Tuesday, September 8, 2009

a bad case of mother guilt

Let's take a break from thinking about childcare (and by the way, keep those questions coming) to think about guilt. :) This is a reprint of my last week's post from Sola Panel for those who missed it! I thought it might be timely given all those childcare posts, which have forced me - and I guess, some of you! - to rethink our priorities in mothering. I've made a few changes in my life, which I'll share with you sometime; but in the meantime, here's how I've been dealing with my guilt.

I've been feeling pretty guilty recently. What have I been feeling guilty about? I'm a mum, so you shouldn't have to ask!

Like so many mothers, I feel guilty because I'm not doing enough for my family. I've been trying to juggle too many things, and I'm worried I'm neglecting my children. (Actually, I don't think I am when I'm thinking logically; if anything's neglected, it's only the dust balls. But guilt doesn't think logically.)

The other morning I poured out my load of mother guilt to God, and found him doing what he does so well—gently, powerfully, wonderfully lifting the burden of guilt from my shoulders and replacing it with the assurance that he loves me and has forgiven me because his own Son died for me.

Guilt carries a weighty load. It brings a leaden heaviness to each of my tasks. It brings desperation as I consider all the things I haven't done. It saps me of joy, so that I trudge cheerlessly through my days. It brings a hidden, unspoken fear that God is going to ‘get’ me (surely some kind of punishment—some kind of payback lies—in store for me!).

I could accept God's grace for three months of imperfect, messy, distracted motherhood. But surely six months of imperfect motherhood is stretching his grace a little too far? Surely he's run out of patience by now? Surely he's no longer interested in giving me energy and grace? Perhaps if I punish myself a little—wallow in guilt feelings, drearily drag myself through my tasks—I'll somehow make up for it.

When I write it down, the logic is so clearly ridiculous, I'd laugh—laugh if I wasn't living as if Jesus' death isn't enough without me adding something to it: my guilt, my repentance, my emotional penance, my perfect motherhood.

The truth is that God never punishes me, for Jesus took my punishment (Rom 3:21-25, 8:1). He may discipline me, but I rejoice in that as a sign of his fatherly love for me (Heb 12:5-7). He hasn't stopped loving me. He hasn't stopped forgiving me. He hasn't even stopped rejoicing over me (Zeph 3:17). There are no obstacles between us; Jesus' death took every one away.

So what do us mothers do with our guilt?

  • We repent of any true, known sin. (If you're a wallower or if you're over-confident, it could help to ask an impartial observer!)
  • We rethink our priorities and make any changes that need to be made (acknowledging that there are no perfect plans [we're not going to somehow ‘get it right’ next time], but making decisions in prayerful wisdom).
  • We accept that there are some consequences of our choices that can't be changed (while changing what we can!). Then we fulfil our responsibilities with joy, not with a heavy burden of guilt, and trust God's sovereignty and grace.
  • Above all, we bring our burden of guilt to the cross, accept God's forgiveness, and rejoice in his love.
Here I am, at the foot of the cross again. Here I am, laying down my heavy burden. Here I am, receiving God's free gift of forgiveness. Here I am, enjoying the sun of God's love and joy on my face. Come and enjoy God's grace with me, my fellow mums.

God is not looking for perfect mothers to raise perfect children. He's looking for imperfect mothers who are raising imperfect children in an imperfect world, and desperately dependent on a perfect God for the results.

* From Vicki Courtney's excellent book Five Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter, B&H, Nashville, p. 257 - which I'm planning to review sometime, but in the meantime, I suggest you buy if you have a daughter old enough to talk! I've changed ‘daughters’ to ‘children’.

image is by Evil Erin at flickr


Fiona McLean said...

Jean, I was struck by the idea that God never punishes me, only disciplines me. It feels liberating, and I want to reflect more on that!


Jean said...

It is very liberating, isn't it? Jenny and I were talking about how freeing it is to realise this just the other day.

You'll notice the NIV uses "punish" in Hebrews 12:5-7, but the ESV uses "chastise". I guess the point is that Jesus has taken the punishment we deserve for our sins, so there's no punishment left for us to bear - but God does "discipline" us in a loving way - not because we have to "pay" for our sins in some way, but to train us in godliness. So the goal of God's loving discipline is positive, not negative.

But many of us still, in some secret recess of our mind, anticipate God's punishment when we feel that we've disappointed him in some way. We do this all the time, don't we? - e.g. I haven't had my QT, surely God won't bless me today. I've been really disobedient, something bad will surely happen to me. A Christian relic of paganism!