As I prepared for the birth of our first child ten years ago, I was so sure that I was going to do this right. I read all the books. My husband and I talked about how we would never let our kids stay up too late or become picky eaters. I washed every article of baby clothing and reorganized the changing table everyday trying to find just the right combination that would ensure quick and uncomplicated diaper changing. I had it all figured out. I knew exactly what to do. I was armed with lots of information and fueled by a desire to prove that I could master the whole raising another human thing.
Yes, I’m sure the other mothers were thinking just what you’re thinking right now. “This girl doesn’t have a clue.” And I didn’t.
Many days, I still don’t.. Do you ever feel this way, or am I the only one? Do you ever start the day with zeal and purpose only to go to bed with feelings of failure? I do. Sometimes, I lie awake and think about all the ways I failed to do the right thing. I think about the harsh words I spoke, the discipline I failed to give, the chores that I procrastinated to do (but will still be there in the morning). Instead of rejoicing in my children, I shroud myself in guilt from all the ways I am failing them.
The words, “I should…” are usually followed by an expectation of what we think we are supposed to be doing, but also know that we are falling short to do.
I should not let my kids have so much sugar.
I should get up earlier.
I should make them read more books.
I should be more consistent with discipline.
I should buy organic.
I should pray with them more.
I should encourage more.
I should not yell so much.
I should be more organized.
I should be more involved.
I should make time for one-on-one conversations.
I should quit working and be home with them.
I should get a job so we can give them a better life.
I should stop eating Kit-Kats alone in the laundry room.
Oh goodness. We could fill up pages with all the things we feel like we should or should not be doing as mothers. The weight of guilt presses in and crushes our hearts. We walk with slumped shoulders, hoping our failures are not as obvious to everyone else.
Can we pause for a moment and examine our theology? I know, that seems out of left field, but hang with me for a moment.
If our belief is that we are failures as mothers because of the list of things we are not doing right, then we don’t really understand the gospel. If failing to keep all of the “mommy rules” is leaving us feeling guilty and ashamed, then we don’t really understand all that Jesus has done. As believers we agree that Jesus’ death on the cross has freed us from sin, but we seem to act as though the guilt is still ours to reckon with.
Truthfully, you and I should do better, and there are some things you and I shouldn’t be doing. There was a man in the Bible named Paul who wrestled with his sin as well. In Romans 7, he expresses his frustration with his struggle to not do the things that his new nature in Christ hated.
The problem is not so much what we are or aren’t doing. The problem is when we believe that our success or failure depends on whether or not we are keeping up with the list of rules we labor under. Many of these rules are good, springing from the heart of God, others are simply the forced agenda of the latest trends in mom culture. In either case, the truth is that neither your righteousness nor success depends on your ability to do the right things and not do the wrong things.
The beauty of being mom in light of the gospel, is that the work of motherhood ceases to feel so much like labor that he has tasked us with, and instead becomes a beautiful space that God invites us to join with him in as we labor along side the Father in this mystery of co-creating.
If the work were all up to you, Jesus would not have needed to come. His work is worthless if you can do this yourself. But you can’t. So Jesus came. His work was needed. He came with mercy to forgive the things you’ve done (and will do), and grace to help you do the things you should do, but can’t. The Apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Because we often lack the faith to believe this is true, we need to hear this often. Daily even. Milton Vincent writes in his book, A Gospel Primer for Christians,
“There is simply no other way to compete with the forebodings of my conscience, the condemnings of my heart, and the lies of the world and the Devil than to overwhelm such things with daily rehearsings of the gospel.”
It is too easy to slip back into a works-based belief system of living. We are too eager to make our lists and check the boxes on our way to righteousness. The result when we do things well on our own strength is pride. Then when we fail, the result is guilt and condemnation. Neither of these is what Christ died to give us. He died to make us alive in him (Eph. 2:5). That means everyday is lived from the righteous standing that we have received, in Christ. We are new creations, in him. And as a result of our new life in him, there are good works he prepared for us to do, not so that we would continue to be found righteous, but because through Christ we are already made right. He makes us righteous first, then invites us to do good works. Good works are the result of righteousness, not the means to become righteous. We do the things we should because God has had mercy on us and saved us. We desire to live in a way that honors him, not because we are good, but because he is good.
So when we fall into bed at night, before we evaluate all of our failures of the day, we must pause and remember this truth. We are right with God, because he has done for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. That is the best news I have ever heard. I can get a solid night’s sleep with that knowledge. I know that on my best day, I still fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), but rather than sink into despair, I can trust in the work of Jesus and rest in his love for me. And if you really want to explode your brain, realize that the ability to trust in his work is not even something we are capable of doing, but God gives us the gift of faith to believe this truth as well!
So, if today your children are having sugary cereal for breakfast for the third day in a row (like mine) and you feel a twinge of guilt (like I do) that you didn’t cook up some cage-free, non-GMO, organic eggs with a side of locally grown berries, and quinoa remember that you are not enslaved to the guilt-ridden, mom-made rules of excellent parenting, but are free to find your identity and worth in the work of Jesus! What’s even better, is that the real sin, the stuff that is actually offensive to God, such as our unrighteous anger, our unfair judgment of others, our nagging, our addictions, and all the other junk we hate, yet are still wrestling with, has been covered by his sacrifice and blood shed on the cross. We don’t have to live in guilt and shame of any of that either, which is a much bigger deal than our silly list of rules. We are completely and wholly free to live righteously in Christ.
My prayer for you this week is that you will speak the truth of the Gospel to yourself daily. I pray that as we come into the season of celebrating Christ’s work on the cross, that you would live as a woman completely forgiven of sin and set free from guilt. I pray you remember that your standing with God has nothing to do with what you’ve done and has everything to do with what Jesus has done, on your behalf, in your place. I pray that you will receive the faith to believe that Jesus’ work is enough. Rest in Him, dear Mama.
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ - so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:10-14