Currently, I am in the early years of parenthood, and already I can say that this season has challenged me like none other before. My daughter recently turned four and it is clear we have turned a corner into a new normal.
My husband and I have often remarked to each other that we know how fortunate we’ve been as parents to our Emmy. She was such an easy baby and that continued to be true as we journeyed into toddlerhood. We didn’t experience the “Terrible Twos” or even the “Troublesome Threes” that most parents encounter. For most of her short life, Emmy has been fairly content and agreeable. But as we’ve advanced to age four, we’ve found we do indeed have a child with a sinful nature. While it was never in doubt, we now have plenty of evidence for that fact! We are presently fully immersed in what we are calling the “Fearsome Fours.”
While my husband and I are focusing on instructing and correcting our daughter about her sin and the Gospel, we have found that it is not only Emmy’s sinful heart that is being exposed but ours as well. Every day we are confronted with our own depraved and selfish hearts as we seek to shepherd Emmy. It has been humbling, to say the very least. But as hard as it is to see my sin, I am grateful that God is using this time to grow me and, Lord willing, change my daughter’s heart, too. Here are two sins that God has brought to light and is daily working on in my heart.
One of the primary weaknesses that I am confronted with every single day as a parent is how quickly I become impatient. I wish I could say that my frustration is solely over dealing with Emmy’s sin and disobedience. Alas, it is just as common for me to get impatient or irritated with her because she’s just being a kid. She’s not sinning; she’s just being annoying. I know that may sound harsh, but guess what? Kids can be annoying. For that matter, we all can be.
I’ve had to be honest in admitting that often what spurs my impatience is not contending with the sinful behavior of others (whether it’s my daughter, husband, family, or friends), but rather it is impatience that reveals itself because of my own personal preferences. Emmy sings loudly in the car, too loudly for my comfort. I become irritated and lash out in exasperation. She’s not sinning. She’s just doing what kids do. My frustration says much more about me than it does about her.
Impatience puts self at the center. It is my expectations, comforts, and preferences that must be catered to, and when that inevitably fails to happen, anger is sure to follow. The Apostle Paul provides us with the antidote to such thinking.
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3
If I want to exercise patience with Emmy and others, it starts with humility.
I still struggle daily with an impatient heart, but God reminds me moment by moment of His patience with me. If I am honest, I am just as sinful, difficult, and yes, annoying as any child. And yet, God lavishes me with His grace and kindness, even in His discipline. I am called to do the same in my relationships with others, especially as a mother.
My husband and I are Emmy’s primary teachers. We are to teach and model the Gospel to her so that she can see what Romans 2:4 proclaims, “that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” I want her to know that Christ came to the world to save her from her sins. He gave His life for her, and every day He waits patiently for her to repent. He calls me to show her this, not just through Bible stories and words of instruction, but also in the way I live each day.
When my husband and I were first married, almost ten years ago, I was immediately confronted with a very uncomfortable truth. . . I’m not as nice of a person as I had always thought. I believed I was easygoing and easy to get along with. But living in the covenant of marriage day after day exposed my heart in ways it never had before. I saw that I could be manipulative, selfish, and easily offended. But the most surprising sin that marriage revealed was anger. Then I became a parent, and my awareness of my anger grew exponentially.
When Emmy came along I believed I had matured in my struggle with anger. While the Lord had grown me, I quickly realized that the temptation to respond in sinful anger was still present in my heart. Navigating anger in my relationship with my husband was very different than doing so as a mother. As adults, we usually try to put our best foot forward and avoid behavior that will upset or put us at odds with others. Kids do not do this. In fact, they usually do the opposite. Kids can push, prod, and poke at us with little care for the consequences at the moment.
As I said earlier, impatience is a slippery slope toward anger. While impatience is an inner sin struggle, anger is the outward, sinful display of such a heart. As with impatience, to overcome anger I need to learn and exercise humility. But there is an additional problem that must be addressed. At the center of sinful anger is found selfishness and a lack of self-control.
It is easy as a parent to justify our anger as the result of our child’s actions. But such thinking gives our own hearts too much benefit of the doubt and gives too little grace to those we are called to shepherd. Here is what the Bible says about our anger:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Matthew 5:21-22a
“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." James 1:20
“ Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31
Let’s not mince the real and uncomfortable truth. Sinful anger is deadly. It kills relationships and crushes a spirit. If I want to help Emmy to grow in grace and truth, then I must view anger as my enemy. As author Chap Bettis explains,
“As a parent, it is so easy to justify my anger as righteous or to move on quickly after a blow-up. But sinful anger is a deadly foe I must daily slay by the Spirit’s help."
One of the most profound realizations I’ve had in my war with anger as a parent is recognizing that in order to overcome it I must embrace compassion. I get angry with Emmy because she is not listening or disobeying. However, this anger isn’t righteous indignation that my child is breaking God’s Law, but rather selfish anger that she isn’t obeying mine. When I put my focus on God instead of self, I can see my daughter through the eyes of compassion. She is a slave to her sin and her passions. She cannot help but sin because she is a sinner. This is not an excuse, and I certainly don’t want to become permissive and passive with sinful behavior. But compassion allows me to parent and guide her from a place of love for her soul instead love for myself.
Every time I respond to her in anger, the Lord challenges me with my own sinful heart. I’m given the opportunity to demonstrate to her what true repentance looks like by showing her that even grownups struggle with anger, sin, and disobedience. We all need forgiveness and praise the Lord, He is generous not only to forgive but to help us overcome.
Whether you are a parent, a spouse, or single, we all have relationships that challenge us and expose our sins and our hearts. When we see the ugly truth that exists within us we ought to respond in three ways:
Keep fighting the fight — the fight against your own sin and the battle for your child’s soul. God doesn’t expect us to win the war, for that is something only He can do. But He does call us to be faithful. Live the Gospel day in and day out. Lead your child in the way of truth. Then trust God for the result.
How has God used parenting to grow you?
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