I had assumed I’d be a great mom. I liked kids, came from a large family, was in high demand during my babysitting heyday, and thought of myself as a decently patient individual.
Then I had children.
Desperately turning to the books and the blogs, I put together my game plan for how I was supposed to be navigating these hard and holy trenches of Christian mothering: delighting in my children, sacrificing for my family, “choosing joy,” being appropriately content with dishes and diapers, and reminding everyone how much “children are a blessing” — because my heart was supposed to be full.
In reality though, my hands were full and my heart was weary.
Parenting was really hard for me in ways I just hadn’t expected. I had faced hard things my whole life as obstacles to conquer and overcome, but parenting was different. No powering through by sheer will, no knocking it out and moving on to the next thing, no easy means of measuring my successes. Was I joyful enough? Was I sacrificial enough? Was I content enough? Was I delighting in everyone enough?
God was using parenting to sanctify my stubbornly independent, self-sufficient soul. But quietly, unexpectedly, I simply exchanged one idol for another. I had traded in the American Dream of pursuing a successful career for a more religious version of pursuing perfect parenting. While this idol seemed far more holy and sacrificial, in reality it pointed to myself just as much, and was equally as heavy to carry.
I don’t remember exactly when it hit me. Somewhere around the time we started struggling with secondary infertility, and miscarriage, and parenting really difficult and high-energy toddlers, I realized that while I seemed to be checking all the right boxes, my soul felt as parched and lifeless as it had all those years prior when I’d been running from God.
In attempts to fight against a world that suggests otherwise, we can hear so much about the worth and value of motherhood that it becomes dangerously easy to feel as if motherhood is where we attain our worth and value. Satan is just as happy to see us put motherhood or parenting before God as a successful career or self-fulfillment.
How Beautiful Becomes Barren
When motherhood becomes our main focus rather than seeking Christ before and above all else, we are exchanging truth for lies and carrying burdens we were not designed to carry. Idol-carrying always makes beautiful things into barren things. As I walk this path of parenting God has placed before me, I’ve noticed some of the idolatrous lies I’m particularly prone to clinging to.
1. Family First
We often hear far more about delighting in our children than delighting in the Lord, easily directing our focus away from what should be our source of delight (Psalm 37:4). Our lives must revolve around Christ, not our family, for we cannot nourish their souls if we neglect our own. Be filled first with the joyful, sacrificial, delightful love of Christ and let it overflow into the lives of those around us. We will be significantly better parents and spouses when we do this. Relying on anything else to fill our family is putting our faith and hope for transformation in something other than him.
Whether it’s trying to be a great parent or spouse, being hospitable, making healthy meals, being content in our domestic duties, desiring good behavior from our kids, providing them with a good education — or thousands of other great and godly things — let us count them all as loss compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).
2. Sacrifice Is All God Wants
You don’t have to be a Christian to give up your wants for those you love. However, as children of God, our serving should draw attention from ourselves to our Father. Not shouting from the rooftops that parenting is the world’s most important job, attacking anyone who suggests a stay-at-home mom isn’t the hardest job on the planet, or always reminding our children and spouse how much we do for them.
Sacrifice can be just as intoxicating as pleasure, and both are wasted when they’re self-centered rather than God-exalting. The Pharisees sacrificed to garner attention and respect, touting their way as the most holy way as they focused on the sacrifice itself. Jesus called them fools for thinking their sacrifice itself was somehow intrinsically holy without the desperate act of placing it upon the altar of a holy God who gives it its worth and value (Matthew 23:1–28).
Only when we devote our sacrifice of parenthood to sacred use, for God’s glory, does it become holy.
3. Self Instead of the Spirit
One of the heaviest idols we often carry as parents is the burden of self — the idea that it’s all up to us. That our choices dictate who our children become or what kind of parents we will be. Those choices do matter, but ultimately our trust and reliance on God and the work of his Spirit will shape our children more than anything else we could ever say or do. Commit your parenting to the Lord, trust in him, and watch him act (Psalm 37:5).
Drink from the fountain of God’s free, refreshing peace. And do it in the eyes of your children, praying that the Spirit would lead them to do the same (Isaiah 58:11).
Full Quiver, Barren Heart
Parenthood is not some intrinsic means to becoming more holy (in my case, I’m not sure anything has exposed my deeply-rooted sins so quickly and repeatedly), but it is merely one means God chooses to slowly, often painfully, chip away parts of us that aren’t him. We must not focus so much on the chisel that we forget about the Sculptor. Parenting changes us all, but the true and eternal beauty of it comes from the One whose loving hands are using it to patiently shape us into his image.
We can have a quiver-full of children (Psalm 127:4–5) and yet a heart that is barren and sterile, if we are more consumed by God’s gifts than by him. Our children can (and should) be life-changing blessings, but they will never save our soul. Our transformation is not dependent on any particular season or circumstance, but by tasting and seeing that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), and knowing his words and truth will not return void.
My highest calling is not marriage or motherhood, but to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This does not make all of the weariness of parenting magically disappear, but it should remind us that the source of our strength and worth is not something we could ever fail or lose. It reminds us not to waste the blessings or to despise the weariness, but to give it all back to Christ so he can break it, multiply it, and hand back to us something far greater.