As a mom, the popular phrase taken from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” was a hefty yoke on my shoulders. In many ways I believed it wholeheartedly. In others, I did not believe it at all. In every way, I failed to grasp its truth or the power Phil 4:13 gives to those who go beyond the saccharine surface of a feel-good quote.
Moms Who Do All Things
Mothers wear many hats. Within the home, we are wives, teachers, nurses, housekeepers, chefs, chauffeurs, coaches, and more. Outside the home, mothers can be military heroes, doctors, and sanitation workers. The list of jobs covered by the title “Mom” is almost endless. To add to this, many moms have a hard time saying no when asked to help. Woman was created as a helpmate to Adam and yet, we feel the need to help, not only our Adams, but everyone else too. We tend to think the phrase, “I can do all things” actually means, “I should do all things.”
As a suddenly abandoned single mom of five little boys, I easily fell into this way of thinking. My boys and I lived in a world that revolved around me single-handedly doing all things. If one of my boys was hungry, tired, or sick, I cared for him. If something exciting happened at school, a friend invited my son to a party, or he was chosen as captain of his team, he came home to tell me. Needing to do all things also meant I worried about all things from the house burning down in the middle of the nightto some miraculous financial windfall landing in my lap because I would have been solely responsible for handling both.
I was also solely responsible for our family’s finances. I had a masters in education, but my elementary teaching license had expired while I stayed home to raise my children. As head of my household, I worked several part time jobs while fighting to get 60 college credits and obtain a more marketable 7-12 math certification and raise five kids. I juggled bills and tried to pay what we owed, but the damage caused by a lack of child support was insurmountable. I packed up our house to move without knowing where we would go when the bank finally declared foreclosure. I could not do all things, but I could not admit it.
I could go on with more challenges we faced or with how much was put upon my shoulders, but the general idea outlined above is enough. Our family had a lot going on, and all of it was my responsibility. Like many others, I could not do all things, but that didn’t keep me from trying to.
The Cost of Doing It All
Saying yes to one thing, means saying no to another. I look back at all I accomplished in the early years of abandonment and am amazed but sad too. The cost of my doing was huge. Most of all, I missed being available for my children. I missed opportunities to teach them about Love and Joy found even in suffering. I missed opportunities to show them what it means to have faith or teach them about the Trinity and Communion of Saints still pulling for us. Even when physically present, I was often exhausted or distracted and rarely able to give my full attention.
When we try to do it all, we forget to honor why we do it. We do that when caring for our homes but neglecting our husbands and when designing a magical childhood but ignoring our children. We also do this when trying to do all things but forget Christ is not only our strength but also our reason for doing anything.
When we try to do all things, we become more Martha than Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). This causes us to become, “anxious and worried about many things,” as Martha was. We might believe Christ strengthens us, but we do not believe we can let go of the reigns and allow Him to act through us. We seldom sit back, relax, and bask in the glow of what God accomplishes in us. What we do becomes less something to celebrate joyfully and more a demand we place upon ourselves. This takes a toll on us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
The Real Meaning of Philippians 4:13
Often, we hear a quote like this and run with it because it sounds good. We do not stop to research exactly what is said or pause to reflect on what is truly meant. Then, we take what sounds good in a meme and apply it to every aspect of life. What’s more, we take things personally. We believe, in this case, that if we are good Christians and God really Loves us, we should do it all easily.
Reality is very different. We can keep all our balls surprisingly well juggled for years, but eventually, we all find out that we cannot do all things. When we try, we became exhausted, frustrated, and discouraged. Maturity or sheer overwhelm sometimes help us realize negative emotions stem from the misrepresentation of doing all things through Christ who strengthens us.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” comes from Philippians 4:13, but it is not an exact translation. The New American Bible gives this verse as, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
Already there is a subtle, but powerful, difference. Read this way, the world’s responsibilities are not on our shoulders. It is not about all the things we think we can do; it is about what we do with what we are given. It is not about Christ strengthening us to do more; it is about His empowerment of us.
The differences get more profound when Phil 4:13 is taken in context.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.Then the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity.Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient.I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me (emphasis mine).
The section does not begin with a demand to do all things. It is titled, “Peace and Joy” and announces, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” This is so vital that Saint Paul says it again! This is our starting point.
Rejoice! In the Lord. Always.
How do we rejoice when we feel we are responsible for doing it all? Quite simply, we don’t.