Our older daughter turned three this month. I look at her and wonder how these three years have flown by, amazed at how this precious little one could be mine. It seemed only a little while ago that I held her in my arms for the first time. I remember being overwhelmed with emotions the first few days -- love for this tiny being who I did not know what to do with and apprehension at the realisation that I was now a mother. Even today, there are times when I’m still overwhelmed at the thought of being a mother and there are other times when I feel like I can’t even remember how life was before marriage and kids.
Before my children were born, I often wondered what kind of a mother I’d be. I had these ideas of how we would treat our children and on what values they would be brought up. I had an idealistic view of parenthood and didn’t think it would be too hard. I often secretly judged other parents and vowed that I would never let my child behave “in that way” or respond to my child in anger and negativity. I looked at verses like Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it”, and thought of various things I would do so they are trained up right.
This was a plan that was doomed to fail from the start. Psalm 127:1 says:
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain that build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchmen stay awake in vain.
Most of my parenting plans depended on my strength and on that of my husband’s. Sure, I had God in the picture, but He was mostly there as an add-on. Because of this, I have felt like a complete failure as a mother when my child has been rebellious for no reason, or when I disciplined her in anger in a way I never thought I would, or simply because no matter how much I tried, my child wouldn’t eat or obey! When my child behaved in a way that raised people’s eyebrows or made them pass unkind comments, it broke my heart and I thought I had failed. I even cried sometimes, asking God why this had to be so hard when I was trying to do it all in the ‘right way’.
While studying the book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, God revealed the flaw in my heart and in my parenting model. I was trying to shape my child in my image, to be a girl I approved of and that people applauded and loved. My parenting decisions were formed by my expectations and the approval of others. My parenting had become all about me! The book encouraged us parents to prayerfully set parenting goals and disciplining based on God’s word, focusing on the heart and not on external behaviours. I need to help my child see how sinful her heart is when she rebels or disobeys and help her understand her need for God. I need to correct my child because she is sinning against God and not because of disapproving looks from someone in the vicinity. I need her to understand that obedience must come out of a heart devoted to God and not to get out of trouble. I have been given the role of a shepherd to guide my child’s heart towards God.
One of my favourite songs as a teen was What if I stumble by DC Talk. Before the song begins, there is a line that goes:
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Him with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
The more I listened to it, the more I realised how important it is for my life to reflect my talk. This is one of my biggest challenges as a mother. I have two little girls who are watching my life very closely. They observe the way I talk to family, friends, and strangers. They see and imitate the way I treat those working in my house and the people serving me in different ways. They see my anger, my irritation and my mood swings. They see me love people, serve God and also see glimpses of my self-centredness.
I wonder what my children soak in when they see me. When they look back at their childhood later, what is it that they will remember? Will they remember a mother who showed them how God’s love transformed her life? Is my correction addressing their hearts or teaching them the art of performing to gain approval? Whom do they see me imitating? No one can make another human being choose or deny God, but we do play an important role in showing people who Christ is or deflecting them away from Him.
This sometimes makes me feel overburdened. How can I ensure I am responding with love, grace, truth and patience? I am powerless to do this, but the Holy Spirit helps me in my weakness and as I completely depend on Him, He gives the needed grace and strength. My kids do not need to see a super mom who is always good, kind, loving and perfect, in her own strength. They need to see a mother failing miserably on her own and depending on God for each situation. They need to see parents who rely daily on God’s grace and extend this grace to those around them.
These three years have taught me many things I would never have learned otherwise. As I struggle with being a mother, God is revealing His nature to me and chipping off the old me, making me more like Him. My husband and I are becoming increasingly aware that our experiences in life, including marriage and parenthood, are mainly to conform us to the likeness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Motherhood has shown me God’s heart for me, a wayward child, and His unexplainable love for me. Isaiah 49:15 says:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
I am infinitely more precious to God than my children are to me. Motherhood has shown me that my heavenly Father’s purposes and plans for me are good, even though I often do not understand them. It has shown me that I am often like a stubborn toddler who thinks she knows best and sometimes needs to be taken away kicking and screaming. It has shown me the importance of obedience and trust, the same things I demand and expect from my kids because I love them, I know much more than them (at least for now) and I want the best for them. Motherhood has given me many opportunities to experience God’s infinite love, grace and patience with me. And I believe that this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more chipping off to do before I will be anywhere close to being like Him.
Photo Credit: Unsplash