By Linda Ritchie.
My experience of motherhood was nothing like I’d anticipated: idyllic scenarios of peaceful days spent feeding and dressing our eagerly-anticipated baby. In fact, my life changed – overnight – from organised calm to total chaos, punctuated by incessant crying and utter confusion.
Never have my expectations been so shattered.
Love Like Christ
I remember longing for life to “return to normal” and being bluntly informed that this unabating mayhem was my new normal. Imagine my horror! There were countless times when I clung onto God’s command to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Around this time, my mother, in her limitless wisdom, encouraged me that, “This, too, will pass”. And she was right. The good news is that babies grow up: they stop crying, they start talking (granted, that’s not necessarily always a good thing) and they become more independent. It really does get easier.
But the news is better than merely a return to sleeping through the night and a sense of routine. Having children has given me first-hand experience of the magnitude of God’s great love for us. I’ve always found it intellectually reassuring to quote Paul’s words from Romans 8:37 and 38:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
The depth of love I have experienced for my own children has changed these verses from “nice-to-recite” to “profound-to-experience”. Now, I am as far removed from a perfect mother as a clucking chicken is from a majestic martial eagle. However, if my self-centred heart can be so consumed with love for our four children – to the extent that I would happily die for them- how much more does our perfect Heavenly Father love and care for us? Unfathomably more. Because His love is perfect. What a joy to realise this truth!
Love Like Children
I also love the reciprocal learning that I experience with our children. I teach them all the essential aspects of life, like eating with a knife and fork and dressing themselves. They teach me the wonders of God’s creation: from the delicate spots on a butterfly’s wings to the endless stars in the inky sky. Through my children’s lenses, I have gained a fresh appreciation of how “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). I teach my children to say “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry”, they teach me the true meaning of forgiving and forgetting. There are many days when my less-than-ideal behaviour could have landed me the role of Cinderella’s wicked step-mother, and the next day the children are decorating my neck with hugs and adorning my ears with kisses. All is forgiven and forgotten. Jesus commands us to forgive the people who wrong us “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). My children regularly show me how to put this command into practice.
There is certainly truth in Angela Schwindt’s quote that, “While we teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” This helps me find joy in the busy day-to-day life of raising four children. They enlighten me about God’s unconditional love. They remind me of the wonders of His creation. They demonstrate the Christian attribute of genuine forgiveness. They make me laugh. Daily.
Love like a Military General
Speaking of daily, every 24-hour period of parenting involves a myriad of decisions, from routine to food to discipline to school … the list is endless. It is also potentially overwhelming. When it comes to parenting, I often hear people say, “Choose your battles” like a military general. I agree. But the emphasis should be on which battles to choose, and why. I have found the idea of parenting with a spiritual “big picture” in mind, to be extremely useful. I choose to fight the battles that will serve to mould our children into people who will ultimately love and submit to the will of God. For example, if it’s a matter of obedience to reasonable authority, I believe that children need to be (lovingly) guided in learning this lesson, so that they will also be able to submit to God’s authority. The same principle applies with learning to exercise the fruits of the spirit. However, when one of my children has had a busy day and is being uncharacteristically obnoxious, then I think it’s time to demonstrate God’s love and wisdom by determining the quickest and most gracious way to get our cherub-in-disguise to bed. Tomorrow is another day!
Since having children, my life has never been the same. It has also never been so (spiritually) enriched. In the tough times, I’ve learnt how “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10). Fortunately, the good days far outweigh the bad. Through this rollercoaster of a journey, I can honestly echo the sentiments of the prophet, Jeremiah, in Lamentations 3:22 and 23:
“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.”