My kids and I love going to the library. It’s one of our happy places, and we can spend hours there immersed in good books. The library is quiet and peaceful.
One day the kids ran ahead of me into the quiet and peaceful library while I stayed near the entrance, in the vestibule between the two sets of sliding glass doors that opened into the main part of the library. I was on the phone with my mom, and we were arguing, so I waited to enter.
After a few minutes of heated back and forth, I was startled by the appearance of one of the librarians peering down at me from the second floor. He politely asked me to lower my voice, and that’s when it hit me: the vestibule was not enclosed. Between the sliding doors, from the first floor to the second floor, sound carried all the way up. The poor folks on the second floor could hear every.single.word of my argument with my mom.
I felt humiliated.
My mother and I have had a rocky relationship for most of my life. As much as I’ve wanted to have a tender and close friendship with her, it has been fraught with conflict. My parents divorced when I was seven, and I still have a lot of unresolved anger over how they treated each other and how they treated me throughout the ordeal, especially because some of the decades-old patterns still play into my adult life.
This impacted my views on motherhood. Before becoming a mother, the one thing that scared me the most was the thought that I was doomed to have a similar rocky relationship with my children. I was sure I was destined to repeat what had happened with me and my mom. I thought maybe I even deserved it. So I made a resolution—I resolved to fix all of my mother issues before I gave birth to my first child. Whether through fire by the Holy Spirit or by sheer will power, I was determined to be a soft-spoken, non-nagging, “safe” type of mom; the kind a daughter would turn to in her time of greatest need; the kind who would turn the other cheek during the tumultuous teenage years; the kind who would dispense wisdom and homemade cookies with ease and frequency. And the kind whose children would rise up and call her “blessed!”
It didn’t happen.
Instead, I started struggling right away with anger in my parenting style. I had three kids in just a little over three years. There was a lot of crazy during the early years, and I would lose my temper more often than I care to admit. Now that my kids are older I am seeing more clearly the detrimental effects that my anger and frustration have had on them. I worry about ruining them for life. And it breaks my heart.
I’ve tried many things: prayer, fasting, accountability. I go to counseling and parenting conferences. I read books and listen to podcasts. I love my kids more than I could have imagined, and I want to be a great mom—and yet I still struggle with anger.
Somewhere early on, God gave me some liberating insight: I knew I couldn’t be perfect in this area, but I knew I could be sorry. And indeed, I am so so sorry for yelling. So I have from an early stage started to apologize to them when I lose my temper. I ask them how my yelling makes them feel. And I reassure them Mommy is working on it. (Therapy helps.)
I still remember the day many years ago when I was apologizing to my middle child (again): “Honey, I am so sorry for losing my temper with you. Please forgive me.” She replied with a serene look on her face, “It’s OK, Mommy. I already forgave you.”
I was floored by how gracious her response was. Of course, I’d apologized many a time before, so maybe she knew it was coming, but the thing is… she knew it was coming.
What I have discovered is this: my children don’t need me to be perfect, they need me to be contrite. When I confess my sin to them, it brings healing. I’ve also discovered that my children have more capacity for forgiveness than I have for myself. They display compassion and resilience in ways I don’t give them enough credit for. I never imagined how much of the Father’s love I would time and time again receive through my own children.
Maybe you, like me, are longing to be gentler and less reactive with your kids. Maybe the struggle that leaves you saying “wretched [mom] that I am” is something entirely different. Don’t be defeated when you fall once again into that pattern you so long to overcome. Take that sorrow over your sin and run to your faithful Father who stands ready to forgive, because the question “who will deliver me from this body of death?” has an answer: Christ Jesus. He is not just your eventual deliverer from sin, he is your daily deliverance from sin. Scripture tells us that somehow, that contrite heart that leads to repentance is the means by which the Holy Spirit changes us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you to help you to overcome temptation and to make you more and more like Jesus. So rather than dwelling on your cyclical sin, look up at that cross this Christmas and join Paul in saying:
“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/APPLICATION:
1. What recurrent behavior or trait do you see in yourself causes you to be most discouraged? What is your usual reaction to having it exposed?
2. Cindy mentioned that her “resolution” to be different was ineffective. The Westminster Confession describes the process by which we are made more like Jesus (able to say no to sin and yes to righteousness) as “a work of God’s free grace.” If that is true, what is our role within it? (see 1 John 1:9)
3. How might confession to our children, aid in the process of our own growth and change? What about confession to other Christians?
4. Take a few moments now to stop, confess your sin, and receive his forgiveness. Make this a daily practice to move your heart from despair over your own sin to thanksgiving for your deliverance from it through Christ.
Cindy M. Wu is a part-time homeschooling mom and freelance researcher/writer on global Christianity and refugees. She is co-author of Our Global Families: Christians Embracing a Common Identity in a Changing World (Baker Academic, 2015) and author of A Better Country: Embracing the Refugees in Our Midst (William Carey Library, 2017). You can learn more about her at www.cindymwu.com.