I stood in church unable to open my mouth to sing even a word of the songs, knowing that, if I did, the tears I was forcing back with all my might would have gushed forth. Sadly, often times church just doesn’t feel like the safest place to do that, although of all places I believe it should be. Despite my efforts, some tears did stream from my exhausted and puffy eyes during times of prayer or when I hoped no one would notice.
I am broken over my mothering right now. And this time it’s not even because my kids are in one of those not-uncommon difficult seasons. Little ones are always tiring and challenging, but it’s not so much that. In fact it’s not them at all. It’s me.
I’ve been at this mom thing now for almost four years. And that has been more than long enough to see a myriad of my sin patterns affecting how I parent.
Of course I wrestle with all the common sins I think every parent faces. I am selfish. You can’t help but feel deeply how much you have to give up for your kids, laying down everything you have for them. It’s just not easy - sometimes it's downright hard. I am impatient. Everything takes longer with little ones and their attention spans can be so short it’s a challenge for anyone to relax and accept how long everything takes. (As in, running to the grocery store to pick up something in the middle of a Canadian winter with two little ones feels way too much like running a marathon than a quick errand; praise the Lord for Spring and no more snow suits!). Selfishness, impatience, and being quick to anger are defining traits in me and they are serious. I sorrow over them, wrestle, and pray for help to grow in those areas. But this sort of thing is often talked about and easy enough to spot in yourself.
But there are more subtle and specific ways my sin expresses itself, and those are deeply concerning and weighing on my heart lately. They are ones which I feel I specifically inherited. Ones which I am tempted to feel I didn’t ask for or deserve. They are the family and parenting patterns I received from growing up the way I did. Or they are things in my personality that my parents didn’t discipline me for or teach me a better way, and I often feel that I still do not know the better way.
Lately I had been feeling terrible about certain ways I’d react to or treat my kids. I just had this sense that I was not respecting my kids like I would another person outside my family. And I was putting so many hedges around what they could and couldn’t do that it was just too much and exasperating for them. But I couldn’t label exactly what it was I was doing. I just felt guilt, sensed it was wrong, and begged for help.
Then during a visit with my younger sister, we were reminiscing about our childhood and she was laughing as she shared how bossy I was with her when we were younger. Every day, she, my best friend, and I would walk to and from school. But I wouldn’t let her walk beside us - I forced her walk behind us. I remember another time, buying her something for her birthday a few days early and then using that to manipulate her to get her to be nice to me, or else I threatened I wouldn’t give it to her after all. And there are plenty more stories. Those aren’t just childish “kids will be kids” things to be brushed off. The root of that is profoundly ugly and nasty. As I was hearing those stories it hit me so clearly that I was then and still am now tempted toward being just as controlling and bossy. I finally found the term for it: domineering. It means asserting your will over another in an arrogant way. This is what has been breaking me recently and has me weeping before God over how it leaks into my parenting and hurts my kids. I can still be just as downright mean now to my precious little kids as I was to my little sister when I was younger. And I am some days. That exact same nastiness is still there in my heart and it comes out and hurts those I love. And I need all the power of my King Jesus to cleanse me and transform my heart and mothering to defeat sin in this area so that I may mother my children with the same love He shows me.
The good news for me - and for you in whatever your sin struggle is - is found in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11:
“For godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”
It was good for me to have spent Sunday morning crying quietly in church. It is good to feel godly sorrow over my sin, especially when two sweet little souls have been entrusted to me to shepherd and they are looking to me to learn about how God loves them and about how to behave in this world. I think too often when we feel the weight of guilt of how our sin is affecting our life we are quick to tell ourselves or others that it's okay, that there are far worse parents out there, that you don’t have to feel bad. And while it is possible to be too hard on ourselves, and it is always sweet and encouraging and important to know you are not alone in the struggle, to leave it all there is of no help to anyone. Feeling godly sorrow is a gracious call to repentance, and repentance is sweet because it is the only way to truly experience Jesus’ power to actually change us. We tend to associate repentance with guilt, but it is in fact the very casting off of all the guilt we carry upon the One who already paid for it all. It is honestly naming your sin before God, confessing it and allowing yourself to be cleansed of it. And there you find because of Christ it is not counted against you any more. Though you know the weight of the guilt and how truly awful it is, you are told you can lay it down now. The moment you repent is the moment you can stop carrying that guilt. You are still loved just as greatly as you ever were and are assured of help for whatever lies ahead.
Moms, when we struggle with sin, we don’t just need to tell each other that we can relate or that it’s okay. There is more offered to us and to our kids than merely the normalizing of that. Growth in Christ-likeness is offered. There is hope for change. It doesn’t come merely through trying harder, but through honest repentance and confession through prayer. It seems that so much these days is about trying to be and look as awesome-sauce together as we can, but if we keep up that facade before God it will keep us from the very thing we long for and need the most - transformation. The very best way we can support each other as moms and friends is to carry each other’s sins to prayer, reminding each other of the sweet promises repentance offers.
I genuinely covet your prayers for my mothering as I seek after this, and I am doing the same for you as I write this.
"Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God." 2 Corinthians 7:1