Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Discouragement in the Parenting Journey

While cleaning out some storage yesterday, I happened across my old journals. I got caught up for two hours just pouring over their contents, reminiscing about those early days of rearing our children.

One entry told of how sick I was, how sick the children were, how I just wanted to curl up and die. I had just gotten a nasty upper respiratory virus, the three toddlers were also coming down with it, and looking back at the date of that entry, I realize I was probably three weeks pregnant with our youngest son. NO WONDER I WAS EXHAUSTED!

A later entry told of when I was homeschooling four children in four different grades, running them to co-op meetings and activities all during the week, leading a ladies' Bible study, and working a part-time job. I lamented how the house was a wreck, how I couldn't lose weight, and what a disappointment I was to my poor husband (though he NEVER even hinted such a thing). It was also during that time I began to have signs of endometrial cancer which included 44 straight days of heavy menstrual flow, mood swings from the depths of Hades to the heights of Heaven, and extreme fatigue. NO WONDER I WAS DISCOURAGED!

Like many young mothers, I first felt self pity and then beat up on myself for being such a failure. I have to confess I spent many years of parenting in deep depression. I never cut myself the slack I should have. I was driven by some delusion that my kids would turn their backs on God, my husband would leave me, and God was going to rain His wrath down on my head if I didn't straighten up and fly right.

Then this verse came to mind today as I thought on all those weary years: 
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. ~ 1 John 4:18
As I mulled this verse over and over in my mind, I began to wonder about what key words in it meant: love, fear, torment, perfect.

Love ~ Love seemed pretty easy to define, but then I realized it meant more than just a feeling. It meant actively seeking the ultimate good of the object of affection. If God is love and He says He loves me, then I may be assured He will do all in His power ~ and how awesome is His power! ~ to bring about my good. This led me to Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
What a beautiful promise.

Fear and Torment ~ I put these together because they go together. This type of fear accompanies the type of torment received by being punished for something. This type of fear does not trust in the revealed love of God. This type of fear literally beats us up emotionally. Instead of resting in the knowledge that He is lovingly working His will and way in us, we continually slip back into that servile fear that we will be punished at any given moment for not being perfect. But, there's a remedy for that...

Perfect ~ Interestingly enough, perfect is often misunderstood as meaning the ultimate end itself, while its true meaning is both the process and the outcome. It is better seen in James 1:4
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 
This verse is speaking about the sanctifying of the believer comparable to the growth process of our own children. You can only learn so much from reading books and hearing of others' experiences; it's the on-the-job training which brings about a more mature parent. Therefore, for us to condemn ourselves for not being perfect mothers as our children are first coming along is like a five-year-old condemning herself for not being able to drive a car let alone see over the dashboard. We often set up impossible standards for ourselves, then flail our backs when we fail. It's time to put down the whip.

God's not out to get us. He has proclaimed His love in the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. Everything we are learning and doing while resting in that love is made perfect (mature) over time by His Spirit working in us. Therefore, we can trust that these overwhelming days are only part of the process, and each day is a new beginning. 
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14
There is a work Christ intends to do in us. Putting away those balls and chains of past sins and failures, we must have patience WITH OURSELVES.

However, at this point, I think it is important to have discernment. Immediately following the reminder to be patient with our growth in Christ, James says:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. ~ James 1:5
Sometimes we set up standards for parenting, marriage, housekeeping, and health which are either impossible to ever attain or which are not appropriate for our own situation. Every person is different -- both children and their parents -- and every marriage and family works on a different dynamic than the next. Though mature parents can give out helpful advice from what they have learned over the years, everything they say must be discerned whether or not it is appropriate for your given situation and children.

Yet, finding what doesn't work is like coming upon a closed road. It isn't the end of the journey; it's only an indication you need to find a different route to your destination. Turning around and going back (dwelling on what you "shoulda-woulda-coulda" done), sitting on the side of the road (laying around in depression while your home goes to pot), or giving the wheel to someone else (making your husband or someone else be your kids' mother) will never lead to successful parenting. 

That's where prayer and discernment come in. You pray trusting God to give the answer, and you try different things until the Lord reveals the path of peace. 

If you find yourself struggling in your parenting, let me encourage you to not give up hope. Constantly look to God for His mercy, grace, and peace in the knowledge that He loves you and your family and has a wonderful purpose for you all according to His perfect plan in His perfect timing. May you find joy in your journey knowing this.