Monday, April 21, 2008

Thoughts about Mommyhood

Last week was an interesting week. When I returned from the wonderful retreat, I realized there were a number of things that needed to be addressed in how I was being a mother to Jonah. I find it hard to articulate very well, but I talked a little about it to my sister-in-law and then to a couple of friends we had dinner with Saturday it got me thinking and ready to blog about it. I still don't know that I can organize all of the thoughts in my head about it. But here goes my attempt.

I had a little breakdown during Jonah's naptime one afternoon last week. Before getting him down, I endured a pretty bad tantrum from him and really struggled with how to handle it. I knew exactly how theory....but I was not near as calm or constant or patient as I should have been. I believe that the best discipline happens when we separate our emotions from their offenses as much as possible. What I mean is that I don't want to react like my child's sinful choices are wrong because they make mommy sad but rather because they have disobeyed God's standard, black-and-white truth...they have crossed a line. It's not about me and whether or not they please me, but they are expected to obey God because He is holy and always right and He IS truth. Well, I did a poor job of not letting my emotions get in the way that day....frustration and anger being the big ones. Another thing that I think is so important in the discipline process of a young child is in how you bring closure to the incident. More important than the actual consequence of Jonah's action is how I, as his parent, lead him through repentance and restoration afterward. I so want to use all of these discipline opportunities to teach him what repentance is truly about and how that restoration with God after repentance really is a huge blessing. I want to model that for him through my interactions with him after he has done something wrong. I want him to really experience my love and affection when "closing" a time of consequence so that as he grows up, he will have a framework of understanding how God showers us with His unconditional love all the time but we really aren't in positions to see and receive it when sin stands between us and God. I realize there will always be breakdowns in this parallel since of course I am not God! I will never model this perfectly. But it is my goal to parent my children in this way. It is just what God has put on my heart for my children, and I don't doubt that it is how He is leading me.

So that's my goal. But there are so many times when there are gaps between what I want to do and what actually happens. And that is what those days last week were like. There was a huge discrepancy between what I sensed godly, effective training of my child should look like and what actually was happening in our home. The breakdown could be seen in how my child wasn't even responding to my affectionate embrace following his consequence and asking for forgiveness. It broke my heart. I could tell he was angry with me. And I just didn't feel like I was doing this whole "leading him through repentance" thing very well.

And I cried about it. A lot.

That one afternoon, I just lost it and spent a long time crying out in desperation to the Lord. I've said it before and I'll say it again (although I wish I didn't have to keep re-learning this truth I seem to easily forget): Broken really is the best place to be. God is oh so sweet to a broken, contrite heart. And where the Lord took me from there was so amazing.

First, I was convicted of major pride and self-reliance. Some people are scared to death to become parents. I happened to have entered motherhood pretty confident. I was blessed to have been given some relationships and experiences as a nanny that provided great insight into how God's ways work and how other ways don't work, in terms of parenting strategies. I say I was blessed because I really do believe that was a gift from God. I would beg Him during those years before being a mother to use those experiences to teach me and prepare me, and I am full of praise to Him for answering that prayer! I don't want to discount that He really does send wisdom when we're wholeheartedly seeking it. But just like all blessings from God, our human nature can twist them to be something they were never intended to be. And I think the things I've learned about parenting started out as trust in Him but very subtly grew into a major crutch for depending on myself instead. I am just starting to realize how much of myself has been wrapped up in my thoughts on being a godly mother. So it was time for some of that confidence to be stripped away because it had changed from being God-confidence to self-confidence. So the Lord began to strip me of it. And it was not fun.

But it is such a better place to realize I have nothing in myself that can do this mom thing well. I don't have the answers. And while I want to shepherd my child's heart to know and love God, only GOD can actually impress my child's heart with the truth of who He is. Even if I did every single thing right. (Which I don't, of course.) But even if I did, only God has access enough to my child's heart to convict him of right and wrong and to lead him to even want to repent and know Him. So I've been reminded in a huge way that humble prayer is the best I can do for my child. Prayer on behalf of my child's heart. Prayer that God would lead him to understand repentance and want it and that my child would see my love and through it, understand more of God's. Prayer that acknowledges I am not capable of doing any of that myself. That should seem obvious, but if I really lived like that were true, I'd be praying these things a whole lot more! And while it is really scary to stop and think of how little control we have over our children - really NONE on their hearts - it is refreshing to be reminded that God wants my child's heart. He is already after it. He placed Jonah in a home where he'd have parents who desire to teach him the Word. He places things on my heart, specific things, to pray for my child. He is at work in Jonah's life! I am just an assistant! And I'm so blessed to even have that role. I told one friend over the weekend: I really believe God can do so much more with a "Lord, I don't have any clue how to do this. Please do it for me" prayer than He can with a "Lord, here is my this work out well for my child's life" attitude. So I'm learning to depend on Him again. Instead of what I know. Or what I think I know.

A big part of that "new" dependence is letting Him start the conversations on parenting. Instead of my prayers including me "bringing something to the table" and asking Him to bless it, they should be rooted in response to what He shows me in the Word. For several months now, my friend Kelli has been studying what Scripture says about parenting. Not what anyone else says. But just God's thoughts on it. And she's been telling me for a while how blessed she has been by that study...just looking up every single reference to parenting that she can find. She said she was amazed how much there really is that speaks specifically to it. So after last week's breakdown, I felt inspired by her example and have begun to just dive into what God says about it. Who knows how much I've missed of it?! There are several passages in Deuteronomy that stand out to me as reflections of God's heart for parenting. To share those encouragements in this post would be too much and would make this way longer than it is even now, but I'd love to share some of it soon. You can remind me if I forget. =) While I've been dealing with some of these things with the Lord and He's been tenderly taking me through this "stripping" process, He's been gracious to give me some specific nudges....some practical things that need to change in our home's environment, things having to do with schedule, structure, routine, busyness, quality time, etc. So I'm in a process this week of trying to implement and/or re-implement some new habits in our home...ones that I believe will ultimately assist us in best reflecting God's character in our home and family interactions. But it's going to take some work for this tired, pregnant mama to put these new habits in practice!

Also, I believe God certainly doesn't mind using others to relay their practical advice and wisdom! I'm just wanting to stay so connected to Him that I recognize when people's advice is from Him and when it is not, when I should seek it and ask someone for it and when I should not. So this whole new kind of dependence doesn't mean shutting out every voice. I love that He teaches me through others at times! And through various resources. I just want to be careful not to seek those voices before I seek His.

And I have to say that this new sense of being desperate and lacking has really been "paying off" already! There have been numerous instances in just the last few days where I've seen Jonah's heart completely change directions from a desire to do wrong to a desire to do right, and I had nothing to do with it. Just a quick prayer. Of course, I don't judge parenting success by improved outward behavior. My job is not to get him to act right. Not that I need to look at it from an angle of estimation because that is God's job to test his heart, not mine. Plus, my role is a cooperative one and shouldn't be a controlling one. But still, I'm getting to see some examples of God just doing things in my child's life that aren't in any way a result of what I do or know, and I'm loving it! Much thanks to God for allowing me to catch glimpses of those little miracles and for caring enough about my children to break me and change my perspective from one of self-reliance to reliance on Him. I know I'll need help putting on that perspective daily (and the old one will feel so comfortable), so Lord, help me!


Dalene said...

Fantastic stuff. I'll never forget the story of a woman with four grown, amazing Christian children. A godly friend of mine asked her: "what is your secret?" (what "method" did she use?). She said: "I have NO's just God!" I was convicted by that.

Courtney said...

liked this. i would love to hear what verses kelli and you came up with as i have wondered the same thing about what God specifically says about please do let us know.

i know it doesn't matter, but i think jonah is a really great and very well mannered child. God knows your heart and your "method" but from an outsiders perspective (and from hearing your heart just now) you are doing it right (or trying to now) and that is neat to hear and see.

having two is interesting...discipline looks different, maybe parker won't throw'll just be something else...because the reason for discpline exists in us all

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Becky said...

Good thoughts!!! Parenting is tough! And just when you think you have something figured out, it all changes for one reason or another. (A main one being, what works for one rarely works for another - you will soon see!) The only way to figure it out is by dependence on God. I don't know how those without a relationship with God do it!!

Jennifer said...

i like learning from wise mamas. Good thoughts. Do elaborat on the verses when u get time!

khowze said...

Parenting is so overwhelming. I know I can't do it AT ALL without depending on God. I am way too tired and impatient with them if I am not leaning on Him...and I realize quite quickley the days that I don't lean on Him, because they are terrible days. Thanks for your thoughts and insights, and I would love to hear about the versus you found too!