Few things betray what I really believe about God like mothering—possibly because we often parent our children in the way we believe God parents us. It’s a thin place between not only us and the Spirit, but also between the theology we think we believe and what we actually believe.
Perhaps that is why so many of us struggle with our expectations of perfection for ourselves and for our children. Somehow, we’ve picked up the idea God expects perfection from us and is waiting for us to mess up so he can bring his full wrath down upon us. Sometimes it’s because of how we ourselves were parented or because of what we were taught about the nature and character of God, so we behave as if God is petty or vindictive, punishing, and exacting. We are as hard on our children as we believe God is on us. It’s difficult to let go of the lies when they’re ingrained into our minds and our hearts, manifesting in our behaviors.
Perfectionism is a strong temptation when it comes to mothering—not only in the impossible standards for ourselves but even in our attitude toward our children—possibly because we want to be assured there is a “right” way to mother. We want to believe if we do things the right way, we will have good kids, win at this mothering thing, and have a desired outcome. We also want to believe if our children are perfect, it means we did something right and good—and, therefore, we ourselves are right and good.
And when it comes to something as dear to our hearts as parenting our children, born in the deep places of our souls, these lies can take over until we’ve lost not only our own experience of God’s grace but also the hearts of our children to our fears.
Mothering On Our Walk With God
The truth about mothering is the same as it is about walking with Jesus. Rules and regulations, boundary markers and legalism, and one-size-fits-all only serve a dead religion. It’s lost the soul. Jesus led us away from a performance-based perfectionism or law-keeping in our relationship with God, demonstrating and living into a vital life he characterized in John 15 as “life in the vine.” In The Message, the words of Jesus are rendered like this: “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”
This is such a different teaching, isn’t it? Our life is lived in a relationship intimate and organic. It is such a far cry from structuring our lives around laws. So much of what we consider “rules” or “standards” for a life of holiness before God are actually the simple fruit that comes from abiding in the vine and walking in the way. We don’t try to be more loving, we simply love. We don’t try to force ourselves into behavior modification, but instead the Spirit births the transformation. It bears such a similarity with our desires as mothers. We don’t want marionettes of behavior, simply meeting the bare minimums to stay out of trouble. Most of our mothering comes down to being Spirit-led, walking in trust and faith, rooted in what we know about the nature and character of our God. In that case, our relationships with our children are often born of that life-giving relationship, resulting in a heart connection and true transformation.