Before church, my daughter had a problem. She had been asked to serve, and she didn’t want to. She wanted to see her friends. She was wearing a cute new top and wanted people to see it. She wanted to sit in her usual place and see her usual people. But she knew she would be sequestered in the land of diapers and Goldfish crackers and apple juice that never quite stays in the sippy cups. As she complained about the task set before her, I immediately recognized a spiritual problem. My first inclination was to attack, being so sure of my “rightness” in the matter. To tell you the truth, all of the spiritual ammunition was loaded in my mind, ready to properly shame her for not being eager to serve. But, for whatever reason, I held off. I stayed quiet. I let her say her piece, and as she walked into the other room to find her shoes I realized that the real reason I didn’t unload all of my “rightness” on the child is because I often feel the exact same way on my day to volunteer in the nursery.
Or when I’m asked to chair some church committee or to reach out to someone I don’t quite understand or to get way out of my comfort zone and cook for someone. There are plenty of ways that I am asked to serve that don’t come naturally to me, and there are also plenty of days when I am just not all that eager to serve the church or serve the Lord. It was as if my daughter’s honesty in the moment was preaching a sermon to me, not just about her spiritual state, but my own.
Parenthood can be like holding a mirror to your spirit, painfully revealing that the issues you so quickly recognize in your children are also alive and well within you. As a mother, I easily see the flaws in my children, spiritual weaknesses and bad attitudes, and I’m quick to point them out, too. It’s easy to take the high road as a parent, to pretend that you are the spiritual guru who is beyond such problems. You can put on quite a show, talking to your children as if you don’t have the same struggles. Trust me, I’ve done it on many an occasion. But, that isn’t how true discipleship happens in our homes.
In truth, most often when my children are struggling spiritually, if I’m honest with myself in the moment, I completely understand what they’re going through and why, because I have been there. A lot. And trying to pretend that I don’t still wrestle with the flesh, with my own selfishness and my own agenda is just ridiculous, because these children live with me. They saw me throw that tantrum before Easter service a couple years ago when my camera was malfunctioning. They have seen me driving to church with a rotten attitude because we are running late. And, yes, they have even heard me complain to my husband about having to miss the church service to rock babies in the nursery.
She re-entered my bedroom as I was engrossed in of all of these thoughts. She asked me to help her with her hair. I could tell that she was trying to readjust her attitude. Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s reminders of my own spiritual problem, while I twisted her hair back and fluffed her natural waves, I gently, gently spoke with her about how I often feel the same way. I talked with her about how we sometimes wonder what would be willing to do for God: would we go to Africa for Him? Would we take a bullet for Him? Yet, we often aren’t even willing in our hearts to serve Him in the most pleasant of ways, like rocking babies in a cheery church nursery. Essentially, I was preaching to myself. The Holy Spirit weaved His precious truth through both of our hearts as we stood there in front of the mirror together, an aging mother and a beautiful teenager in a cute new top.
After church I asked her how the nursery went. She had fun. She told me funny stories about the kids. God blessed as she served, as He always does.
In my younger years, the scene before church would have played out differently. Her attitude would have pushed me toward my ever-ready pride. I would have preached with an iron tongue and a too-firm heart. I would have spoken from a place of self-righteous indignation. But as I’ve grown as a mother and as a follower of Jesus, more often now the spiritual problems I see in my kids drive me toward humility. I’m more willing to look into that mirror now that reflects my own spiritual struggles, and God grants more tenderness in the moment. I’ve learned that the real work of discipleship is more difficult than I first imagined: it has to include a willingness to crack open my own heart and allow my kids to peek inside. It isn’t pretty in there. But it is real. And it’s what they need if I’m going to point them to Christ in any believable kind of way.
As Christian parents, it’s far too easy for us to become puffed up and prideful when dealing with our children. Or maybe it’s just me. But I’m thankful that fifteen years into this gig God is continuing to show me how much spiritual progress He can make in me as a mother. Being large and in charge has its place in Christian parenthood I suppose, but more often than not the path to our kids’ hearts is paved with humility, gentleness, and spiritual eyesight, especially as they grow older. We grow and change as we allow parenthood to push us toward humility and reliance on a good God who loves us in spite of our own heart troubles. May we resist the urge to convey the lie to our children that we would never think, say, or do some wrong thing. Actually, we could and probably have. We can admit our own shortcomings while also pointing our children to the truth of God’s word. To do one without the other is not true discipleship.
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