Have you ever had one of those days in which you were: 1. on edge the entire day, 2. (as a result) acutely aware of how prone to sin you were/are, 3. completely helpless to get “off edge”, despite bountiful prayer, time in the Word, prayer, godly parenting books, desperate prayer, reminding oneself of applicable Scripture, and did I say nonstop prayer? That was today. Today was one of those days I’d sooner forget (so of course I’m recording it in the permanent ink of the Internet… go figure), and yet here I am, with nothing left to do but follow the tiny tug inside that says, write. I could attempt to wax eloquent about the grace of God and how trials are so good for the believer and how His mercies are new every morning, and it would all be very true and very biblical and very applicable and currently very un-heartfelt. Just being honest, folks. How thankful I am that God doesn’t wait for my feelings to catch up before He starts digging the ugly out of me. And He’s doing that even now–something I know more from past experience and a dependence on the truth of God’s Word than from a feeling of being cleansed and renewed (hopefully I’ll get there!)–and I am so grateful that I can count on His character that seeks to continually refine and purify me even as my own attempts fail me for the 15 billionth time. Praise God for 15 billionth +1 chances.
I was texting with a fellow trench mama earlier (if you don’t know what I mean by this, please ask me), and I was confessing to her something that God had recently shown me about parenting. As a little background into the way I tend to learn, I’m a big imagery/analogies person and have always enjoyed finding a tangible picture to represent the abstract. Lately I have been thinking a lot about mirrors. The imagery of mirrors (HA! I’m also a fan of irony, even ridiculously punny irony) is used a lot throughout Scripture to help our vain little minds understand things about our selfish selves. I Corinthians talks about our limited understanding and insight here on earth and how much clearer all will be in heaven, and compares our earthly view to a dim mirror. Similarly, Husband and I have been reading through the book of James with our son, and he loves the part about being doers of the Word and not hearers only, like the man who looks in the mirror and goes away and forgets his face. Our son always remembers that analogy. As I think about mirrors and how they apply to my life (in addition to these two passages, obviously), there is only one thing that comes to mind. Ursula the sea witch. (Hey, I didn’t say my analogies were deep or insightful or admirable…they just help me, okay?)
If you’ve seen The Little Mermaid, you might remember how Ursula the sea witch–who is, by the way, one of the most terrifying and interesting villains Disney ever concocted–steals Ariel’s voice and transforms herself into a beautiful woman to entice Prince Eric to marry her. Because she is so beautiful, no one suspects she could really be the hideous, octopus-ish witch…until the mirror incident. Ariel’s seagull friend is flying by a ship where Ursula is getting ready for her wedding, and he sees her looking into the mirror. However, her reflection does not display the beauty everyone else sees; instead, it shows her as her true self: an ugly, bloated, dark fishlike creature. What does this have to do with me, you may wonder? Well, I have come to realize that parenting is the mirror that reflects the deepest, ugliest parts of my heart.
Husband and I have counseled quite a few couples preparing for marriage, and we still maintain that marriage proves to be a great mirror into one’s own selfishness. But parenting? Wow…it reveals sin in my heart that goes beyond selfishness, deeper than insecurity…parenting exposes things in me that I don’t want anyone to see or know about me. Fruits of the Spirit that I thought were the “easy” fruits now seem entirely unattainable. Peace? Not with the constant worrying I do about my kids’ academics, social skills, adjustment, behavior, boogers, sugar intake, future, you name it. Kindness? Doesn’t come so easy when you have wiped someone else’s poop off your arm…again. Goodness? You wouldn’t think me a good person if you could hear the sarcastic and ungrateful stream of commentary running through my head as I wash urine-soaked sheets for the fourteenth morning in a row. Gentleness? Try being gentle after your five-year-old slams the overloaded and uber heavy grocery cart into your pregnant belly while simultaneously running over your bare baby toe. Bless it.
Being a mama puts me into situations that tend to feel like an out of body experience, in which I’m watching someone else’s children drive some other poor lady crazy and watching her sanity unravel, taking all her sweetness and godliness with it. I find myself saying, thinking, doing things I used to say I would never do, back before I was a parent (read my post on giving up plans for more on how that falls apart after the fact). Y’all, I love my kids. I love them in ways that I never even knew existed. None of this has anything to do with my love for them. But it has everything to do with my own sinful heart and the sanctification that comes with REAL HARD LIFE. And parenting is REAL HARD LIFE. Parenting means sacrifice and exhaustion and total laying down of self. Parenting requires patience on steroids and grace out the wazoo. It involves letting go of agendas, plans, and all feelings of self-preservation. Parenting equals more tears, more prayers, more work, more joy, more love, just…more.
Parenting is also recognizing that you are still just a child. A child who still needs frequent discipline. A child who still has so much left to learn. A child who gets it wrong so much more of the time than she gets it right, but who has a Father that never gets it wrong. Parenting is realizing that even though I am utterly sinful and flawed, and that most days I feel like I’m groping around in the darkness and tripping and falling flat on my face, I can…no, I must…depend on MY Father to teach me how to mother. When my eyes are on Him, I don’t have to stare back at the ugly reflection of the depravity in my heart that is mirrored in my sinful parenting. Instead, I get to see myself through His eyes: as a beloved child sealed with the blood of Jesus.
Tomorrow is a new day, with new mercies in the morning, and a clean slate. But more importantly, with my Father as my example and my eyes where they should be, I will also have a clearer mirror. And by His grace, its reflection will show less of me and more of Jesus.