Dang. I was doing so well. Every day at dinner we were reading through the Gospel of Mark. Some days, there was nothing they wanted to talk about and that’s all good because we were still hearing God's words and becoming familiar with the Gospels. Other days, there were lots of questions and thoughts to share which is great.
‘OK’, I thought with satisfaction. ‘We're in a groove. We can do this.’ I was pleased, gratified, excited even, that I was doing something with my children that worked for us and was firmly in the bracket of ‘good Christian parenting’.
But then the wheels fell off. December hit and chaos reigned. Work went later. Dinner got quicker—chuck it in the oven, chuck it on the plate and get back to what else needed to be done. That’s when the mum-guilt kicks in. 'I’m so bad at this. I can’t keep anything going. I’m such a failure.'
I’m the kind of person who goes on a diet, does well for a while but once I fall off the wagon, then that it. It’s all over and I give up. I can’t do that with parenting. When I give up on a diet it’s about me—my anxieties and feelings of failure. When it comes to leading my kids in Christ it is quite self-absorbed to think I have failed, as though it were all about me. On three different counts, I need to take myself out of the equation and re-focus.
1. Accept a gentle rebuke
My children come from God and my parenting is in him. When I am high fiving myself because I got our family into a groove, I've also put myself in the place of God. Being pleased is OK. Taking the credit builds me up higher than I should be. So bizarrely, I always appreciate a wheels-off moment because it reminds me to lean on God again instead of myself. As I reset, I need to do so prayerfully, acknowledging his power and sovereignty rather than my own. I need to ask for his wisdom and his strength. I need to ask him to give us the self-control and discipline to stay on course.
I do wonder sometimes if a wheels-off moment is a gentle kick in the behind from God to remind me that I’m leaning a bit too much on my own understanding rather than on him. I should not see it as my failure. I should see it as an opportunity to reset with God at the centre of our spiritual life instead of me.
2. Be the facilitator, not the centre
Strange to think about it this way, but Mary, the mother of Jesus, was faced with the same sorts of things. As a mum, how could she not be? On one occasion, she actually loses Jesus. The family had been in Jerusalem for the Passover:
‘After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.’ (Luke 2:43–46)
Can you imagine? I bet the thought makes your stomach churn and your chest tighten. I can almost feel the anger Mary must have felt when she found him—the anger that comes from utter relief. And Jesus wasn't just her child. He was the Son of God himself. She doesn't say ‘I failed. I can’t do this. I’m not the right mum for the son of God.’ No. She ‘treasured these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:51) and carried on, because that’s what she needed to do. This child had been given to her to raise, not because it was about her, but because she was the right person. Not because her life was sorted and she’d have her house clean constantly and be able to do devotions every day. She was faithful. The child was gifted to her to raise.
Our children are gifted to us. God gave us our children to raise but not because we are perfect. God knows us better than we know ourselves. Stuff will always happen. the house will always reach a level of chaos. Every routine will always be disrupted. We just reset and carry on. Because it is not about us. Just as it wasn’t about Mary. It’s about God. And it’s about our children. I’m the facilitator. I’m the guide. I’m the teacher and nurturer. I am not the centre.
3. Remember what you are doing it for
Pivotally, the aim is not the doing of devotions in and of itself. Having the outward trappings of a spiritual life with the kids is not about me and what I can achieve as a parent. Granted, to some extent it has to be that. I am the parent after all, and I have to lead them. But sometimes in the chaos we can reduce the spiritual journey down to a to-do list and forget why we’re doing it.
We’re doing this so our children can know God and grow in relationship with him. We can look again at the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus had been lost and then found in the temple:
‘And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.’ (Luke 2:52)
Jesus’ public ministry began when he was about 30 years old. Until that time, he was quietly growing in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and those around him. He was learning. He was developing.
Obviously, our children are not Jesus, but we are facilitating their growth in godly wisdom and character and their relationship with God and their community. That journey of growth will probably not be a straight one that is built on doggedly doing devotions at dinner every day. It will include lots of different things.
But the journey must keep going. So don’t give up. It is not a parenting fail. If the wheels have fallen off for you too—or even if they have never been on—reset with God at the centre, be the facilitator and guide your children need and remember the bigger picture.
We always think of a reset in terms of the calendar. We can turn over a new leaf in the New Year, or at the beginning of the month. There’s no need to wait. God is there always. We can approach him any time to help us refocus and reset.
So take a deep breath. Close your eyes and pray. And reset.
Ruth Baker is a single mum of two boys. She blogs at ‘Meet me where I am’ and is the author of Are We There Yet? (ArkHouse Press, 2020).
For more articles from Growing Faith, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.
To hear about the latest books and resources from Youthworks Media, subscribe here.