As I drove out of the parking lot, something seemed wrong. I didn’t quite feel right somehow, though I didn’t know why. I headed toward the jewelry store, where I planned to sell some old neglected pieces of silver from the bottom of my jewelry box. As I drove, I reflexively checked my rear view mirror and saw her car seat in the back seat.
Her seat belt was still flopped over the armrest, her blanket was still laying where she had just been sitting. It was probably still warm where she had sat, and I realized in that moment what was wrong in my spirit.
Once again, I had sent her off to school with echoes of harsh words ringing in both our ears. They weren’t cruel words in and of themselves, but again, as it always seems to be with me, the impatient, irritated tone of it all was less than loving.
Hurrying her to eat breakfast. Commanding her upstairs to get dressed. Words through clenched teeth as she refuses to make up her mind about what to wear. (Side note: if your child has the world’s most perfect Valentine’s Day outfit, she will refuse to wear it on Valentine’s Day. Guaranteed.) A shout and heavy sigh as she can’t make up her mind about her hairstyle for the day. The use of both first and middle names as she fights me on praying before I drop her off.
The memory screams, all of the morning’s scenes replaying in my mind at the same time. The painfully unloving words of my morning roar in my thoughts. Even though I did look her in the eye and ask for forgiveness, which she graciously granted, I cannot seem to extend the same courtesy to myself.
“You cannot keep talking to her like that. What is she going to learn from you? You can’t use the words ‘sweetheart’ and ‘honey’ in tones like that. You cannot keep doing this. She’s going to remember this…”
On days like this, being the perfect mom seems even more out of reach than usual. There are just so many ways to screw up. So many ways to lead her astray. So many things I can forget to teach her while I’m busy doing things not worth my time. So many little things within every single day that can go wrong, sliding effortlessly toward the life I never wanted for her…toward being the mom I never wanted to be.
How can I remember everything? How can I give effort and attention to all of these crucial things all of the time? How can I ever teach her all that she needs to know? How can I always say the right thing in the right way at the right time?
On days like this, I question God’s decision-making in even giving me stewardship over this precious little life. I am ill-suited. I am unfit. I am woefully unprepared for the things being asked of me.
But it is on days like this when I remember that when God placed her within my womb, He never said that I had to do any of it on my own. He never said, “Here she is. Let’s see what you can do with her. Good luck with that.” To do that would have been setting me up for failure. He knows my infinite weaknesses, and He knows the minute and insignificant details of a day that can draw those weaknesses quickly to the surface. He knows – and knew even then – that even my lifelong tendency toward morning cheerfulness would reach its limit in the face of preschool dawdling and quarreling. He knows the particular character traits He placed in my child that cause clashes with those He placed within me, and He knows that our sinful natures will often turn simple morning rituals into something worthy of a war documentary on the History Channel. He knows all of this, and yet He still looked at me…looked at her…and somehow saw fit to drop this huge gift in a tiny package right into my life.
He did this, I think, because His desire is not for perfect parenting, but for a heart that longs to be a godly parent. His preference is not that I somehow figure out how to do this – that I grit my teeth and muster all my strength and make it happen – but that in all of it, I cling to Him. He doesn’t expect that I will never, ever make a mistake, but that when I do, I once again turn to Him and model repentance and godly sorrow for the little eyes that are watching me. He doesn’t for a moment think that I’ll never stumble again down the path of selfishness, but He hopes that when I do, I’ll recognize my error, retrace my steps, and get back on the right track. He doesn’t think my daughter will grow up without seeing the effects of her mother’s sinful nature, but He does want me to show her Christ’s face in the midst of all of it.
I – and all of us who have been entrusted with these precious little people – have to learn not to expect more from ourselves than God expects from us. He desires godliness, certainly. But He also knows our limitations and has already made the sacrifice to cover them all. On the cross, a perfect Father lay down His spotless Son to place righteousness within reach of every mom everywhere who knew with painful clarity that she did not have what it takes.
I am reminded of Jesus’ own mother. Having just been told by the angel that she would carry God’s Son, she, too, looked heavenward and wondered just how it was going to work. Granted, her concerns were as much about the practical logic of her pregnancy, but in truth, I think her bewilderment and panic were just as much about her own unpreparedness for the task ahead of her.
“How will this be?” Mary asked the angel…
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High God will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:34-35)
Jesus’ mother herself wondered how she would do it – carry a precious child and raise God’s Son into the man He was meant to be. In her honesty before God, she received words of confirmation we, too, can carry with us into our own journey of motherhood.
We obviously understand that our own children are not the perfect Son of God…..but as His power was there for her, it is there for us. It’s not about what we can do, but about what He will do through a surrendered life. It’s not about us shining as perfect mamas, but about us letting ourselves be overshadowed. When we stand front and center, His power in our lives is eclipsed by our sinfulness. The spotlight is on us and how well we perform, rather than on Him and how we are trusting Him to help us through every day. It becomes about our own performance as mamas, rather than on our Father’s all-surpassing greatness at work within us.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
You see, friends, when Jesus later spoke those words, He gave no stipulations – no restrictions. Jesus wasn’t talking about one area of our lives but not others. He said simply that if we remain connected to Him in ev-er-y-thing, we would bear fruit. We must cling to Him when those precious babies’ independence begins to conflict with our own sense of pride. We must cling to Him when we seem to be the only ones in our houses who have a concept of a morning schedule. We must cling to Him when we battle afternoon craziness to cook a supper that will be neglected, grow cold, and eventually be thrown away. We must cling to Him when we don’t recognize the harsh voice and hurtful words coming from our own mouths, and when adamantly disrespectful words come back at us from mouths we too recently taught to speak.
We must cling to Him, and then, I think, we’ll be the mamas we always wanted to be. Imperfect, yes, in far too many ways, but grounded in Truth and walking in Light, pointing our children to the only One who will be with them in every situation their young lives may bring. Ultimately, what we really want is to show Christ to our children – how He is there. How He is sufficient for their greatest needs. How He is more than adequate to make up for their weaknesses. How His grace covers their greatest mistakes. It is through our imperfections that our children will learn of His power in their own flaws. In the end, when we examine our own hearts, I think that’s what we want more than anything.
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