For the past few weeks, I have lamented the loss of intimacy in my relationship with Jesus. I have been starved of conversation with him and yet, incapable and – if I’m honest – unwilling, to do anything that might change that.
This week I ended up in a teary puddle on the floor after waging a war of wills with my toddler. In that place of desperation, Jesus spoke. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was forced into a place where I could hear him speaking.
Sarah has hit the terrible twos with a vengeance. She is brilliant. Remarkably bright, funny, thoughtful, compassionate. But with the iron stubbornness of a donkey. I doubt it is possible to meet a more will-full toddler. Unless, of course, you knew me as a child. It had been a week of tantrums and, on Wednesday, it all came to a head in my attempt to put her down for a nap. I’d been wrestling with something flu-ish all week and was definitely not at the top of my parenting game, but her outright defiance and mean spiritedness floored me (metaphorically and literally) and we both ended up in an angry, crying heap on her bedroom floor.
Sarah had been screaming at the top of her lungs for over half an hour but when I cried she suddenly stopped, came over, looked directly at me and said, Mummy, you sad? It took a serious amount of will power not to throw a sarcastic comment back in her little, scrunched up face, but instead I nodded and we sat together for a while being sad. And, as we did, God spoke. This is what I feel like. This is what sin makes me feel.
A few minutes later, with Sarah now sleeping, I came downstairs and ended up in another teary mess. When Sarah doesn’t listen to me, the jumble of emotions is difficult to disentangle: I am cross at her defiance, frustrated by my failure to implement a successful parenting strategy but, most of all, I am sad. I am sad that we’re not friends. I am sad that our relationship deteriorates so quickly. I am sad that we both say, and feel things, about the other that aren’t true. I am sad that she stops looking at me as her mother and sees me as some kind of opponent. My insides feel red, and raw and bruised, like someone is squeezing the life out of some organs, or turning my skin inside out. The grief and anger is physical.
And this is how God feels.
All. The. Time.
On a cosmic scale, God is sad. He is saddened by the fractured relationship between Him and his children, by the faces of children that no longer view him as a loving father but as an opponent. As someone to be resisted and ignored, to be defied and shunned. Parenting is emotional business, but the depth of my emotions is nothing compared to that of God the Father.
But, not only is God’s sadness so much greater than mine, it is purer too. In parenting my children, my motives are skewed. I like to think that my parenting of them is intended for their good (and, in the most part, it sincerely is) but there is something else going on too: when Sarah defies me – especially if that defiance happens to be in public – my response to her is for her good (I want to discipline her well and put good boundaries in place so that she grows up to be the kind of person who accepts responsibility for her actions) but it is also about what I perceive to be good for me: I don’t want to lose face. I don’t want to be embarrassed by my daughter. I want others to think that I have this parenting malarkey nailed. There is a muddying of motive that means that, hard as I try, I make the wrong parenting decisions. I respond in the wrong way.
God is not like this. He is perfectly pure. In his parenting of us, He always acts for our flourishing. The boundaries that God puts in place are not there to satisfy him, or to make Him look good; they are there for us; they are there to ensure that we become the people we are intended to be, that we live the life that is fully life 91 Timothy 6:19) in communion with others and the planet.
As I sat on the floor of my living room, still sad because of Sarah, but now also sad because I felt like God had given me a taste of his own sadness, the sorrow that he carries when his children opt out of relationship with him, I told Him that I didn’t have what was necessary to be Sarah’s Mum – that I couldn’t parent her in the way that she needed, that I couldn’t guarantee that my choices and decisions were always going to be for her good. And, again, God spoke and he said two things. Firstly, that he made me to be Sarah’s Mum, and, secondly, that I was equipped for the job.
In that moment I was reassured by the first, but unsure of the second. I had never felt less equipped to be Sarah’s mum. God directed me to 2 Peter 1:3-4. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a Godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us through his own goodness and glory. Through these he has given us His very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
And the word that caught my attention was “knowledge.” The way to get what I need, the way to be equipped is to know the one who equips. I do not have what is necessary to be a mum in and of myself but I know the one who does. I am not enough. He is. My natural tendency, in moments like Wednesday, is to wallow in my own inadequacy. To lament my parenting failures. To resolve to do better next time. But that is the wrong approach. I am more inadequate than I think I am. My heart and motives are more skewed than I think they are. (Jeremiah 17:9) And whilst that seems pretty good cause to wallow, it will get me nowhere. Instead God tells me to look at him. To look at his goodness and his glory. To look at the tender, beautiful perfection of his parenting. And to embrace the reality that he has joined me to himself.
In the Greek, the word for “participate” in verse 4 means one who mutually belongs or shares in something. I am a shareholder in the perfect parenting resources of the heavenly Father. Everything that the Father has he shares with me. (Luke 15:31) But access to such a gift comes only through looking to Him rather than to myself. Through knowing, and trusting, that he is acting for my good, and the good of my children, even when I don't.