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Hanging on By a Thread

parenting the wholehearted child

Some days are easier than others.

At least that’s what the flight attendant said, in her most compassionate voice, when she noticed the defeated look on my face. Hungry, tired, and fragile, I’d boarded the late night flight home with my three young children, knowing it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Within minutes of the cabin door closing, my fellow passengers (I was sure) decided I had no business being a parent as my children relentlessly argued with one another and ignored my every word. It was not one of my finer parenting moments, but it was reflective of one of my typical “I am just hanging on by a thread” kind of days.

Perhaps you know the feeling?

It’s no wonder. While you are just barely catching your breath under the crushing pressure to get it all right (or else!), the covert message:

“Do more and try harder to be perfect parents raising perfect kids” awaits you at every corner.

Facebook posts and pristine Christmas cards, though created in love, remind you that everyone else is doing this parenting thing just a little bit better than you.

Even in Christian circles, various well-intentioned blogs, books, and speakers have confused the commission to follow Christ’s perfect example with the lie that our children’s hearts are wholly dependent on our perfect performance as parents.

Can I get an amen?

This was a hot topic in my women’s Bible study group last fall. So many of our conversations led to our insecurities as mothers and the shame that ensues from feeling like we’re never enough or (gasp!) that we’re too much. If there was anything we all agreed on, it was how parenting reveals our greatest weaknesses – how emotions and reactions we were once only casually acquainted with (such as anger, impatience, or guilt) suddenly became our closest friends when we became parents.

Indeed, a merciless critic lives in all of us. A critic that causes us to wonder, “How did these precious children get stuck with a parent like me?” A critic that, if we allow it, keeps us in a vicious cycle of “do more, be better, and try harder” to be a perfect mom raising perfect kids. Yes, I know that merciless critic all too well. Perfectionism had become an idol in my life, and it was stealing all of our joy.

While I had surrendered my heart to Jesus in my childhood, I hadn’t been living in the freedom of His grace, and I definitely wasn’t parenting our kids in the freedom of His grace. I may have started my day with a prayer that went something like, “Lord, I am Yours. I lay this day at Your feet and ask You to make my heart Your home,” but I quickly got lost in a stream of self-reliance.

Rather than casting my anxiety on Jesus (1 Peter 5:7) and trusting in Him to direct my path (Proverbs 3:5–6), I was relying only on my own effort and only on my own understanding. In all of my reading of those countless parenting books, my goal was to fix, to control, and to perfect our family.

And why?

Because long ago I bought stock in the expression, “Your life is God’s gift to you, and what you do with your life is your gift to God.”

I thought my gift to God was trying to be, act, think, and parent perfectly.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing that, as C. S. Lewis put it, “God doesn’t want something from us. He simply wants us.” So naturally I became determined to perfect my behavior, rather than allow God’s grace to transform my heart. I was determined to perfect our children’s behavior too, rather than captivate their hearts with His love and grace.

Better said, I was focused on teaching my kids what they had to do for Jesus rather than teaching them what Jesus has already done for them through His death on the cross and His resurrection. I wasn’t giving my kids the grace that God so lavishly gives us in Jesus Christ.

All the while, Jesus was patiently waiting for me to listen just long enough to hear His gracious voice whispering, “Jeannie, my beloved child, I am your perfection. You can stop performing, and you can stop pretending; that is what my grace is for.”

And once I was finally able to surrender, which didn’t happen easily and didn’t happen overnight, my heart found the rest it craved in the glorious truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9:

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.

His grace, His saving grace, is sufficient, and His divine power is displayed and even made perfect in my weaknesses as a mom.

The burden, the angst, the striving – exchanged for joy, for hope, for peace. All extraordinary gifts given when our hearts surrender to His grace.

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Your Turn

Do you ever feel like you’re hanging on by a thread as a parent? How do you combat that feeling and remind yourself of God’s gifts and grace in your life?