Motherhood and our Sanctification: The Rest of the Story

March 8, 2012

When you’re a newly pregnant mom, you’re often told how children are a blessing from God and that being a mom is the most amazing job you’ll ever have.  Amen, amen, and amen! However, you kind of get the idea that parenting is mostly about how God is using you to disciple your children and less about how God is using your children to sanctify you–the parent. And my experience as a mother is that the information I’ve learned about myself is inversely proportionate to the information I’m imparting to my children. They seem to be learning little compared to the overwhelming amount of information I’m gathering about myself. For instance, I’ve learned that I’m proud, selfish, and lazy. I am also too easily discouraged. And just to make things more interesting, I’ve got a quick temper and a sharp tongue.

At some point in a Christian’s life, theology becomes intensely practical. For me that transformation from enjoyable discussions about our salvation, the sovereignty of God and the nature of sanctification to “I desperately need to hold onto these foundational truths!” occurred with the introduction of children into my marriage almost five years ago. Now, every mother’s labor and delivery experience is unique. But I was one of those moms that felt an instant bond with my baby. I had wanted a baby of my own for two years but God had different (and better!) plans. We brought our Asher home and loved him to pieces. But I was not myself. I was sick and getting sicker every day. I had a series of doctor’s appointments and a barrage of tests trying to discover the source of my fever, general flu like symptoms, and other seemingly unrelated maladies. I was on a series of antibiotics until I finally landed in the hospital on the adrenal floor hooked to an IV for four days while they pumped one of those heavy duty antibiotics through my system. Apparently I had a kidney infection which did not reveal itself through the normal symptoms. On top of my sickness, Jared was completing his MDiv degree,  we were attempting to update our home enough to sell it, we were having house showings almost every day, we were hosting out of town family for Jared’s graduation, and we were packing up our belongings in order to move to Chicago where Jared would begin his PhD. And, we were discovering that our sweet little gift from God was a rather angry little thing. Jared and I would stare at each other in disbelief. How could a two month old be so angry? His needs were simple and met in a timely manner. But yet he was ANGRY. Now I wish I could say that I was a calm mom who did not take his screaming to heart but truth be told I felt a fury rise up within me when he would not be calmed by any normal measures. And then there were the other circumstances combining to make my heart worry. Would we be able to sell our house? How would we live on a reduced income and pay for an inflated Chicago rent and cover our mortgage in Detroit? How am I ever going to pack this house up when I have this angry baby, multiple house showings a week, and I’m sick?!! My reactions were anything but sanctified. And I knew it.  And then I would feel awful guilt. Why was I responding this way? And, If I loved my baby, how could I sometimes feel such frustration and anger toward him? Now, Asher has a delightfully sunny side as well, so it’s not an understatement to talk about how much we enjoyed him. He had the best belly laugh you’ve ever heard from a 4 month old, but he had this rage that would creep up and surprise me and often infuriate me. I was disturbed by the intensity of my frustration on top of my spirit of worry and discontent. To our relief, God quickly resolved my sickness and the financial issues but the angry baby problems, as you can imagine, only intensified when Asher became more and more verbal and more and more physical. Through the last five years, I’ve had to think long and hard about my own anger and my reactions to my willful, angry child. I’ve had to confront the proud discontent and the not so quiet and gentle spirit within me. I’ve had to consider what happened to me at salvation, the source of my sanctification and the sovereignty of God in all situations.

So “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,” I cling to these foundational truths:

1) Because of Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death and resurrection, God’s disposition toward me is one of love, delight, mercy, and favor, and not one of anger and condemnation. (A few of my favorite passages for meditation are Romans 8, Zephaniah 3:17, Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 10:19-22, Colossians 1:19-22, Ephesians 2:1-8, I Thessalonians 1:9)

2) Through Jesus’ work, God emancipated me from the tyranny of sin, my old master, and has enabled me to do good. I can actually please God now. I can live the life God intended for people to live when he first created them. (He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good works.” Titus 2:14)

3) God has made every provision for me to live this kind of life. (2 Peter 1:3) He has given me his spirit–the helper, the comforter, and the one who guides us into truth, reveals sin, and produces the fruit that is compatible with our new life. (John 14-16; Galatians 5) He has given us his Word, and the perfect example of Jesus’ earthy life. He has given us the church and gifted it with able pastors, teachers and leaders. (Eph 4) He has placed older women in the church who are practiced in daily submitting to God, fleeing sin and doing good works to guide us younger women. (Titus 2) He promises to always provide a way to escape temptation. (I Cor 10: 13) So, when I sin, I am simply lying and betraying the truth. I am not believing that God has fully equipped me to do what is right and to live a life that glorifies Him and his precious gospel.

4) God is quick to forgive when I fail. (I John 1:9)

5) God is always out for my good. And “good” does not imply earthly happiness, pleasure, comfort, and leisure. On the contrary, it always includes discipline, the sacrifice of personal ambition, trials, and suffering on some level. His “good” is something bigger and ultimately much more satisfying–our conformity to the image of his son and enabling us to “share in his holiness” (Romans 8, Hebrews 12:10,11). Jesus’ path to glory was one of humbling circumstances, rejection, persecution, and intense suffering in both the physical and mental sense. Why should I expect a trial free life? And I have seen first hand how just a little adversity can produce a “peaceful harvest of right living” (Hebrews 12:11).

Besides these foundational truths, God has graciously provided other believers to “help us on to God.” I’ve come to love Milton Vincent’s A Gospel Primer. In it he offers the wise counsel of daily meditating on the gospel as our motivation to despair less, sin less, and love God and others more. Here is an excerpt I find especially helpful:

“As long as I am stricken with the guilt of my sins, I will be captive to them, and will often find myself re-committing the very sins about which I feel most guilty. The Devil is well aware of this fact; he knows that if he can keep me tormented by sin’s guilt, he can dominate me with sin’s power.

The gospel, however, slays sin at this root point and thereby nullifies sin’s power over me. The forgiveness of God, made known to me through the gospel, liberates me from sin’s power because it liberates me first from it’s guilt; and preaching such forgiveness to myself is a practical way of putting the gospel into operation as a nullifier of sin’s power in my life.”

And John Stocker’s hymn Thy Mercy My God is quickly becoming a favorite as I daily battle with my flesh and guilt:

Thy mercy my God is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart, and the boast of my tongue.
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last,
Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast.

Without Thy sweet mercy, I could not live here.
Sin would reduce me to utter despair,
But through Thy free goodness, my spirit’s revived
And He that first made me still keeps me alive.

Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart.
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep for the praise of the mercy I’ve found.

Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own
In the covenant love of Thy crucified Son.
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine.

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