In my favorite marriage book, The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason beautifully describes and unpacks God’s ultimate purpose in marriage – to make us holy. We are sanctified as we live alongside someone we dearly love – and through whom we see our own flaws so clearly and personally. “The truth about marriage,” Mason writes, “is that it’s a way not of avoiding any of the painful trials and subtractions of life, but rather of confronting them, of exposing and tackling them most intimately. It is a way to meet suffering personally, head-on, with the peculiar directness, the reckless candidness characteristic only of love. And so it is a gradual unfolding of interpersonal consecration, a process in which all the pain locked up in two lonely, self-centered lives is no longer hidden or suppressed (as it tends to be everywhere else in life), but rather released, that in the hands of love it might be used as the raw material for sanctification. Marriage is not a way to evade suffering but to suffer purposefully.” I’ve been pondering and living through these truths since I got married nearly 10 years ago.
Only recently, however, was I exposed to the idea that parenting is also a form of sanctification. God uses our efforts to rear our children to work on us – to purify us, rid us of sin, and make us holy. It makes a lot of sense, actually. Some days it can feel like all your efforts to love your child, lead him well, train him in godly ways are going… nowhere. No matter what you do. A dear, godly friend once said of her son, then four, “He can make me angry in a way that no other human on the planet can.” I can relate. I adore my children and would gladly lay down my life for them… But when things are going terribly despite my best efforts, they can also arouse a sense of helplessness and despair in me that I rarely meet in any other setting.
“Why do they act like that?” my mother-in-law asked her daughter about her five young children, in one of their worse moments. “Because they’re sinners!” my sister-in-law replied. It’s true, and it’s a reality we moms watch unfold daily in myriad ways. Our kids are sinners (just like us), and we – more than anyone else in their young lives – witness the sin in their hearts emerge and play out. They bait their siblings. They refuse to share. They fall into fits of rage. They complain unduly. They’re unkind to the dog. They refuse to submit. And our job is to see the sin, address and correct it, train them in righteousness, and remain continually patient, loving, and nurturing throughout – as God is toward us. All the while not losing heart about their behavior – or losing our minds.
I can now see – after being at it only few years myself – that being a mom really is the toughest job in the world. Especially to do it well.
But this is where the sanctification comes in. Encountering and rightly addressing our children’s sin – without sinning against them in the process – is a task that only God is equal to. In our own strength, we could never hope to be the kind of kind of mothers we are called to be. Again and again we must fall on our faces and confess to God our limitations, shortcomings, lovelessness, lack of wisdom. Again and again, as we come to the end of ourselves in our mothering efforts, we must seek and rely on the one who entrusted these children to us in the first place. Receiving his grace, his direction, his supernatural love, his forgiving spirit, his tenderness. And as we abide in Christ in our mothering, he will gradually use our children to make us more selfless, holy, and loving. More like Christ.
He is faithful – to us and our children. And he will be glorified in the process as we seek him and look to him.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)