I’d decided to meet a friend and her kids downtown at the Science Center even though the thought of just getting there aggravated my ever-present anxiety. In the 7.8 million person Asian metropolis where we lived at the time, our two best options for getting downtown were taxi and subway. I generally tried to steer clear of taxis for long distances since my oldest daughter tends toward car sickness and because entirely too many of the 7.8 million residents owned cars and would be driving them that morning. However, as some of you may know, and all of you can imagine, navigating a subway with a 1 and 4 year old isn’t the easiest task either — especially since that part of Asia isn’t the most accessible place for a stroller.
She learned that game quickly and asked angrily, “Why did God make it rain so hard on us?”
Hearing her reflecting my anger at so many things that were outside of our control helped to pop the angry, desperate stress bubble suffocating me, and I finally took a deep breath.
“Oh sweetie,” I said, scraping up what felt like the last of my calm reserves. “If anyone should be blamed, it should be me. Mommy should have brought us some umbrellas.”
The rain lessened, so we left the cover of the subway station and headed for the crosswalk. She sensed a slight shift in my mood and tone, and hers followed suit.
“That’s okay, Mom. Maybe you can forgive yourself.”
A surprised chuckle bubbled up from my gut, further melting away the stress and shame that had begun to weigh me down. I smiled down at her, now enjoying the puddles to splash in as we approached our destination and our friends.
“That’s a good idea, sweetie. Maybe I can. How did you get to be so wise?”
I pondered that question afterward, still surprised and amazed that she could offer me such depths of grace after I’d been so ungracious towards everything and everyone the whole morning. But the answer came suddenly from Holy Spirit in a moment of reflection a few days later, “She learned it from you.”
It was true. She learned about forgiving self from me. Not because I am an expert, but because I struggle with it so intensely. That day was a turning point in my mental health and spiritual journey, and a day I often think back to when the Father of Lies tries to convince me (again) that I am too screwed up to really teach my girls anything good or to be a good mom at all. It was the first piece of irrefutable evidence in the case Holy Spirit, my Advocate, was building to prove that I am exactly the mom He intended for my children (for their good). The courtroom shocker? She didn’t glean that Gospel-goodness — the wisdom she offered to me that day — from the flowery exposition and sermonizing of my best days, she gleaned it from my frequent (ugly) failures, and from the humble repentance that followed.
A year and a half later, I feel as though the case is finally settled and I am a newly free woman. Holy Spirit, together with almost-weekly counseling and the addition of anti-anxiety medicine, have finally convinced the biased jury of my distorted thought patterns of the truth. I’ve struggled throughout this whole mothering journey, longing to be a good mother. Unfortunately, a lifetime of distorting “good” to mean “perfect” – and “perfect” meant no failures or weaknesses – made that good desire into a prison of frustration and despair. As an intense mom with two intense daughters, I wondered if God had made some kind of mistake, since their intensity seemed to only trigger my own. Surely one of those steady, “immovable” moms would have better helped them to ride the waves of their intense emotions. Yet, that day was the beginning of me understanding that He’d given them to me precisely because they would need someone with experience riding those waves. My knowledge of navigating stormy waters wouldn’t come from ivory towers, or countless books on regulating emotions (though I have voraciously read many for help and tips), but from me finally giving up trying to dodge the waves and instead jumping into them.
I wanted God to use my many strengths to bless my children (while simultaneously bolstering my ego); it took me almost 6 years to realize that, while He will of course bless my children through my gifts, He also wants to use my weaknesses. Perhaps He especially wants to use me in my weakness so that I and my children might experience His power and grace as sufficient.
Perfect is impossible, and perfect is actually not good. Good involves weakness. Good involves neediness. Good involves Gospel. How do I know? Jesus, the only truly Good Person, had weaknesses and needs, and made Himself utterly dependent on His Father. That’s all He asks of us, friends: to be our fully human selves and be willing to allow our weaknesses to lead us and others toward our gracious and forgiving Father.