A few months ago Amber Lia and I released a book entitled Triggers: Exchanging Parents' Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. To accompany the book's launch I've been speaking at MOPS groups all over Southern California, and what I've found is that no matter what Trigger I focus on, we always come back to this main point...
The following is an except from chapter 15 of Triggers, "When will they ever change?"
Why do marriage and motherhood have to be so hard? When we got engaged, our eyes were fixed on happily ever after. Even though we vowed “in sickness and health,” the dream was health and happiness. Though we swore to love one another “for better or for worse,” we naively expected a whole lot more “better” than “worse.” The same is true when we wanted babies. Whether conceiving was as easy as your wedding night, or as difficult as a long barren season followed by a trip across the ocean to an orphanage, the idea was happiness and the completion of a dream. And the dream was good. But many women I know would describe their reality today more like a nightmare with unruly kids who simply won’t change.
Long days with three children under the age of five, with nobody taking naps; complaining about what’s been served for dinner; throwing fits at home and having meltdowns in public; and their daddy works long hours and comes home late and tired, with very little left over to contribute emotionally. You do your best to be consistent when it comes to love and discipline, believing whole-heartedly that in due season, you will reap if you do not grow weary and lose heart. And yet your heart is quivering right along with your bottom lip, because there’s still no fruit. When will they ever change?
You see other children who walk with their mother through the grocery store without begging and crying, hitting a sibling, or begging for a phone. You have friends whose children are actually pleasant to be around and can carry on a mature conversation, while yours are interrupting and whining to go home. Why were you given a loud and impulsive son, an argumentative teenager who acts like a victim, multiple children with special needs, a daughter whose fits absolutely wear you out? “Is it ever going to change? Are they ever going to change?”
Here we are, focusing on the things our children do that trigger our anger, and I just want to ask the Lord what He might have purposed and planned for our maturity in light of their childish behavior.
[Tweet "WHILE WE FOCUS ON OUR CHILDREN’S LACK OF MATURITY, GOD IS EVER FOCUSED ON MATURING US!"]
After a long day with two toddlers and a newborn babe, I drifted between waking and sleeping. The infant child at my breast was pulling slowly and I knew his swallows couldn't be rushed. In the quiet of the midnight hours I wondered when it would get easier. These words flooded my mind: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
This was the Bible verse I had memorized as a child—the one I never truly understood until my own personal trials hit me hard. When I was young and spiritually immature, I knew these verses had something to do with the Refiner’s fire, perfecting us in the hot places of perseverance, but I didn’t understand why God would choose such a painful method when He could simply make it all better: fix what’s broken, heal what’s sick, cure our disease, and eradicate our problems.
In my naiveté, I wanted God to grow me up in my comfortable life, through happy little Bible studies, and in my familiar pew at church on Sunday mornings. But as I rocked and nursed, it occurred to me that God uses rough sandpaper to make His creations lovely and smooth. And I knew, after a day where I had exploded over my little one’s immaturity, that God was using their rough edges to smooth me out and soften my heart. God planned the lion’s share of my spiritual growth to be done in the fiery furnace of family life.
When I was just a newly-wed, I read the book Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. The question he posed from the tagline on the cover was, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”4 It was a clever question, but didn’t resonate with me at the time, as I was still euphoric in the honeymoon phase of our love affair. However, within a few short years, we had moved across the country, had three strong-willed little boys, and were both overwhelmed by the challenges of our blessed life together. There, a variation of the words from the cover of that book came back to me: What if God designed motherhood to make me holy rather than to make me happy? What a thought!
Gary Thomas went on in his book to suggest that family life was designed by God to be the laboratory where our holiness is cultivated.
Back at the beginning of my marriage, when all the young couples around us started having their first children, I would write James 1:17 on the inside of each baby shower card. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17, NASB) It was a lovely sentiment, though I didn’t know a thing about the Lord’s precious little gifts at the time.
I do now.
12 years into this parenting marathon, I understand this Scripture a little better than I did back then. I have come to read the word “perfect” as an active verb, not a decorative adjective describing a noun. When we are pregnant, we imagine that the gift God is giving us is the child within our womb. But it turns out that that precious soul, and your marriage too, is simply a tool by which our perfecting happens. And that is the gift that The Father of lights intended from the beginning: To make us holy. That perfect gift, swaddled, is the perfecting tool that will bring us to maturity.
Our little gifts are darling little babes, complete with a sin nature and personality that tend to rub us wrong at times. God uses them like sandpaper in His tender hands. Back and forth against our spiritual lives, He rubs them purposefully, to smooth out our own sin tangles, to even out the selfish bumps, to smooth away our anger as we lean into God’s rhythmic, loving refining.
Our children are not perfect, but they are perfectly designed to perfect us into the image of Christ. Isn’t that amazing, and doesn’t it shift our single-minded focus off of their foolishness and onto our own? We need to let go of this idea of ‘perfect.’ We don’t have perfect children, perfect marriages, or perfect homes. But we do have a good and loving God who is passionate about the process of His perfecting plan in our homes. Doesn’t that give you courage to press on and endure? Knowing that He is not a hands-off God? These painful trials have not slipped through His fingers and into our lives by accident—they’ve been purposefully placed there by the King over heaven and earth. Your trials and your children were not just allowed—they were anointed. Therefore, we are blessed.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
Moms and dads, husbands and wives, persevere under your present trials. Surrender this maddening pursuit of perfect children, and seek how the Lord wants to perfect you in the midst of the challenges today. When will they ever change? They will change, as will you, one perfecting day at a time.
If you struggle with feeling powerless in your anger, desperate for God’s strength to carry you through those long, emotionally taxing mothering days, I encourage you to order a copy of Triggers.