I don’t know about you, but I find it so hard to be gentle and patient with myself (let alone the children!) when it comes to parenting.
I know the verdict is grace, but to live in an atmosphere of grace in parenting is a constant effort. Which of course is a sentence that shouldn’t make sense!
Basically the gravitational pull at work in my heart is towards me and therefore away from grace. The more important something is to me, the stronger the pull. The more I have invested in something, deliberated and planned – the more it is about me. It is the pitfall of intentionality.
I am blessed to have a very great friend – The Doctor – who is not only one of my best friends, but also my mental twin and mother to a very similar (albeit 9 years younger than mine) first child.
As we chatted together about parenting she put it perfectly when she said: ” Sometimes I just wish I didn’t think about it all so much.”
And it can seem that those who just muddle along and fly by the seat of their pants come out of the whole thing less scathed and with much the same results as the likes of the Doctor and myself.
Not that winging it would be our comfort zone at all – we like a plan. ‘If in doubt make a list’ is certainly a motto in my household! No, for better or worse we are intentional people and I wouldn’t really want to change that, but intentionality does bring with it its own peculiar temptations and difficulties to strew across the path of my parenting experience and I feel getting those out in the open may be helpful.
Pitfall 1: Being intentional and being self-forgetful / humble is a tricky combination.
Well, it is for me anyway.
I am an intentional person by wiring as well as conviction. Put that together with a tendency towards obsessive behaviour, high sensitivity and anxiety and the likelihood of taking yourself too seriously becomes pretty high.
A plan needs maintenance. All my lists and ideas and grand schemes need careful attention and so, while I myself am not necessarily the main subject, I do spend a lot of time looking in the mirror of my parenting. Once there, it isn’t too big a jump for a sinner to shift the focus of their gaze back on themselves: mirror, mirror on the wall who is the best intentional parent of them all?
Pitfall 2: The wisdom of being intentional can mask the foolishness of believing that intentionality guarantees ‘success’.
So it has been rather a long and meandering thread – but I think we are getting somewhere!
I started out by asking if I was doing a good job of parenting the three children I currently have in my care.
Our second child was stillborn and we remember his birthday today – he would have been 12 years old.
Various witnesses were called including:
The State, The Professionals and Middle Class Society were the first three to testify. Their verdict was basically:
On the one hand – no intervention is required, but on the other hand not a contender for the gold star.
What I hear: We’ll keep giving advice, and presenting the ideal, and you can keep feeling guilty about it.
The next witnesses were: The people who write books and give talks on Christian parenting.
Their verdict was: She sets high standards of intentional parenting, and then struggles to meet them. She tries very hard, but rests in God’s loving, wise providence very badly.
The final witness called was God’s word concerning children and mothers. Please refer to full court transcript for the qualifying comment on this testimony.
What this mother is experiencing is normal. Sinners parenting sinners in a broken sinful world will be hard and imperfect and messy.
Despite the broken-ness – families are a God-given entity for the good of individuals and society and are one of the many channels through which he works.
Bringing up children is a good deed.
God did not make a mistake with any of the four children this mother has given birth to. They were meant for her and she was meant for them.
Her job is to do what she can so that her children are not hindered from coming to Jesus.
Her job is to celebrate God and his rescue in a question-prompting manner in daily life and in special celebrations.
God has not given us the script for celebrating him in conversation with our children – in contrast to some of the festivals in the Old Testament. This mother needs to be careful not to let good ideas and godly aims become “I have to do x or y otherwise I am failing!” or “It will all go wrong if I don’t do this or that” or “She is behaving that way because I didn’t do a or b“.
Her godliness and wise choices (or lack thereof) will play a significant role in their lives and the lives of future generations BUT never a role outside of God’s perfect plan.
Before she is a mother, this woman is a precious child of God.
It is God’s work as their heavenly Father that this woman’s children really need – not her perfect parenting. While she can pray for them she also needs to remember that there is a lot going on that is way above her pay grade!
In Conclusion: The lives of this mother and her children are in God’s hands. The work of mothering these three children is a good work that God has wisely prepared for her under his supervision and sovereignty. He crafted her in just the right way for the job and prepared the job to be just right for her. He knows what he is doing – trust him.
So, yes, when it comes to being a mother I could do better…
BUT everything is O.K. because God always does the best.
No expectations – if I could grasp that even slightly it would certainly help me soar and not strive and also live and love with a lot more grace.
We saw last time that God sees us as we are.
Imagine the difference in expectations in these two scenarios:
You are having your first appraisal in a new job. A few months ago you were identified as the best in your field; head hunted and wooed by the company you now work for. No expense was spared – your line manager has put his neck on the line by hiring you and is basically relying on you to sort things out and get results fast.
You are a six-year-old sitting in your Dad’s office on a chair that is a little big for you, but it spins! You are doing some stapling and folding and soon it will be time for lunch out with Dad.
The difference in the weight of expectations could not be greater!
I live as though I am in the first scenario – I am not!
We need to believe and trust and remember that God has got it covered – and we need to live that way! He simply doesn’t need to have any expectations of us! Not only is he not surprised or disappointed by our limitations, but he is totally limitless himself. In the language of the above illustration – God doesn’t need to ‘hire in’ any experts ! His enemy is defeated, his kingdom is just how it should be and everything is on schedule and going according to plan.
As Paul writes to the Ephesian church: he [the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10
When my children do jobs around the house I do a lot of work!
I identify a suitable task and the time for doing it (and do the ones that are too yucky / tricky myself).
I reach down the cleaning supplies and lay out the right cloth and spray etc.
I brief them and ‘train’ them.
I check what they have done, and either help them where they have ‘missed a bit’ or simply do the high spots they couldn’t reach myself.
I then supervise the tidying up, and sort out the dirty cloths etc.
I then pay them so that they have money to buy birthday and Christmas presents*.
In theory… This is fine. I am not expecting a perfectly clean mirror – or whatever the job may be. I am not expecting value for money. I’m not even expecting my children to have a brilliant servant attitude and a good work ethic in the way they go about their job. The expectation is on me. I need to be wise in my parenting, I need to use the situation well, and if I want something to actually get clean I need to expect to take responsibility for that myself**.
I say ‘in theory’ because I generally get my expectations muddled. I often do expect those things of them because I am not God. I am just like my children – a small child full of limitations in the care of a perfectly loving Father.
Mums – we are God’s children in Christ Jesus. By his Holy Spirit we call him Abba! Father! God has prepared good works for us Mother’s to do – he has crafted us and prepared the works perfectly – AND not only that but HE has got it all covered.
What does God expect of us as mothers? Nothing. What does he want and plan for us? To keep relying on him as we put one foot in front of the other walking in the good works he has prepared for us.
OK so that was a long tangent, but I think an important one. Hopefully my next post will see us back in the court room summarising not God’s expectations of us as Mothers, but looking at the good works he has called us to in that role.
* Pocket money and money for jobs is an interesting subject – but that is a whole other post!
** I am not advocating encouraging sloppiness, but merely looking at what disappoints / doesn’t meet expectations.
As I ended my last post I rashly promised you a summary of what God expects of mothers. I fully intend to keep my promise – or at least the spirit of it, but as I travelled home I was troubled by the wording I had used. Does God expect anything of us?
A book I read recently claimed that “God has no expectations of us”*.
Seriously? No expectations?
I find that really hard to swallow, and lots of buts bubble up in protest. “But what about… and then there’s…..” BUT at the same time I can’t deny that it is true.
Firstly: God has no expectations of us in the sense that he knows what weak and fragile beings we are – not only are we mere creatures, but we are broken ones at that. Broken, weak, limited beings in a broken world shot through with evil.
O.K. so that was supposed to be encouraging! Stick with me.
Let me put it this way: It has recently dawned on me that I basically approach my day, my life, my parenting … with the basic assumption that I have all the right ingredients available to me to do a pretty good job. My expectation is of success.
Please don’t get me wrong! This expectation does not spring from thinking that I am special and unique or from any confidence in my particular brilliance. I am thinking more of the expectations that exist simply because in my ‘world’ that is what we are ‘meant to’ be able to do. By ‘world’ I mean the circumstances and environment of my upbringing and the situation and society I now live in. I’ve never really thought about it this way, but each morning I wake up with the subconscious assumption that I should be able to do a good job of my life today, and by extension that those I have to interact with should be able to as well.
And again and again I fail to meet this expectation and so do the people around me.
Not only is there an appalling arrogance in thinking that we can be the gods of our own lives, but there is also an unbearable burden in it.
We delude ourselves that we are thoroughbred race horses, bet heavily on our victory and then scratch our heads when time and time again we fall at the first hurdle.
And the encouragement please?
God does not have this expectation of us. God sees us for the donkeys that we are and loves us!
How I see myself: I am a world renown brain surgeon – I go to work, scrub up and ask for the scalpel ready to save lives…..but more accurately….
In my mind I am sitting at a beautiful shiny grand piano in a crowded concert hall, the audience in breathless anticipation as my fingers hover over the keys ready to strike the first chord….. what my Father delights in…
This is not to belittle human accomplishment and creativity. Of course there are people who really are concert pianists and world renown brain surgeons, as well as super fast athletes and world-class artists. I am not one of them – but they exist all over the world. Of course they do – because there is a God who his creatures fearfully and wonderfully in his image.
It isn’t that we are nothing – not by any means does the bible want us to believe that – it is just that we are what we are. Just think about a toddler for a moment. What an amazing creature – just think of all they learn and how they develop in a matter of months. Astounding! But you don’t expect them to drive a car or cook the tea – let alone perform brain surgery. Compared to God we are small children – and that includes us mothers!
What does God expect of us as mothers? He expects us to be what we are. He expects us to be weak, to get things wrong, to get tired, to get our priorities in a muddle, to lose patience, to feel like giving up, to miss opportunities or to overreact….. and he even expects us to keep forgetting that this is the case!
And secondly God has no expectations of us in the sense that he’s got it all covered. But I think that is for another post.
*Good News for Weary Women by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
Please forgive the rather long adjournment – not the brief recess you were promised by any means! In my defence I was resting – see last post!
Anyway I’m back now so we can continue with our rather haphazard, whistle-stop tour of what God expects of us mums (and indeed what he doesn’t expect of us) and what we can anticipate family life being like.
6. God often works through and in families. They are a God-given dynamic within the church and society. This is not to say that family is the only dynamic. God indeed has no grandchildren and many of his children are ‘not of this flock’; but it is clear from his dealings with Israel (the inheritance of the land, the exhortations to teach the LORD’s commands to their children, to speak of what he has done) as well as the saving of households in the New Testament that he often works through and in families. I can’t claim to understand all the references to this – but they are there e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:14
7. Passing on the good news to future generations can get easily pushed out. Life generally and family life itself can become an idol, and/or a distraction from celebrating the Lord’s goodness and serving him wholeheartedly. In Deuteronomy Moses warns the people of the danger of forgetfullness as they settle into the land and have children and then grandchildren:
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9
8. My primary identity is as a child of God, not as my children’s mother; and as a member of a church my children are not limited to my biological children. In the New Testament many of references to children and family are referring to God’s children and to the church. It may even be that we are called to ‘leave’ our children for the sake of the gospel: Luke 18:29
9. It is right and natural for us to be compassionate and kind to our children though we are evil. The love of parents for their children is a common grace, but as sinners it is also something we need to be taught. Psalm 103:13; Luke 11:11-13; Titus 2:4. Broken relationships between parents and children, children rebelling against their parents point to a serious departure from God’s good ways: Malachi 4:6, Romans 1:30
10. Discipline is a right / natural part of parenthood. Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:11
11. Proverbs also exhorts us to be an example to our children and to teach them wisdom – both in the early father and son chapters, and also in specific proverbs:
“The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.” (Proverbs 20:7) Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
But we need to remember the nature of wisdom literature and not make individual proverbs into golden rules and mathematical equations. They don’t guarantee a certain result from a certain action, but give us a sense of the life lived following God’s good ways. After all Proverbs 30:11 warns us: “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers” !!
12. God knows what it is like to be a parent. He knows both what it is to have rebellious children – us lot; and also what it is to see his Son suffer.
13. We are not to hinder children from coming to Jesus. Luke 18:15-17
14. We are not responsible for our children’s’ eternal destinies. As Ephesians 2 reminds us:
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
BUT GOD: thanks to his great love and mercy God can bring our children from death to life. That job has been taken – so don’t apply for it!
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ Acts 2: 38-39
We have good news and it is there for our children too. Let’s make sure they hear the promise, but it is for the Lord to call them.
And as an aside: God does not love us mothers because we work hard at our parenting. Not only will the quality of our parenting not factor in our children’s standing before God, but neither will it factor in how God views us. While being a Mum is a huge part of the good works God has prepared for me to do – at least for today – how well or badly I think I am doing those works doesn’t change God’s love for me one jot.
15. A potential pastor’s family does reflect his suitability for ministry. See Paul’s commands to Titus and Timothy.
16. Fathers are commanded to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord and to avoid embittering and exasperating them*. Ephesians 6:2
17. 1 Timothy 5:10 tells us that bringing up children is a good deed!
18. It is appropriate for parents to provide for their children: 2 Corinthians 12:14; and then for children to look after their elderly parents: 1 Timothy 5:4
* I’m wondering if Paul had spent much time with teenage girls – I don’t seem to be able to walk into a room without exasperating my daughter at the moment. Perhaps it is an intentional/thoughtless exasperating we are meant to avoid?
So there we are – far from a complete overview – but I’ll attempt a summation next time! Do let me know of any omissions that need to be included!
What would my week look like if I planned into it a day without tasks? Of course the obvious reply is: “Define tasks”
Well here are some tasks that are relatively simple to plan not to do on a particular day.
Washing – certainly not load after load.
Shopping for birthday presents, and weekly supplies
Going to the tip
Preparing bible studies or Sunday School
Cleaning the sinks……..
There are of course certain things that always need to be done, day in day out.
For example: Some form of feeding people; hanging out the school uniforms because they need to be dry by Sunday evening; cleaning up a spillage…
Or to use Jesus’ example: rescuing an ox that has fallen down a well.
The trick is to spot the difference coming upon a struggling ox (not something I can say has ever happened to me!) and doing what you can to help (not sure I would be of much use!) and scheduling yet another full day animal care into your week.
Get creative – or perhaps I should say less creative! Things that do have to happen daily can be simplified. Food can come out of the freezer or a jar or be prepared with someone you love in a way that is distinctive to that day as compared to the daily grind.
Which gets us to the crunch I think – how can we make a day distinctive and spacious? A day where the focus has shifted from getting things done and under control and subdued and all within a limited time frame, to enjoying, and resting and basking in the Lord’s goodness. A day of basking, of asking the Lord for help and instruction and refreshment, and not of tasking.
I realise I am opening a can of worms here – one that I am not qualified to tackle! I can’t really take you through a detailed theology of the Sabbath. I do know that there is a lot to explore around the subject! For example: How rest features in the creation account, the unending 7th day of rest, the Hebrew 3-4 idea of entering God’s rest and then the idea of looking forward to the day when Jesus calls us into his new creation to enter his rest. Jesus’ treatment of the commands re the Sabbath in comparison to the way he reiterates and handles the other 9, not to mention his regular challenging of the way it had wrongly become a rule fuelled rod to beat people with….
And yet, can of worms wriggling away to one side, would we be wise to take a day of rest? To feast on the Lord, and stop trying to run things for a few hours? I think the answer is probably yes. So what needs to go from my weekly/monthly/yearly lists to make room for some of those not to-dos to get done on other days – well that’s another can of worms!
A note of introduction to this testimony: Please forgive this very patchy, poorly put together attempt at summarising what God’s word says on the huge topic of parenting. For a proper look at the subject please refer to the many more thorough resources that I am sure are out there! Having said that I hope this summary will serve its purpose in the context of this series of posts: that is to start to see what God’s word really does have to say to mothers, and what it really does ask of us in contrast to the many and varied extrapolations that make their way to us via parenting books, sermons, blogs etc.
Witness 6: God’s word concerning children and mothers
1: All of motherhood and family life is happening in a post-Genesis 3 world. Motherhood will be difficult and frustrating: from giving birth, to doing relationships and pressing on through the logistics of life. The narrative surrounding Jacob’s family is a good example of this (not to mention Cain and Abel!).
2: Motherhood is one of God’s gifts – he is sovereign over who is born to whom and when.
3: Celebrate God and his rescue in such a way that prompts questions from your children and be ready to amaze them with God*.
Exodus 12: 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’”
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..
4. Our choices / sin / godliness as parents do have consequences for future generations – Exodus 20:5; similarly there are consequences to children’s obedience / disobedience – Ex 20:12.
5. The consequences of our sin / godliness and the choices of our children do not thwart or change God’s good and perfect will.
Psalm 115:3: Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
Due to the extensive nature of the testimony from this witness court will adjourn for a brief recess.
* A thread to follow in due course: Old Testament believers had specific scripts for certain meals and celebrations, and specific instructions regarding physical reminders of what God had done. Do we have particular commands along these lines as parents and church communities today? In what sense is the Lord’s supper meant to be experienced in this way? In coming up with ideas to carry the principle of distinct, conversation prompting patterns from the Old Testament to our families and churches today are we in danger of adding yet another item to put in the bag labelled: Things that I probably haven’t done well enough – otherwise our family would be happier and more in love with Jesus.
Witness 5: The people who write books and give talks on Christian parenting
Parenting Intention to be intentional: 9 / 10
Actually consistently doing ‘it’: 5 / 10
Reading the bible with her daughter since she started secondary school: 2 / 10
Reading the bible with her daughter when she was younger: 7 / 10
Discipling her children in their prayer life and bible reading as they grow up: 5 / 10
Applying God’s word in discipline: 6 / 10
Being patient, merciful, and modelling grace and humility: 6 / 10
Speaking and living the gospel of grace with her children: 8 / 10
Teaching discernment and wisdom by intentionally chatting about life: 3 / 10
Giving her children opportunities to be discipled by others: 4 / 10
Amazing her children with God vs exasperating them: She dreads to think. Planning to thoughtfully pray for her children and about her role as a Mum: 8 / 10
Actually, consistently praying for her children and about her role as a Mum: 4 / 10
Attitudes and reactions to parenting Trusting all this to God: 3 / 10 Although she does know that the answer is Jesus! Steering clear of having a: “Put this stuff into your kids and get a great Christian adult out” mentality: 8 / 10 But only because she knows the answer is Jesus!
Trusting God’s will for her life and the lives of her children: Read on! Not being crushed, petrified and paralysed by every roll of the eyes, every harrumph, each sarcastic remark, the disobedience, the arguments and bickering: 1 / 10
Not counting every sin, mistake, or failure in her family as her own: 1 / 10
Understanding the difference between carrying a burden that isn’t hers and faithfulness to her role: 1 / 10
Conclusion: This woman desperately wants to be a great Mum. She understands that the best thing she can give her children are opportunities to see and follow Jesus. There is, of course, more she could do to do this well and to develop new patterns as her children get older. BUT we are very worried about where her identity is and where her hope for her children lies.