For years, I have heard and read about the concepts of purposeful parenting, being intentional with your children, and relying on God’s strength and wisdom instead of your own. I had an idea of what this meant, but didn’t understand how to practically apply it. I knew I wanted to live out my faith in front of my children, but how was I supposed to do that, when I felt like my house was in constant chaos? I knew I wanted to respond with more love and patience, but how could I when I was in the midst of dozens of sibling quarrels everyday? I knew I needed to be less angry and irritated, but how could I control my temper when my children’s behavior still consisted of so much disobedience, defiance, arguing, and tantrums, despite my best efforts to discipline and teach them?
I thought I was already doing the things that I needed to do in order to bring about more peace in our family and respond differently. I read my Bible everyday; I prayed every now and then about my attitudes. I admitted to God that I couldn’t do this on my own, and that I needed the help, wisdom, and strength of the Holy Spirit to parent well. So why wasn’t anything getting better? Why did I still feel lost in a cloud of frustration, hopelessness, and discouragement? I didn’t even know what my purpose was anymore, or what I was supposed to intentionally be doing. I was just trying to make it through each day without totally losing my mind.
Then a combination of things happened that started to lift me out of the hopelessness and despair. I had a very discouraging couple of weeks, where I felt like everyone in my family was especially tense, negative, and not getting along well. I knew I was contributing to the negativity but I didn’t know what I could do to stop the bad cycle we were in. During this time, I started reading a book that really helped to clarify some things in my mind and gave some good practical tips. And I truly believe the Holy Spirit brought other things to my mind that I have learned and read about for years, but never realized how it all fit together and how my actions and attitudes had to change. My desperation and prayers for wisdom suddenly crystalized into a plan, gave me inspiration and motivation, and finally brought meaning to the concepts of intentional and purposeful motherhood.
When I stopped to think about it, I knew my own resources of patience and grace with my children ran dry very quickly, and that I needed God’s help. But I realized I wasn’t acting like I needed God’s help in my everyday life. I was still tackling each new day, each new situation, without praying about it, without reminding myself regularly throughout the day that I needed to be alert and aware of Satan’s attacks. I wasn’t praying over my attitudes and responses multiple times every single day; I was just spending a couple minutes praying every now and then when I was feeling particularly discouraged. I wasn’t thinking through potential situations that might arise and preparing ahead of time for the likelihood of needing to leave the room and ask for His help right at that very moment as soon as I started feeling frustrated- even if it happened 10 times a day. I wasn’t planning for any of this. I was just reacting based on instinct and emotion. Unfortunately, being the sinful people that we are, our human instincts and emotions often make things worse.
And this brings me to what I believe is the core of the issue. The day after I began thinking about all of this in a new way, I was in a frustrating situation with my daughter. I could feel my annoyance rising. I could feel that I was about to start saying things I shouldn’t say. I knew I had just determined that in situations like these, I would walk away and pray, so I left and closed the door to my bedroom. But I didn’t pray right away. I sat on my bed for a minute and tried to pull myself together, without asking God’s help. Then I reluctantly started praying- and realized something crucial.
I didn’t want to pray. Praying meant I had to humble myself. Praying meant I had to admit that I was reacting wrongly. Praying meant that I had to ask for self control because I didn’t possess it on my own. It’s easier to yell. It’s easier to unleash an angry tirade.
So maybe this was the problem all along- not that I didn’t know what to do, but that I didn’t have the humility or willingness to do it. In the midst of parenting frustrations, we must employ humility and self control- probably two of the hardest attributes in the world to master. Our pride, arrogance, and superiority complex over our children keep us from remembering that we’re no better than them; we’re just bigger and older. We are in need of God’s grace every bit as much as they are. We sin every single day, just like they do. We are so self-centered and prideful, we forget that Jesus humbled himself by becoming human and enduring a shameful and excruciating death, so that as believers, we would have the privilege to call on Him for the wisdom, patience, and strength that we don’t have on our own.
Without immersing ourselves in Scripture, we won’t even know what biblical wisdom and godly responses are. I love to read, so I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with my daily Bible reading plan. But I was failing to take into account how much prayer and preparation I would need to do, and that I would need to do it when I’m not already in the midst of problematic situations or in the heat of the moment. Being intentional means thinking and praying about my attitudes and potential conflicts before they happen and deciding how I will respond before I’m even in the situation, so that when the time comes, I am prepared. It means being aware enough of my own emotions to know when I need to step away from my kids. It means being humble enough to ask for God’s help when I’m angry or tired or confused or exasperated. And it means doing that everyday, repeatedly.
The Apostle Peter understood the importance of this. In Mark 14:30, Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him. Peter responds, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” The other disciples agree. Yet only hours later, they all desert Jesus when he is arrested, and when push comes to shove, Peter does indeed deny Jesus. This experience may have been on his mind when he writes in 1 Peter 1:13-15, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” In 1 Peter 5:8, he warns us about Satan’s attacks, saying again, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
This is serious language! And it requires serious work and effort. We are in an unseen battle everyday; not against flesh and blood, but against “the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil” who would love to see me fail and my family fall apart (Ephesians 6:12). In order to combat this, we need more than a little bit of prayer here and there. We need to regularly humble ourselves and acknowledge our shortcomings, while asking everyday, sometimes every hour, for His wisdom, grace, and strength so that we can conduct ourselves in a holy way. I need Him to help me look at motherhood as a calling that is full of opportunities to serve, love, reflect Christ to my family, and express dependence on Him through it all. I need Him to equip me to carry this out, as I share in a small fraction of His suffering to love and serve difficult, rebellious people, who don’t always love or serve me back. Without making the effort to focus on God this way, I so easily default back to feelings of despair, negativity, and frustration.
I think there’s much more that could be said about our intentions and purposes as parents, but this is a good place to start: our main purpose is to become more like Christ in the midst of trials (parenting contains many), and to acknowledge that the only way we can reflect Him more is to be actively, frequently acknowledging our need for Him, both before and during moments of conflict or frustration.
To end on a lighthearted note- my son has gone through many phases of absolutely hating bathtime. During one of these particularly intense and persistent phases, I sang the song “Lord I Need You” as he screamed and fought me during baths, so that I would be focused on God and keep myself from losing my temper. It actually worked pretty well, so I’m not sure why I never thought of singing it during other difficult times. Maybe it will be helpful for you too! I would love to hear any thoughts you have on what intentional parenting means to you, or the different ways you stay focused on your purpose.