When my three little ones are calm, peaceful, sweet, obedient, funny, and lovely, it's easy to love them. Of course it is. Every parent knows what I mean. When we're snuggled in cozy with our children for bedtime stories and they're quiet and attentive, heads resting against our shoulders, it's effortless to feel loving and to act loving toward them.
But children are not always calm. Or peaceful. Or sweet, obedient, funny, or lovely. Sometimes children are easy to love. But other times they're rowdy, mean, nasty, and selfish.
Of course in some ways my love for them is entirely unconditional and, no matter what their behavior is like at the moment, I'd lay down my life for them in a heartbeat. The struggle is not one of unconditional love, but of speaking and acting in love.
Sometimes when kids are being obnoxious and rude, it's a struggle to be a compassionate, merciful, and kind parent. I know from talking with other parents that this is a common struggle, that this is the norm: it's easy to be gentle and gracious when our kids are peaceful and sweet, but challenging to be this way when they're rowdy and rude.
But here's the thing: the test of how we're doing as parents is not how we respond to our children in those moments when they're being sweet and lovable; the test of our parenting is how we respond to our children in those moments when they're challenging us.
The test of our love is this: how we love our children when they're hard to love.
Today was Mother's Day, a hallmark holiday, sure, but still a day when it's natural to think about motherhood and reflect upon what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong. By God's grace, there's much I'm doing right. There are wonderful and tangible ways that I'm loving and raising my kids well. But as I pause and reflect, and as I talk with other friends who are parents, a trend emerges: it's so much easier to love and teach our children with kindness and grace when they're being sweet and kind in return.
The true test of our parenting, though, is how we respond to our children not when they're being cuddly and sweet but when they're being nasty and rebellious. In the moments of their sin, do I have a short temper? Do I respond in anger? Am I unkind? Do I yell? Am I impatient? Am I nasty? Or am I compassionate?
This morning my husband preached to our church family from the book of Jonah. Among other themes, one emphasis was this: Our God is One who is compassionate and who is inclined toward mercy.
It was a challenging and encouraging sermon that prompted me and many others to look up to our God and to behold His grace and His mercy afresh. But it did something else for me on this Mother's Day, too. It prompted me to ask myself this question: Am I a mother who is compassionate and inclined toward mercy? Would my children, were they asked, describe me this way?
If they were to answer honestly, the answer, at best, would be this: sometimes. I'm sometimes compassionate, and I'm sometimes inclined toward mercy.
But not God. His mercy is unfailing, and His compassion never ends.
Throughout history and, more personally, toward me, God has shown the most amazing compassion and inclination toward mercy. And it hasn't been when I've been easy to love. It's when I've been a rebellious, rowdy, noisy, angry, ungrateful, nasty child.
As this Mother's Day draws to a close, my prayer is to become more like my Father who is described like this:
"The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will He keep His anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities." ~ Psalm 103
Wow. Those words. That's our God. That's our heavenly Father.
I want to be a parent who becomes more like Him in the tough moments of parenting. I want to love my kids--to be gentle, gracious, and compassionate toward them--not only when they're being easy to love, but especially when they're being annoying, sinful, and rude.
Because that's how He loves me.
The test of true love--of godly love--in our parenting is not how we love our children when they're being easy to love, but how we choose to love them when they're being utterly sinful.
Dear God, thank you for my children.
Thank you for allowing me to know the joy and blessing of motherhood.
I know this is a gift from your hand, and I give you thanks for it.
But so often I fail to love my children the way I ought.
Oh Father, let me become more like you.
Let me parent my children as you parent me.
Let me love my children as you love me.