Have you ever felt invisible? When people ask about your superpower these days, I used to think I was only stuck with the power of invisibility. Literally not being seen. Physically or seen for my work and contribution to the world. Being invisible could be cool if I could be in charge of it. Turn it on and off. Mess with my kids and hubby. Go all Harry Potter and the invisible cloak. But not invisible by default. Like when I’m clearly standing right there or even in the conversation and someone will be like, “oh, when did you get here?”. Been here for 20 minutes. Good to see you. Ever feel that way?
Many, many years ago, a friend shared a story that I want to share with you. It’s about mom-invisibility. It’s moving and worth the read. I don’t know who to credit it to unfortunately but I send thanks to this person for uplifting me and giving me perspective about “being seen”. About what I am really working for as a mom. Here goes:
I’m invisible. The invisible Mom.
Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more:
Can you fix this?
Can you tie this?
Can you open this?
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask 'What time is it?’ I’m an Uber to order, ‘Should be done around 5:30 or so’. Siri, ‘What is the weather today?’
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied business and the mind that graduated and created marketing campaigns… but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, it could be, it might be, she’s gone!
One night, a group of friends were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from Europe. She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around a the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for my self as I look down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only that I had that was actually clean.
My unwashed hair was pulled up in a hair clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. Was that from yesterday or today I wondered? I was feeling pretty pathetic, when my globetrotting friend turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription:
“With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”
In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - this book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths:
- No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no records of their names.
- These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
- They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
- The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.’ And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’
I closed the book, feeling the missing pieces fall into place. I felt the nudge of God, whispering to me, ‘I see you, my dear.’ I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no tear you’ve shed, no patience you’ve summoned, no cupcake you’ve baked, no scenery you’ve painted, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of sometimes getting bogged down, self-focused, and stuck with limiting beliefs.
I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my kids to tell the friends they bring home from college, ‘My mom has probably planned food for the entire time, shopped and has it all ready to go. She will spend hours chopping, preparing, cooking and baking, trying to time everything well for us all to enjoy.” That would mean I built a shrine for myself. I just want them to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to their friend, maybe just, ‘You’re gonna love it here.’
As mothers we are building great cathedrals. We just don’t know yet if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.
Amen sister, Amen. We are in this together…