My dream is that when Jake and Joshua and Ella Grace are grown, they’ll look back on their early years with me and be able to describe a Mom who raised them with continual gentleness, kindness, forbearance, patience, self-control - the kind of love that is the fruit of having the Holy Spirit at work in me.
And yet far too often my response to my kids, whether it be to their somewhat aggravating but innocent silliness, or at other times their sin, is to be impatient, angry, unkind.
This is not always the way. Some days I receive such abundant mercy, and words of grace and joy characterize my conversations with them. I gracefully nurture, and it comes almost naturally. Our home has peace, and laughter. These are such wonderful days.
But then there are the other days, the ones where I wake up sleep-deprived, already impatient, on the edge, angry words controlling my speech before we even start breakfast. I know from talking with other moms that this is not a unique experience. There are days where we hear ourselves speak, we see ourselves parent, and it’s graceless, joyless, severe.
I had a morning like that a few days back…
There is finally quiet in the kids bedroom as all three settle in for their afternoon rest. I walk back downstairs with some messes to clean up: messes left by the boys, messes left by daily routines, but mostly just messes left by my own sin. In the first few minutes of afternoon down time, I almost always tackle the physical messes first. Every mother knows this is the most practical approach. Starting the post-nap part of the day seems extra chaotic if you haven’t yet cleaned up from the morning.
But often, when this pattern is followed, there simply isn’t time left to clean up the messes that matter infinitely more: messes left by sin, like the broken commitments to love my children with patience, kindness, gentleness; the messes like a mother’s heart that is aching with the question of whether the impatience and harshness that I’ve shown my kids today might be that tipping point in their little lives, that moment where they’re more shaped by my sin than by my love.
The ache is made worse because children have such a deep capacity to overlook sin, to forgive, to pardon. “C’mon!” I almost feel like saying, “Be mad at me, my sons! Be rude and impatient back!” But no, Josh’s chubby hands pat my tear-stained face, his eyes meet my own and all I see is tenderness and love, and the desire to please. Kids know how to love, don't they?
So for this day at least, for a few minutes, I’m going to pause, leaving the Tinker-Toys and Thomas Trains strewn across the living room carpet, and I'm going to kneel at the place where mercy and forgiveness flow, the place where my sin is made no more.
My God has been here with me, behind me and before me, restraining me from worse sin I have no doubt, and yet even though my morning has been in plain view of my God, I still share it with Him:
“My Heavenly Father, there are so many moments from this morning that I long to redo: moments where I could have responded with gentle firmness, moments where I could have directed young hearts with humility, with understanding. There are so many moments where I could have been slow to anger and abounding in love, parenting Jake and Josh the way you, my God, parent me. Help me to count my days, to sense that they're passing. Sometimes these toddler years seem like they’ll last forever, but I know how quickly they’re actually passing by. And I know that it is the ordinary moments that are going to shape my three little ones more than anything else. This is why I ache, my Father. What if the graceless words of anger that I spoke today will leave scars, will leave an indelible mark on their tiny hearts? My God, would you forgive my sin? Would you provide strength where there is only weakness. Would you somehow give me hope even though I see so much past failure? Father, would you lift this burden of sorrow and replace it with… Christ?”
The impossible wish to redo the past couple hours, along with the near certainty that I will sin in the same way again. But here’s where even in the ugliness of it all, grace abounds. Strong, living, hopeful grace. It’s the grace found at the foot of a cross, where a sinless Saviour died, bearing the weight of my sin. What indescribable hope is found in this truth:
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. ~ II Corinthians 5:21
I hear the boys' bedroom door creak open, the pitter patter of small feet coming down the stairs. Josh appears first. Shirt off. Face flushed rosy and lined from sleep, hair a little damp and curly from napping under his beloved brown blanket. Eyes bright, happy to see me. Jake walks down a moment later. A little grumpy, brow furrowed indicating his usual adorable, grouchy, freshly-woken self. I stretch out my arms to these two little men of mine.
“Come here, you two. I need to talk to you guys.” They’ve heard this before. “Did you have a good nap?” They settle into my arms. “Boys, I am so sorry that I was unkind and rude to you guys this morning. Mommy has sinned against you. I am sorry. My sin, boys, this is why I need Jesus so badly. Do you know that because I believe in Jesus, when God looks at me, He doesn’t remember my sin. Because of Jesus, God has taken my sin and thrown it so far away! Jesus died on the cross so that sinners like Mommy - and you boys know I’m a sinner, you see me sin against you all the time! – so that sinners like Mommy could be forgiven. Jake, Josh, would you guys please forgive me?”
I wish that all of my days as a Mom were characterized by gentleness and peace. But the irony is that these other days, the days like today where sin abounds, I give thanks for these days too. My sin brings me to the cross like nothing else in life can. And the cross brings me face to face with a most gentle, patient, infinitely loving Saviour.