It had been a long and trying day where nothing went the way it should. I must have corrected the kids every five minutes. After refereeing fights and cleaning up messes all day, I was exhausted, irritated, and impatient.
Sitting at the dinner table that evening, it was my oldest son’s turn to give thanks. When I heard him say,
“And God, could you please help mommy to be patient with us?”
I realized I wasn’t the only one affected by our difficult day. I was part of the problem.
Before I had children, I considered myself a patient person. Having worked with children professionally, I felt confident in my ability to interact with them. I assumed that working with troubled children would automatically qualify me for parenting. It was soon after I had my first child that I realized just how wrong I was.
How Can Parenting Be So Hard?
When my kids were small, I couldn’t understand why things weren’t going as they should. I read all the books. I followed each method and step listed on the pages. I did everything I was told to do. But my children didn’t always sleep the way the experts said they would. They didn’t potty train in a day. I’m not convinced they’ve learned their manners. And they didn’t (and still don’t) do what I say the first time.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it all. When parents seek to raise their children in a godly way, how can parenting still be so hard? But If I believe that God is sovereign, then I must believe he is sovereign even over all the challenges I have with my children. If they have a rough day, whine, complain, and don’t get along, it is not outside his control.
Refine and Transform
While I used to despair over my children’s imperfect sleep patterns, rambunctious behavior, and failure to say please and thank you, I now realize there is a greater purpose—-my refinement. Each struggle, each exhausting day, each behavioral problem, is an opportunity for me to grow in my faith. God uses my children as mirrors to reflect to me the sin I didn’t realize resides in my heart. He is in fact using my own kids to refine and transform me.
Parenthood is tilling the soil in my heart, weeding out the sins that keep me from growing in faith. Some of the roots run deep and have entangled themselves around my heart. Before having children, I didn’t realize how deeply rooted sins like impatience, selfishness, and irritability grew in the sin-fertilized soil of my heart. It took the challenges of raising children to reveal them to me.
This weeding is sometimes a painful process. Like the tough layers of leathery dragon skin that Aslan pulled from Eustice to restore him back to a boy, the process of seeing my sin and having it rooted out of my heart is painful. Yet it is so necessary.
Parenting With God’s Grace
But even as God reveals my sins of impatience, irritability, and selfishness, he also reveals his grace. When my children are easily distracted and I respond with impatience, not only does the Spirit reveal that sin to me, he also points out to me all the ways God is patient with my own distracted heart. When struggles in parenting reveal my sin of irritability, it also shows me God’s endless forbearance. When the weeds of selfishness become apparent in my heart, I also see how selfless Christ was for me at the cross.
Time and again, the gospel of grace covers my sin, bringing me back to the cross of Christ. Jesus knew I could never be a perfect mom. He knew I couldn’t respond to my children with love and grace at every moment. He knew I’d have days where I would fail. And that’s why he came. At the cross he suffered for every time I am impatient, for every time I fail to teach and train my children, and for every time I don’t love them as he loves them.
Parenting is Hard for a Reason
Parenting is hard. But as I’ve learned, it is hard for a reason. God is in the process of making all things new, including our hearts. He is pruning, weeding, and tilling the soil in our hearts to make us increasingly like Christ. One day, his work will be complete, and we’ll see the breathtaking result of his refining work in us. The weeds will be gone, and our sin will be no more.
That day when I came face to face with my sins at the dinner table, I count it as grace. For it is God’s gracious love that desires to rid me of the sins that keep me from him. And after my son prayed, I asked him for grace and forgiveness for my impatience that day. Reminding him that I am sinner just as he is, I used the opportunity to point him to the grace of Christ who bore all our sins on the cross.
May we all embrace the challenges of parenting, knowing that each frustrating moment is an opportunity for growth—-one pulled weed at a time.
A version of this piece originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition, published with permission.