My grandson Jakob was just 3 years old when Barack Obama first campaigned for the presidency. On an otherwise quiet morning while I babysat him, Jakob was miserable, sitting in gloom at my kitchen table. In his crabbiness, he struggled hard to find the very worst possible thing that he could say to upset me. Finally– not daring to look directly at me– he stared at the table and muttered, “Nama… I am going to vote for Barack Obama!!”
After his bold outburst, he wouldn’t look directly at me, but sat stone-still, cautiously peering at me through the corners of his eyes to assess my reaction.
Later that morning, under a heavy burden of guilt and trying to appease me, he humbly acknowledged that he was not going to vote for Barack Obama after all. He was going to vote for Ron Paul. I did not know that 3 year-olds were now voting, but nothing in America really surprises me anymore.
His attempt to upset me may have been cute– but even as a 3 year old trying hard to get my goat, Jakob’s sin nature came across loud and clear. Jakob did not begin his life with a neutral moral compass– just a blank slate waiting to be written upon. If only parenting were that easy! The truth is that from the very start, he has experienced the continual pull of a sin nature wanting to deny others and please himself– just like the rest of us have. His parents’ job for the next 18 years of his life is to constantly turn him away from the focus on himself, to the God-centered focus of a pleasant, hardworking, productive Kingdom adult.
It’s a big job. And if this task seems impossible to accomplish… well, that’s because it is– if we’re trying to do it by our own wisdom and ability (which are actually woefully inadequate anyway.) Parenting is the toughest job we’ll likely ever encounter. At the same time, it’s the greatest joy and privilege that we will ever be called to accomplish– but it’s totally impossible if we think we can do it on our own.
When I first found out that Jakob– our first grandchild– was on the way, I could hardly contain myself. Our expectant daughter and son-in-law were living 15 hours away at the time, yet hearing about her doctor’s reports or her efforts at preparing the baby’s room for arrival were awesome. There was so much happiness in the anticipation of grand-parenthood! I was the last of six siblings to become a grandparent, and could not wait to share funny grandchild stories like my sisters did.
Near the end of my daughter’s pregnancy, my sisters and nieces hosted a baby shower for her. Watching her open gifts of newborn outfits, children’s storybooks and toys was exhilarating and fun. Then she opened a gift– a parents’ devotional book– from some of her cousins, and inside the front cover, my nephew Tim had drawn a little sketch. There was a very large oval shape beside a very small doughnut shape. He labeled the shapes ‘watermelon’ and ‘Cheerio,’ and calmly wrote under them, “Your goal is to push the watermelon through the Cheerio. God bless you.”
Seriously– in that one moment, reality hit me hard. Agghh!! What was she thinking!!?? Doesn’t she understand how impossible this is! It’s absolutely crazy! Here she was– my precious daughter, committed to an absolutely impossible task! She could not back out… and I could not do it for her…
This was reality, and frankly, it was very, very sobering.
Now– more than ten years and four children later– my daughter would likely say that childbirth was the easy part. She called me one morning recently, in tears of frustration. “Ethan kept waking up all night long… I’m totally exhausted from such a terrible night’s sleep… now he’s crying because he doesn’t want cereal for breakfast… two temper tantrums… two crying fits… and it’s only 8:30 in the morning! How am I going to get through this day!?”
“Ethan had a tempter tantrum…???” I meekly blurted out, surprised.
She lowered the pitch of her voice to a calmer level and stated, exasperated, “Mom…I’m talking about me!!”
Yes, mothers have days like that. All mothers do. And on the days when you hit a wall, motherhood seems absolutely impossible, and you feel like you just can’t do it– cheer up, because you’re right. It is impossible! Really… it is impossible.
I mean, honestly– just think about the irony of what God has called you to do: you begin motherhood with a small, squirmy, totally helpless, totally dependent little baby who can’t communicate. You probably don’t have any experience, and you’re overwhelmed with the crash of hormones trying to scramble for balance after such a monumental birth experience.
And your job for the next 18 years will be to care for, teach, and train this child to become an articulate, hard-working, productive, God-centered man or woman who will impact his-or-her world for the glory of God.
No, wait. That’s too easy. Let’s try that again…
You begin motherhood with a small, squirmy, totally helpless, totally dependent, uncommunicative, totally self-centered baby who comes wrapped up in a sin-nature and has the propensity to choose what is wrong every time.
Consider too, that you don’t have the advantage of being able to practice on some disposable children first, or have the chance to test your theories against the Scientific Method before you form conclusive, surefire, tried-and-true ideas. You only have one chance. You have to do it right the first time.
Then shape him or her into a hard-working, productive, God-centered man or woman who will impact his-or-her world for the glory of God.
Right. This assignment is impossible! It’s enough of a challenge to drive you to your knees!
And drive us to our knees it should…
…because the good news is that God specializes in “impossible situations.” In fact, He actually seems to delight in those crazy, impossible situations. Frankly, impossible situations seem to be the prefered tools God uses to forge us into the intensely God-focused, truly Theo-centric Kingdom participants we’re called to be.
I am constantly amazed that God would give parents such an intense, demanding, challenging, impossible, albeit wonderful task– and yet He calls us to accomplish it by recognizing our inability, by turning away from self-sufficient efforts, and by constantly leaning into His grace, His mercy, His wisdom, His strength made perfect in our terrible weakness.
The task of parenthood can only be truly successful when it’s God-centered, not man-centered. And refusing to be man-centered means resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others (you will always end up demoralized.) Other mothers don’t have it all together either, and they are not our standard of measurement even when they appear as though they do. They don’t have the sure-fire answers for success, and neither do we. Only God does, and He constantly, graciously forgives and redeems our mistakes and failures. Thank God that He does!
Jesus calls us to humble ourselves like little children. In Matthew 18 and again in 19, Jesus affirmed the little children, saying, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Hmmm… the humble, the helpless, the dependent, the weak, the imperfect…These are what demonstrates the Kingdom of Heaven?
Immediately after, he was approached by the rich young man who boasted in his own ability to keep God’s law, yet still could not bring himself to separate from his riches– his glory, the product of his own sufficiency, his great distraction. Jesus took note, and reminded his disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for such a one to enter the Kingdom of God.
The call of God on your life as a mother is the most amazing ministry you will ever know. You are called– by God’s grace– to accomplish the impossible. After the young man walked away sorrowful, Jesus went on to say to his disciples that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to part with his riches and enter the Kingdom of God. To the disciples, it seemed impossible for anybody to be therefore saved, but Jesus reminded them that, “With man [i.e. with man-centered faith], this is impossible, but with God [i.e. with God-centered Faith] all things are possible.” And that’s exactly how it is with the seemingly “impossible” task that He has given to us too. Yes indeed. Thanks be to God!
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