you. Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly.” That word “lowly” is humble. He says, “I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
As I was looking for scripture to soothe and calm my own spirit in the midst of restlessness and anxiety, the Holy Spirit led me to that passage, and He let me see it for the first time. Let me read it and understand, “Wait a minute, there’s something else going on here.” In this call that Christ gives us to come to Him, He intends for us to become like Him; to be made humble. That is what’s going to bring us rest. So then I had to step back and say, “Okay, wait a minute. What does humility have to do with rest, with peace?”
Some of the reasons I never understood that passage before, is because we have these false notions of humility. Or we tend to think of it as being self deprecating, or maybe focusing on our sin, or maybe turning down compliments. What humility really is, for us as human beings, is recognizing that we’re not God. It is giving honor and attributing glory to God that He deserves, and recognizing that we, while we’re made to reflect His nature, we are limited human beings. The core concept; when my friend said that to me, he said, “Oh, I know what your problem is. You are not God.” [laughter] and I thought, “Yes, that is what humility is. A humble person knows, understands and lives in this truth, “You’re not God.” That truth is also freeing; it frees us to rest in God Himself, rather than our incompetences.
Emily: I can’t remember if you said in that introduction, or in that first chapter, you describe your life, and how you were feeling, which a lot of moms can relate to. You know, I have a good life. We have food on the table, our family is pretty healthy and intact and things are overall going well. So why do I feel dissatisfied? Or, why do I feel the anxiety and the burden? Exactly like you’re saying, why do I feel so heavy laden? I really appreciated that connection because that’s something we often miss, is that, that heavy feeling is because we think it’s our responsibility to accomplish everything, and to always be on top of everything. It’s just a very easy trap to fall into.
Hannah: Absolutely. That’s exactly the trap I was in. I was constantly thinking of all the things I had to do, all my responsibilities, and where I was failing. Not only was I failing my children and they were going to turn out needing therapy when they grow up, [laughter] not only was I failing to keep the house organized and to do the laundry, I also had too many clothes. What kind of good person has this much stuff? [laughter] All these layers of guilt and self-accusation, and this constant feeling of never being sufficient to the things I thought, “I have to keep this together, I have to make this family run, I have to raise these children to turn out well. I have to be a good friend, and look at all these ways I am failing.” My mind would just race with these accusations, and like I said, it would go from everything to my parenting, to my ability to manage my home, to my relationships. Even to my body – why can’t I lose these extra ten pounds? Why can’t I get myself organized to exercise and be toned and fit? It was the anxiety and the restlessness was directly related to my belief that I had to keep all these things together. That it was dependent on me.
Emily: That is a perfect description of how most of us walk through every day feeling. You see it all over online, it’s what all of the blogs and a lot of the mommy ministries are trying to speak to. Which is, that desperate feeling we have, that we’re not doing it good enough, and that’s so overwhelming.
Laura: That ties well into another question we wanted to ask you about, especially comparison – the rise of social media, and all the mommy blogs. Just to get down to it, what advice would you give a mom who tends to compare herself to, maybe other moms, the world’s ever-changing standards, or even just self-imposed standards?
Hannah: Like you said, this feeling is feeling a lot of the mommy bloggers fear. We’re offering women a lot of potential solutions that turn out to be not lasting. We feel this way, and good people are trying to comfort women in this space and say to them, “Well, just embrace the messiness. Just embrace the brokenness, okay? This is just who we are and how we live.” They’re honestly trying to help women overcome this culture of comparison, and comfort that they’re feeling internally.
Or maybe they’ll offer a truth of, “Live your own life. Live your own truth. Don’t look at other people, don’t listen to other people.” That’s one way we’ll get rid of the comparison trap. The way that humility leads us to get rid of the comparison trap, to escape this cycle of always feeling less than, or looking to other women, it goes back to what humility is. It goes back to the verse that Christ calls us to. He says, “Come to me, take my yolk, learn from me.” What Christ is doing in that section is, He is calling us to remember that He is God. He is the one we’re to be submitted to. He is the one who leads us and guides us. Humility rightly places us in a position to rightly honor God’s voice above these other voices.
When I am listening to other women, or I am looking to the lives that other women are living online, and I am comparing myself to them, I am not listening to the call of Jesus. I am listening to the call of these other women and these other platforms and Instagram, they have become God in my life. I am trying to make myself to look like them, to respond to them, to be submitted to this entire false paradigm. What frees us, what gives us rest is when we humbly acknowledge that God and God alone in Jesus Christ, the incandescent of God, is Lord.
What He is calling us to is what we’re faithful to. He is calling us to our families. He is calling us to the particular challenges of our family. He is calling us to the particular challenges of our DNA and our genetic makeup. He has sovereignly ordained that we would be certain shapes and sizes, and even if those shapes and sizes don’t match what culture is telling us we should be, humility draws us back to hear His voice and His voice alone. To know that in the embrace of Christ, there is love and power and care that has uniquely crafted us the way He intends for us to be, to fulfill His purposes, not to fulfill the purposes of society.
Emily: That is so good. We get exactly what you’re saying, the comparison trap is true when we look horizontally for what we’re supposed to be doing. I feel like it becomes the law on our shoulders; these are not bad things to do, these cultural expectations. A lot of times they’re good – they can be helpful things. But they’re very burdensome, and they’re not always what God has called us to do in scripture. When I stop and think about, “What has God actually asked me to do today, this morning?” Love my kids, worship Him, serve this person; this thing you put on my calendar for the day. It’s not that same burdensome feeling, it’s a freeing feeling. [laughs] It’s born out of love. Whereas if I look online and start to see, “Oh, somebody’s home looks really nice this way,” and I start to get stressed about my home and then I put that on myself, that’s where those burdens start to come in, and the Lord didn’t even give me for that morning. So I really appreciate how you said that, it’s a timely message.
Laura: To jump ahead to another part you’ve hit on already, but another big comparison part, is body image. You have a chapter about that in the book that I really like. But as most of our listeners are moms, we’re dealing with the whole “postpartum bodies.” It can be really difficult to adjust to the reality of, “This is my new body,” [laughter] even when it’s been years since you had kiddos. You said it yourself, you said, “Sometimes I cannot lose these last ten pounds. What is wrong?” How does humility specifically apply to postpartum body image, and how does it change the way we view ourselves?
Hannah: Again, we have to go back to this definition of humility, as recognizing and honoring the difference between God as God, and our identity as created, limited creatures who are dependent on Him. If we have that frame, and we move to talk about our bodies, it’s amazing to realize that one of the very things that defines the difference between us and a transcendent God, is our physical bodies.
One of the catechisms that children often learn is, your God does not have a body. God is a spirit; He does not have a body. Even living within the boundaries of this physical flesh and bone is a limitation to begin with. Our bodies are our first reminder that we are not God. We fight this all the time, whether we’re skimping on sleep, or we’re skimping on food, or skimping on exercise, we’re essentially saying, “I don’t have to live within the boundaries of my physical body. I can live beyond them.” The first thing that humility teaches us about our body is that, it has been given to us to remind us of our limits. It is a walking, 24/7 reminder that we are not God.
But Christ, when he entered human flesh, He also elevated and honored it, so there is no shame in our bodies. We feel the shame because we feel the limitations, and we press against those limitations. We look at our body, we feel them decaying and we feel them breaking down, and we are, quite frankly, embarrassed by them. We are ashamed of them in ways that God is not ashamed of them. Jesus Christ was not ashamed to carry human flesh.
I find it fascinating that when He was raised from the dead, He was not ashamed to have marred flesh. He was not ashamed to carry the marks of love and sacrifice in His body. Again, this goes back to who are we listening to about our bodies? Jesus Christ is saying, “Your body is valuable and honoring and it’s been given to you to remind you of your limits, but also to make you dependent. It has been given to you to serve in sacrifice, and it’s going to carry marks.” That’s what Christ is telling us about our body. The world is telling us, “Your body is given to you to be a goddess. You are to transcend normal human limits. You are to look like Aphrodite. You are to look like all of these goddesses of the ancient world.”
At the root, there is essential conflict of, who we are going to listen to? Are we going to listen to culture around us that tells us a broken, limited body is a shameful thing? Or are we going to listen to the voice of Christ who says, “Come to me, I’ve got the same kind of body? And mine’s as messed up as yours is.” Not what the world is saying is beautiful, but high honor and value and love the things that the world does not love. So humility frees us, again like you said, takes that burden off, when we’re seeing our bodies the way God sees them. We don’t feel the weight that the world is putting on us for our bodies.
Emily: That’s a soothing word to every mom listening, who has a stretchmark, or disappointment. Laura and I are both seven, eight months pregnant as we’re recording this right now. Is that right Laura?
Emily: That is a daily battle, to say, “Who am I going to listen to about my body?” What it is for, and whether or not I am going to be ashamed of that purpose? I have never heard that comparison before.
Laura: I love how you talk about Jesus Christ came back with a marred body. That is, truly with a postpartum body, all of us find that no matter how hard we work, there’s still something happening that feels marred. We know that we’re not a teenager, we’re not the 18-year-old anymore, and it’s a lot more effort and work. That He was not ashamed of that. I just think about how often that happens for me, when I go work out, or I am going to put on this special cream to get rid of something, or whatever. But in my mind, I am very ashamed of things on my body, that actually mark something beautiful, they mark new life, and a gift that the Lord has given me and my children. Instead I can be grateful for the way that they show the sacrifice that I gave for my kids, or the gifts that God has given me It’s crazy how I can be so ashamed of them, and not recognize them for what they are.
Hannah: This has great potential for us to teach our children, and even our daughters, to honor what their bodies are, and will be. If you think about Christ coming back with wounds in His hands, it is these very wounds that He used to convince Thomas of His love, and to draw him to Himself. In many ways, whether we’re coming up in a swimsuit season, or whether we’re going to be outside more, and we can’t wear jeans and sweaters, all the time any more, [laughter] we are going to be exposed. Yet it’s these very things that can be a connection, especially with our daughters to say, “Hey, this is where I carried you, this space.” Obviously not exposing all of these spaces, but in context of our daughters not hearing condemning messages about bodies. But celebrating and honoring the same way Jesus said, “Come touch my hands. Come see it and believe that this was a good, valuable sacrifice. I am here and I did this for you.” We’re carrying a parallel kind of mark of sacrifice and love, and our children need to see that love embodied in us, rather than us shamefully covering and self condemning.
Laura: A huge lesson for all of us, and one of those that I just need to keep chewing on and appreciate you saying.
But switching gears here, to a little bit of a different topic. Two things that we hear from a lot of our listeners is; one, let’s say there’s a mom who’s wrestling with a lot of different desires and callings. She still wants to be with her children a lot while they’re young, but feels a bit dissatisfied or unsettled. How does humility really impact the decision of, “Does this mean that I need to do something more?” We can often feel like, “Oh, I need to start a business, or do all these cool things again” – the online world and the impact that it seems to have on what we feel we need to do. So how does humility allow a mom to discern, “I am doing enough in this season, and this is sufficient.” Or, “Hey, this is a real calling that I need to pursue?”
Hannah: Again, humility is establishing that channel where we acknowledge God’s Lordship in our life, and we submit to His plans for us. Instead of looking at what other women are doing, either more or less, we have to align our priorities and our sense of vocation with what God seems to be revealing for the calling of our life at that point. Humility, the first thing it does in relation to how we spend our days and our hours, is it sets up the channel of communication to be coming from God and the Holy Spirit. That being revealed in context of the people closest to us - in our family, our spouse, trusted friends, trusted community, and in the church. Rather than feeling this pressure from voices that are in no way attached to us, and have no invested interest in the well-being of our calling, or our vocation, or our families. We set up this channel of communication, and humility places us to hear God’s voice. It also compels us to obey.
Some seasons, that obedience will be not doing extra things. In some seasons, the obedience will be stepping outside of our comfort zone. Not because we have determined that we need this for ourselves, but because God is calling us. That word “vocation.” When we think of how we spend our time and our days as moms, or those extra things we feel like we need to do, vocation is rooted in the word for vocal, it means “a call.” It’s something outside of us. It’s not an internal pressure where I just think, “I need to be doing more.” It is a call of the Holy Spirit pulling us in a direction and in a movement toward His purposes and the kingdom. As long as we’re obeying that, it doesn’t really matter what we accomplish or don’t accomplish, in terms of the world’s, or even the church’s views.
Sometimes the churches put just as much pressure on young women to be doing it all – raise your kids and be involved in church, and teach Sunday school, and work in the nursery, and do all of these things. Prioritizing the voice of the Lord gives us the ability to say, “No” when we need to say no. But it also gives us the freedom to say, “Yes” when we are. I started writing when my youngest was two. My oldest daughter was six or seven, I had a son who was maybe five, and my youngest was two. I had this process of a couple months of just wrestling with this sense of God calling me out into some more spaces, and slowly taking those steps toward that. But interestingly, it was not in opposition to my motherhood. That’s one way you can discern whether a call is truly from God. If it is from God, it will merge with the other calls that you have already. For me, moving into spaces of writing became about letting my daughter see a mother who obeyed God’s voice. There was a very definable sense through me, that I needed to model for her what a Christian woman does. When God calls, a Christian woman follows. It wasn’t this paradigm of, “I am unsatisfied at home, I need more,” it was out of my mothering and out of my relationship with God. He is calling me into something that’s a little bit different than just the domestic work at home.
Emily: This was one of the most powerful parts of your book for me; Laura and I have had lots of discussions about this. I can remember sitting in the bathtub and reading this page and you said something about agreeing with God, about who He created you to be. [laughs] I remember closing the book and thinking, “Okay, I am going to have to think about that one for a few weeks,” because just like you said, really wrestling with this image I had created in my mind. I don’t necessarily think it came from the Lord. It was just a Christian culture - this is the kind of mom I want to be, and this is how much I want to provide care for my kids, and this is how I want to keep my home.
Striving for that, and then seeing the conflict with a calling that God had also placed on my life, and going like, “Well, if I follow that calling, I am going to have to break a little bit of this image that I have, of who I think I need to be as a mom.” It’s just been a really beautiful process of saying, “You know what God is calling me to my motherhood, and what God might be calling me to in terms of the ministry. I am in conflict.”
He’s really provided everything I need to be able to, in small ways, do both well, and accept also limitations to say, “No” where I need to. I just love that idea of, instead of trying to fight the calling or to fight maybe even the season of life to say, “No, this is what God has ordained for me.” It’s okay if it doesn’t look like my idea of what it should look like. [laughs]
Hannah: I still regularly get angry with God [laughter] for making me the way He made me. My ideal woman is not who I think I am. I think, “Oh I wish. Why can’t I just be the mom who always has everything together, and she doesn’t have these extra things she’s doing because she’s so invested here?” She’s making cookies, and she’s quiet. [laughter] She’s a nest fluffer. [laughter] Why did my kids, when they know me – and true story, they make a Mother’s Day list of “Why I love mom”, and one of the things was, “Because she teaches common sense and ethics.” [laughter] I am like, “Why is that the woman I am?”
It has been years of just submitting; submitting to God’s sovereignty, submitting to the Holy Spirit’s transforming my heart, my willfulness of saying, “No, I am going to be this kind of woman that I have decided is more godly, or I have decided is who I should be.” And God just slowly humbling, humbling, humbling, humbling me, saying, “No, I had a plan. Let’s work the plan Hannah.” [laughter]
Emily: Even as I read your book, I love all the gardening references. In my mind I am gardener and I’ve got chickens in the back. Laura’s probably smiling, laughing right now [laughter] because she knows I’m exactly the opposite. I am probably the girl holding the mug that says, “I love not camping.” [laughter] It’s okay if those are not my real life passions. We all have those things.
Laura: Ultimately, again you hit about this on the book, but really digging into who God has made us and not trying to be someone else, allows us to use our resources so much better, and to be so much more effective for the kingdom. Once we stop trying to split ourselves in two, ultimately, I have found so much freedom, and just feeling like, “Wow, I can actually keep up with some of these things that I feel God is calling me to.” Not to say that it’s super easy, but some of that tension just finally releases when I fully give in to, as you said, “God’s plan.” Like, “Let’s work the plan” and don’t keep looking to the left, don’t look to the right. Stay the course.
That has freed me to be able to do certain things even if they aren’t active in obedience. Something I was thinking about - this isn’t a vocation - but a calling towards adoption for our family. Or maybe I think about a mom with foster care, or some sort of other ministry piece of really releasing all of those other things that strap us down, that we expect ourselves to be to able to do. This allows us to fully invest and to dive deep into one or two areas really, really well, maximizing the gifts and talents and abilities that God’s given us. It’s really freeing when we finally let go.
Hannah: The call to humility, when Christ calls us in Matthew 11, it is, “Come to me.” It is, come give me your singular focus. Half of the struggle to cultivate humility in our life, and to reach this place of rest that Christ promises, is we’re in that process of coming. We’re in the process of leaving all of our other expectations and all of the other things that we have been pursuing or looking to give us satisfaction and rest. It is this lifelong journey of coming, and giving Him that singular attention. Then allowing that to guide the choices we make, and it being okay because we’ve shut out these other voices, and we’ve been able to say, “I am singlehandedly coming to Christ. I am submitting myself to His Lordship,” even if that doesn’t look like what I think it should look like. Even if my vision for my life is “more godly” [laughter] than what I think Christ is calling me to. It is the difference between being committed to Christ, and being surrendered to Christ. A lot of the times, our good works, and our good commitment to good things, actually hinder us from the full humility, that full surrender, which is what ultimately brings us rest and frees us from this cycle of anxiety.
Laura: Amen, Hannah. [laughter] We have a whole bunch more questions for you. I feel like we could talk forever, but we are hitting our time limits. We just want to thank you so much for being on the show. Listeners, as we’ve said repeatedly, if you want more of this kind of information, if you want to learn more about humility, and really feel freedom from comparison, anxiety, the rat race of life, please check out Hanna’s book, Humble Roots. It’s incredible. Thanks again Hannah for being on the show.