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(Mom) Guilt and the Gospel

It started a few weeks after my oldest son was born.

I had dreamed of being a mom. Read all the books. Attended the classes. Developed and implemented a plan experts guaranteed would have my child sleeping on a schedule and through the night by six weeks old.

Except it didn’t work.

I was a wreck. I wasn’t even three months into this mom gig, and already I had failed my child in some significant way. I was experiencing my first bout of mom guilt.

I have a feeling most moms can share their own stories of times they felt they were not up to the task of motherhood, that somehow, they too failed their children. It’s almost universal. Studies say more than 90 percent of mothers experience this unique kind of distress, and 75 percent of parents as a whole feel pressure to be “perfect” for their children. Did you read that? Perfect. No wonder we feel guilty. Perfect is a pretty high standard.

For moms who are followers of Christ, what are we to do with mom guilt?  Actually, let’s first ask the question: what are Christians to do with guilt period?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas world grief produces death.” Said another way, our grief before salvation leads us to repent and accept Jesus’ gift of grace on our behalf. Once we’ve become followers of Jesus, Christians shouldn’t feel guilt. Conviction of the Spirit for sin? Yes! But guilt? No. The penalty for our sin has been paid by Jesus.

Bryan Chapell expands on this truth in his book, Holiness by Grace:

Remorse prior to approaching the cross is of God, but after true repentance beneath the cross such self-reproach is of Satan. Our Adversary wants us to believe that Christ’s blood is not sufficient to cleanse confessed sin. We become susceptible to his lie when we begin to doubt the power of the cross full to cancel our guilt, for then we will begin to live (and fall) in the strength of our own efforts.

If you listened to the Clear Creek Resources podcast episode Rachel Chester, Mandy Turner, and I did on mom guilt, we made the distinction between good and bad guilt. Good guilt is better called conviction. It’s one of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the Christian. It is a mark of true belief (see John 16:8). As followers of Jesus we should be broken over sin. As believing moms we should repent when we sin against our children. Certainly this happens: angry words, rash discipline, selfish motives. These are clearly times we should ask for forgiveness from the Lord and our children.

However, far too often we experience anguish and shame when no sin was involved. This is because somewhere along the way we exchanged the idea of what we might do to be a good mom with what we must do to be a good mom. I experienced mom guilt when I didn’t plan the perfect birthday party, or couldn’t have lunch at school with my boys because of work, or a thousand other things that made me feel like a bad mom. But, I had turned mommy possibilities into mommy imperatives. This is bad guilt.

Sometimes mom guilt has nothing to do with our actions. We may feel guilty because our child made a poor choice and is experiencing a natural consequence like the loss of a friendship. That is enough to send some into the mom guilt spiral of self-doubt, heartache, and despair. And you should know, this also is bad guilt.

Mom guilt is bad guilt.

We need a gospel pathway to walk in order to deal with it.

In my opening story about how I couldn’t get my son to sleep, my friend Amanda heard about my despair. She called and gave me words of grace. Gratefully, over the years, many other women have shepherded my heart similarly in other times of mom guilt. I want to leave you with four steps that have helped me get back on track, and I hope, might help you as well:

1. Remove the standard of perfection.
Get rid of the burden you’ve placed on yourself from wherever it may have arisen (e.g., family of origin, social media, friends). Realize there is one who has been perfect for you (2 Cor. 5:21). Like Paul, we certainly all have weaknesses. And if the apostle, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, can claim that because of his weaknesses he can rest in Jesus, certainly we should as well (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).

2. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
I think my mom guilt has often surfaced when my focus has been too much on me. Jesus frees me from needing to constantly evaluate myself against my “perfect mom” standard. Instead of my feeling being anchored to my accomplishments which fluctuate daily (sometimes I’m happy at the day’s end, and other times I’m discouraged), my affections are bound up in Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). His love for me is steadfast (Rom. 8:38-39) because of what he accomplished for me 2,000 years ago.

3. Call out to God.
Let’s be real. Being a mom is hard. Really hard. Go to Jesus in prayer when you feel the waves of self-doubt and despair begin to wash over you (Heb. 4:16). Don’t skip this! Prayer is one of the most effective ways to combat mom guilt.

4. Be involved in community.
Every mom needs two (or, maybe ten?) Amandas in her life. You need women who can speak gospel truths to your heart. You need friends who will not tell you what you want to hear but need to hear. This is authentic community. It is where can know and be known. It is where you can be vulnerable and find encouragement that you are not alone in your dealings with mom guilt…or any other endeavor (Heb. 10:24-25).


 

The Parent as Primary Disciplemaker


At every park and backyard in America, parents mill around jungle gyms, monkey bars, and swing sets in order to keep an eye on their kids at the playground. But, invariably, accidents happen and kids get hurt. Maybe one skins his knee on the ground, bumps heads with another child, or has some other misadventure. What is the first thing he does? Instinctively he looks to a parent to see what reaction the mishap provokes. And, inevitably, there is the parent who looks horrified and shouts in a shrill voice, “Oh my goodness, sweetie, what have you done?” To which the child, now assuming he has five minutes left to live, begins screaming at the top of his lungs.

But, there are also the parents who, when given the same scenario at the playground, immediately, confidently, and calmly say to their children, “You are okay. Shake it off and keep playing.” What happens next? My sense is you already know the answer. You likely witnessed it time and again at the playground yourself. Most kids, as a result of a parent’s confident and assuring counsel, move beyond the irritation and discomfort of a minor injury and continue their fun day at the playground without shedding a tear.

THE POWER OF A PARENT
Ponder that scenario for a moment. How great an influence must a parent possess that a child will emotionally interpret what has happened to him or her merely by gazing at a parent’s response? Parents are their children’s biggest influences. Often our work ethic, emotional patterns, or even the way we talk are just a sampling of the innumerable attitudes and actions we display in adulthood that echo our parents’ example we witnessed in our childhood.

The reason this influence is so pronounced is not only because of the emotional attachment between kids and their parents, but also the sheer amount of time children spend with their families. The late seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, says that children in Christian families spend about one percent of time at church, 16 percent at school, and 83 percent at home. Even assuming these percentages shift as children move into adolescence, the message is clear: parents are the most influential human beings in the lives of their kids.

A parent’s influence not only helps kids with bumps and bruises, but, more importantly, in leading their spiritual development. Indeed, the home is the discipleship strategy God ordained, and why, from the very beginning, fathers and mothers are central to the spiritual formation of their children. Contrary to what some may assume, when it comes to role and responsibility of imparting the gospel to our children’s hearts, minds, and lives, Scripture focuses the spotlight, not on the church and its programs, but squarely upon parents and the home.

DISCIPLESHIP AND DEUTERONOMY 6
One of the foundational passages for this truth is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Did you see the strategy? According to this passage, Hebrew fathers and mothers are indisputably their children’s primary disciple makers. They are to teach [these truths about God] diligently to [their] children, and shall talk of them when [they] sit in your house, and when [they] walk by the way, and when [they] lie down, and when [they] rise.

THE NEW TESTAMENT STRATEGY FOR DISCIPLING KIDS
This home-centered strategy for discipleship continues in the New Covenant with the church. God’s plan for children’s spiritual formation continues in (not deviates from) the original discipleship path established in the Old Covenant. For example, Ephesians 6:4 reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When looking at the entire span of biblical revelation, the apostle Paul affirms the continuity of the parent as primary disciple maker in the days where the church has now become the people of God (cf., Heb. 12:9, 2 Tim. 1:5).

It is also worth noting that believers during both covenants had either priests, prophets, pastors, or someone whose primary designation within the community of faith involved spiritual guidance and teaching the Scripture. Yet, it is striking to see that even with these necessary, and God-ordained, individuals helping shape the spiritual formation of the people, the burden for a child’s discipleship remained primarily upon the parents. This only serves to highlight the truth that God’s plan has always been, and will always be, parents acting as the primary disciplers of their children.

This foundational biblical truth should also resonate with our experience, not only as parents, but as those who have been parented. Our personal patterns and habits that echo our parents’ influence on us merely confirm why there is no one better to impart to a child a love for Jesus. It is also why the parent as primary disciple maker is one conviction we must firmly hold. Unfortunately, many parents often leave the responsibility for their children’s spiritual growth with the church staff who lead children’s ministries on any given Sunday.

At first blush this church-only strategy seems natural because, like a teacher for educational development or a coach for athletic development, specialists often play a central role in the growth of our children. Therefore, it would seem the obvious strategy for our child’s spiritual growth would fall in bulk upon the pastor’s shoulders and the ministries of the local church. But we have clearly seen in Scripture that both Old and New Testaments testify this is not the case. The parent operates as their child’s first pastor, minister, and teacher. This does not mean our children should refrain from involving themselves with age-graded ministries of a local church. Far from it! However, it does mean those ministries are not a replacement for the parents’ critical position as primary disciple maker.

If this was the type of legacy you personally received as a child, make a break as a parent. If this is the legacy you are presently giving your kids, repent and give them something worth passing down. Remind yourself that, for better or worse, you are your kids’ primary children’s minister and their foremost student pastor. If that feels overwhelming, then welcome to the club. I have been in ministry for three decades, hold a couple seminary degrees, teach the Bible on a regular basis, and still feel overwhelmed as I look into the eyes of my three sons and wonder what their future holds. But being overwhelmed does not mean parents get a free pass from the Bible’s calling on us to disciple our children. Be encouraged! If God calls you to this role, it means you really can do it.

So, give it a try.

Let the church come along side you. And watch what God can do in you and your kids for his glory and your good!


Podcasts

043: Dad Life – Leading and Loving Your Kids

In light of Father’s Day, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Aaron Lutz and Aric Harding about the fun times and awkward conversations that come with being a dad. They discuss how they lead their family when it comes to technology, discipline, and the priority of their marriage and relationship with Jesus.

They also tell some classic dad jokes.

RESOURCES:

The Man in the Mirror by Patrick Morley

Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes

Tender Warrior by Stu Weber

 

041: The Sanctuary – Hope and Healing in Foster Care

God calls on his people throughout Scripture to protect the vulnerable and care for orphans. The Sanctuary offers a new kind of foster care service, designed to create healing, hope, and permanency for children and families.

Resources:

www.sanctuaryfostercare.org

Harding Adoption Story Podcast

Clear Creek Care & Support

038: Children/Teen Mental Health and the Gospel

On this episode Rachel Chester talks with Lindsey Lehtinen, a licensed therapist, about the unique struggles that children and teens go through and how the gospel applies to them. They also discuss how parents can disciple their children in this season.

RESOURCES:

Care & Support Ministry

Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF)

 

036: Mom Guilt

While many things are different right now, one thing that is not new is the reality of mom guilt. In fact, many moms feel the pressure of not doing enough or being enough even more in this season.  On this episode, Rachel Chester talks with Jennefer Arrington and Mandy Turner about what mom guilt is, where it comes from, and how we can encourage each other to find freedom and rest from it.

 

RESOURCES

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms

“The Difference Between Guilt and Shame” (article)

“The Gift of Mom Guilt” (article)

“(Mom) Guilt and the Gospel” by Jennifer Arrington

 

030: Advice for the Reluctant Homeschool Parent

As a result of schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have unexpectedly had to start homeschooling their kids during this time. To help parents newly tasked with educating their kids, Ryan Lehtinen sits down with experienced teacher and former homeschool parent Jennefer Arrington to encourage parents and discuss things she’s learned over the years.

RESOURCES:

Simply Charlotte Mason

Khan Academy

Additional Homeschooling Resources (PDF)

CCCC Children

CCCC Students

 

00: Who’s in the Bible? Preview for Parents

Welcome to “Who’s in the Bible? A Podcast for Kids.” Before you listen to the rest of the series, check out this special preview episode where hosts Lance Lawson and Aric Harding speak directly to parents, and give a quick overview of what this podcast is all about.

 

027: Who’s In The Bible? Introducing a New Podcast for Kids

In this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Lance Lawson and Aric Harding about the joys and challenges of discipling their children. They share some helpful tips and stories of failures that will encourage anyone in a position to impact the life of a young person. They also talk about their new project, “Who’s In The Bible? A Podcast for Kids,” launching March 6 with weekly episodes.

 

017: Celebrating Advent with Your Family, with Josh and Mandy Turner

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It’s the season where churches around the world celebrate the coming (or advent) of Jesus and prepare their hearts for Christmas Day. In this episode, Yancey Arrington talks about the history of Advent and how it’s been celebrated by the Church for centuries. Then, he’s joined by Josh and Mandy Turner from the Clear Lake campus to talk about how their family celebrates Advent each year.

 

013: You Can’t Go Back So Go On, Part 2: The Adoption Story of Aric and Glenna Harding

In Part 2 of Aric and Glenna Harding’s adoption story, they share about what happened after deciding to welcome two young brothers into their home. Then later, they receive another call that would change their family forever.

 

RESOURCES:
Clear Creek Orphan Care

012: You Can’t Go Back So Go On, Part 1: The Adoption Story of Aric and Glenna Harding

Ted Ryskoski hosts as Aric and Glenna Harding share their two-part story of adopting three children in addition to their four biological children. The Hardings live in Friendswood and attend Clear Creek’s West Campus. Aric serves on Clear Creek’s staff as the West Campus music leader.