Math is not my forte. As an English major in college I tried to get out of as many math credits as possible. It wasn’t always the concepts that frustrated me; it was the process. All the long complicated steps it took to solve one problem overwhelmed me.
I have one big math problem taking over my life right now; namely, potty training my two-year-old. I just want the problem solved and don’t want to deal with the process. It’s hard to navigate all the failures, setbacks, and change. Yet, potty training is just a taste of the larger process of the Christian life. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says,
We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I believe parenthood is one of the good works God has prepared for me to walk in. And yet, not all of my days feel all that good.
I get angry at my oldest son when he disobeys. I’m annoyed when the baby interrupts my morning cup of coffee. I fight to not view my children as inconveniences in my life. In summary, I am not the perfect parent. But I know one who is.
A Better Mother Than Me
God is the only one who models perfect parenthood to us and to our children. God says he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). I love my son, but because of sin in my life, I don’t love him perfectly. Sometimes I might discipline him out of anger.
It is not so with God. His motives are always pure, and his reproof always comes from an overflow of love. His shepherd’s staff is a rod of blessing bent for our highest good. As human parents, we are not always discerning enough to know what the highest good is for our children, but we can rest in the all-knowing God who guides us according to his perfect wisdom.
God Never Gives Up
Not only is God perfect in his discipline, but he’s perfect in patience. I thought I was a patient person until motherhood revealed my true colors. My children know how to push my buttons, but God isn’t fazed by pushed buttons. No matter what sinful attitudes and behaviors we throw at him, he never throws them back, but absorbs them.
He is the God who bore with generation after generation of Israel’s rebellion. They worshiped a golden calf, complained, and over and over didn’t trust their heavenly Father, and yet he carried them into the Promised Land. Unlike me in my mothering, he never gives up and never gives in.
A Message More Important Than Mothering
So, how should parents respond to falling short of God’s perfection?
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. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
We cannot boast, so it should bring us to our knees in humility. No amount of parental advice and methods can make us perfect for our children. We must be humble and full of grace, because we are more like our children than we are like our heavenly Father. Parents and children are both wrought with weakness and needy for grace.
We must be humble as we train our children — apologizing when we do wrong, admitting our sin, and asking for their help. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, only a repentant one. We can live out the gospel with our children every day by showing them what it’s like to die to our sin. We can confess and pursue change before them, while being brought to life in the joy of forgiveness. We can model being gladly obedient while resting in the assurance of our already attained perfection through Christ’s death and resurrection. When we choose to humble ourselves before our children, we are living out the gospel they need far more than they need us.
The Mother’s Simple, Yet Difficult Math
If perfection has been attained for us through Christ already, then why does Paul say in the very next verse, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10)?
Now that we have Christ’s perfection protecting us from God’s wrath, we can embrace the process of becoming more like Christ. Our works are now passed on through the nail-pierced hands of Christ to the throne of God. Therefore, we can bring him glory in our homes, not perfectly by any means, but humbly and even powerfully. We can be confident that, though we fail, God will see to it through the Holy Spirit that we walk in good works too.
As parents, our works will never make us good enough for God or our children. Once we believe this truth, we can walk in the fullness of God’s good works for us. He has saved us for these works — the gentle, but firm discipline for disobedience, the willingness to be interrupted and sacrificed for our little ones, the patience and persistence in the face of inconvenience. We must embrace the process of becoming what we already are until we are complete in God’s presence.
Mothers, the biggest math problem in history has already been solved for us, but God is still calling us to the tough job of working out that problem every day.