Desperate Mothers

Every Tuesday morning, I meet with a group of moms from my church for Bible study. We pay a babysitter to come watch our kids, though there always remains a few boisterous but really cute toddlers wandering around our feet during the study and prayer (we’ve learned to talk and pray fast and loud). We’re a bonded group, though always ready to welcome another battered mom to our midst. We crawl in each week, kids in arms, study, cry, and pray. And we walk out tall, renewed by the mutual love and support of our sisters in Christ equally battered by life as ourselves, reminded that our devotion to God is not in vain, ready to stay engaged with God in prayer and study as we face the storms of life.

We are reading through Paul Miller’s A Praying Life this quarter and anticipating studying Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff Vanvonderen in the fall. The Biblical truths that are foundational to each study are swirling together and complementing each other nicely.

“Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life.” A Praying Life, p. 114

“Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.” A Praying Life, p. 167.

“It took me seventeen years to realize I couldn’t parent on my own. It was not a great spiritual insight, just a realistic observation. If I didn’t pray deliberately and reflectively for members of my family by name every morning, they’d kill one another. I was incapable of getting inside their hearts. … It didn’t take me long to realize I did my best parenting by prayer.” A Praying Life, p. 59

Vanvoderen’s opening salvo in the introduction to Families Where Grace is in Place struck me hard.

“When people spend their lives trying to transform their spouse and their kids, the natural result is tiredness, discouragement, and the desire to quit. Therefore, this book is more about learning the right job, and less about learning new techniques. … We must learn the simple difference between God’s job and ours.” p. 13-14

I have a lot of techniques and strategies. For the wrong job. I know how to manage a day. But I do not know how to transform a heart. I am learning that it’s quite reasonable that I don’t know how to change my boys’ hearts, because it’s not my job anyway. It’s still hard for me to believe with Miller that I do my best parenting on my knees. Yet, as I meditate on that idea more and more, I don’t just agree with it in terms of spiritual philosophy, but my day to day experience is reinforcing it practically as well. Sometimes it’s praying for my family by myself. Many times it’s praying for my boys with my boys about a specific issue we can’t work out any other way.

I’ll write more on this subject after I finish Vanvonderen’s book. But for now I’m thinking through what good techniques I’ve adopted for the wrong job, manipulation and control (which substitute for authentic transformation quite nicely in the short term). Their hearts might not transform, but at least they looked good on the outside! I know better. I really do. Yet, I default to control and manipulation with my children regularly, when I should be defaulting to prayer.

Certainly, there is value to management and thoughtful strategies in parenting. When I don’t plan ahead and prepare, I feel like I often set my kids up for failure. Yet, such planning and strategizing can distract me from my real job in my children’s life. The more I get a hold of the difference in my job and God’s job in my family’s life, the more I realize how desperately I need Him in prayer.

I linked to this message before, but my friend, Holly Stratton, speaks here on holding tight to gospel hope for our troubled children and the power of faithfully communicating it to them. This message really blessed me.

9 Responses to Desperate Mothers

  1. Faith May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    We do know better and I know it's not my job to change my husband and kids but yet on a daily basis I resort to that when were on a time crunch or when things go wrong or when the kids are tired and cranky- it's like a switch inside that makes me turn my home into boot camp and I boss everyone around. It's hard. 🙁 And everyday I cry out to God to change my heart.. But only after I've already “reacted”.

  2. Sandi May 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Praying Life is one of favorite books. Need to re-read it. I have Jeff's book too, on my reading list this year.

    Control and manipulation….guilty as charged!

    Yet, I so struggle in the moment to do it any other way. It is so ingrained in me to require obedience (for my own ease and from teaching) that I default there in the heat of the moment. I am asking to extend grace but it's an uphill battle.

    Was really effected by this post recently:

  3. Wendy May 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Sandi, that book is definitely on my TO READ list.

  4. Jeremy May 18, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    Is this a women only blog, or may men make comments?

  5. Wendy May 18, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    Jeremy, this blog is aimed at women, but I always appreciate male input. You are welcome to comment.

  6. Becky May 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    Excellent post, Wendy. These are two more books to add to my list of 'must reads'! So often, I seem to be more concerned with the outside behaviors and I'm not focusing on their hearts. Thank you for this much needed reminder.

  7. Sarah Guild May 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    After reading several of the recommended resources on parenting I found myself paralyzed with fear about doing it wrongly. What was the surefire method for raising Gospel centered children? And, peace came as I prayed. Not peace guaranteeing results (for Gospel centered children), but peace that if I parented on my knees, begging God to touch my children I would be answering God's calling. Putting my precious children where they belong: in the hand of their Creator. Since God created them, he wrote the book on them and their saving is not my job. Parenting principles are good but should not take the place of God in my parenting.

  8. Virginia Knowles May 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Thanks, Wendy! I've been reading The Praying Life, too, especially since the Kindle version was (is?) free at Amazon.

    I just linked to your post here along with some others about grace-based parenting:

  9. L May 23, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    I worked through A Praying Life with a small group of women here in the Portland suburbs over the course of about seven months last year. It was and continues to be a huge means of grace to me.

    My background is similar to yours, but God had taken me through some very dark places and brought me to the end of myself in multiple unrelated events, infertility being one of them. Paul Miller continually pointed me to my Father, and I love how he says that it is “our very helplessness and desperation that opens the door to grace”! I have definitely had days when I cling to that truth, in parenting and in other situations.

    Through that book, God gave me so much more than a lesson on how to pray – blinders were removed and I saw how beleaguered my life was by anxiety, cynicism, pride, and lack of faith. God's grace truly frees us to authenticity and childlike trust! So thankful he has a bigger Story.

    And I'll definitely be checking out the second book you mentioned! And thanks so much for all that you write.