I woke each morning feeling like I was already behind. In my mind, the solution was to pray more, read more Bible, and serve more in the church. I believed I needed to start my day right by rising early, and making sure I had taken in enough Jesus to be a nice mom, and a good wife.
More often than not, my kids ruined my perfect quiet time. They did not do it on purpose. It was morning. They wanted to get up, and they wanted their mom. I would never admit it at the time, but in my heart, I justified being crabby with them. I thought if they would let me have my time with Jesus, I wouldn’t be such a mean mom. I was determined that my kids would obey me the first time, no matter how many spankings it took. I was domineering, controlling, and afraid of what other people thought of my mothering. Much of my life was characterized by a negotiating mentality with the Lord. If I spend time with you Jesus, then you owe me peaceful mornings, well-behaved children, and respect from others.
I was imprisoned by the opinions of other Christians. I remember someone commenting that my son should be drinking out of a sippy cup instead of a bottle by his age. I went right home, took all his bottles away, and gave him a sippy cup instead. The woman told me: “When he gets thirsty enough, he will use it.” So it became a battle of the wills that I was determined to win. My little son did not drink for at least 12 hours. I started to worry that he would become dehydrated. His forehead felt hot. His cheeks were flushed, and he was lethargic, but still, he would not drink out of that sippy cup. I finally broke down and gave him a bottle. He downed the whole thing and then threw up. I was ashamed of myself.
I have many memories like this that make me cringe (and even cry) if I think about it too much. It took me a long time to see the discrepancies between how I parented my children, and how the Lord parents me. He disciplines His children, not because He is angry or annoyed with them, but to train them to trust and depend upon Him (Hebrews 12:11). He isn’t interested in outward conformity to a list of rules, but our hearts. The Lord’s love is wholly unlike ours. He patiently and kindly parented me into being a better parent by showing me my weakness rather than letting me continue in my perceived strength.
Since I spent so much time studying my Bible, and blabbing to everyone about how much I knew, I got myself a teaching role in the women’s Bible study at church. I wonder if there is anything more effective than a Bible teaching gig, to expose weakness and pride in a person. The Lord used this to gradually open my eyes to my hard angry heart and set me free from it. He used His word to help me, and my kids, step off the hamster wheel of performance.
When I taught through the book of Acts, I witnessed the apostle Paul use his testimony (even the very worst parts) to woo people to the gospel of grace. When we studied Galatians, I could not avoid seeing myself in those “who began with the Spirit, but now were trying to attain goals by human effort” (Galatians 3:3). Then came Romans (the righteousness of God that comes through faith—Rom 3), followed by James (but He gives us more grace—James 4), 2 Corinthians (how glorious is the ministry of the Spirit written on human hearts—2 Cor 3) and John (where I saw myself as the Pharisees in chapter 9). Each coupled with real life experiences that chipped away at my self-righteousness, and circumcised my heart.
One summer, I taught a series on how the gospel sets women free in every area of their lives. The afternoon before I was to teach on parenting, I wrapped my arms around my kids and wept. I confessed to them that their mom was a sinner, in need of a Savior, just like them. Because the Lord had been softening me subtly, over the years, my kids were not really sure what was wrong with me in that moment. They did not remember most of my mean and controlling years (thank you Jesus). But I knew my heart. I knew I had “put on their necks a yoke that neither I, nor my ancestors have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
If “God’s kindness leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4), why had I ever believed my anger would lead my kids there?
Even so they received my apology and seemed relieved to hear it. If they are ever in therapy for how they were potty trained, I will be right there saying: Yes, I was wrong, and I am so, so, sorry.
Because of His grace, I have peace with God, even when I revert back to that domineering angry mom. He has forgiven my past licentiousness, and my present self-righteousness. He placed in me a new heart that overflowed with gratefulness and affection for my children. He opened my eyes to my sin while there was still time to avoid sending two, hard-hearted little Pharisees into the world. I realized that piling on more law does not motivate anyone to obey. The law only points out our sin. It has no power to conquer it. This is where the gospel steps in as the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The law is the ministry of death (2 Cor 3), so why do we Christians believe it will drive our children into spiritual life?
If “God’s kindness leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4), why had I ever believed my anger would lead my kids there? Honesty took over our home. My kids and I talked about everything. No subject was off-limits. They could ask me anything about sex or cuss words, or even my life before Jesus and I would answer them as honestly as I could, without shaming them for asking. This provided many opportunities to point them to the Savior in normal conversation, rather than only during formal, official Bible time.
This was not a consciously new method for parenting. It was a gradual shift of focus from nit-picking behavior and hiding sin, to dealing with what was underneath the behavior—theirs and mine. Our home became a respite of grace, where we could open our hearts to each other without fear of condemnation. Sin was dealt with honestly and as the reason why we need a Savior, but we were also learning together to walk by faith, rather than trying to muster up our own righteousness.
Now as I write, my parenting is almost done. I am gradually transitioning from authority figure to friend. On this side of it, I realize how foolish it is to fret about sippy cups and early reading and nap schedules and being a better mom than everyone around me. Busyness and striving are the enemies of love. Love is communicated in the spontaneous moments of life. Even as a stay at home mom, I had started off on a prideful path to prove my worth to the world—and I almost missed it.
Read more from Marci Preheim here.