My husband and I were married for almost a decade before our daughter arrived. In the years leading up to her birth, every week at our team meeting one of our colleagues prayed, “Father, give Seumas and Rachel a child so they can experience the great love of a parent, so they can be even more amazed that you sacrificed your Son.”1 2
While I do definitely love my child, I’m sorry to report that I haven’t reached any amazing, previously unknown heights of adoration. I have reached new levels of anger though. It’s astonishing how quickly my blood can go from body temperature to boiling when my child disobeys me, and how tempting it can be to give in to the rage. In the moment it feels almost righteous: I am in charge of you, I am doing a good thing for you, how dare you defy me?
But it is decidedly not righteous of me to furiously judge another human for insubordination and disobedience, especially one that hasn’t mastered reliably forking rice into her mouth.
Having had few major sins done against me in my life, I’ve always had the luxury of considering myself a very magnanimous person. The unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 horrified me. How could he be so lacking in self-awareness, that he would choke—choke!—someone for a lesser offence than he had himself been forgiven for?
But, sadly, there have been days when I’ve felt very much like dishing a little violence out to my daughter, to punish her for upsetting me. Just like the unforgiving servant, despite being freed of the debt of death I owed, I want to start extracting small payments from those around me. The hypocrisy is incredible, revealing the ugliest part of me—the sinful heart that has been mine all along but that I imagined wasn’t there because I am a nice person.
Rather than forcing my child to tremble before me, I do much better by her and myself if I turn back to God and bear all of my shame before him. He knew it was there well before I did. He knows that I cannot make myself nice and kind. He knows that any real love that this branch bears is a fruit of the vine, the Spirit, not Rachel. He knows how to cut the darkness out of me, to prune me well.
Of course, I would be doing my daughter a further wrong if I never corrected her, never provided appropriate penalties, never allowed her to learn from the consequences of her actions. I am pruned and disciplined by my Father who loves me; it would be a cruel parent indeed who never redirected their child from doing wrongs. But I can’t perform that responsibility correctly or usefully when I let my ire make decisions for me. In fact, a punishment meted out by anger only means that the original opportunity to address bad behaviour is entirely buried by my own poor conduct.
Something I’ve been trialling when it has been tempting to snap and yell is to pray “Holy Spirit, hold my temper!” This has been helpful because I know he can, especially when it feels very much like I can’t, but it also reminds me that I’ve been properly equipped to avoid sin, and I shouldn’t pretend it’s inevitable and excusable. It prompts me to get God involved.
I am not a mantra person, but having an emergency prayer for help, pre-prepared but every word from the heart, is not a reliance on an incantation but a reminder of my role in my own life and in my daughter’s life. I am not here to teach her how lovely a mother I am, or how good a person she can be. God has granted me the task of showing her who is truly kind and strong, and how he has invited us to becoming more like Christ by being made new. I am on solid ground when I acknowledge that the Spirit is where any human goodness comes from.
The experience of having a child has taught me to appreciate the incredible mercy of God. I am a toddler, totally reliant on him for living another day but simultaneously refusing to do a single thing that he asks, even the things I’ll enjoy. What wrath he could feel towards me! I deserve all the wooden spoons in the world. But rather than yell, he extends grace, over and over, to anyone who will receive it. Unlike a parent benefiting from the few minutes of timeout as much as the child, he gains no relief from seeing people in hell, wishing instead that they had chosen to be gathered into his arms.
So as a parent I am grateful over and over to God. Grateful for this funny little person who makes me laugh more than she drives me nuts.3 Grateful that I can see myself more clearly, uproot more disaster from my soul. Grateful that God chooses to keep me in his family even when I am kicking and screaming. And grateful that he did sacrifice his own son for me, out of the immense love that he calls us all to experience, parent or not.
1. Every. Week.↩
2. Also, I miss you Jay!↩
3. Dear grown-up bubba, if you ever stumble upon this, I love you, even when I drive you nuts.↩