It was a particularly draining day as a homeschooling mom of four little ones. My husband was out of town for three days and counting. I was low on energy, patience, gentleness, and kind words. After spending the morning out of the house with the kids, I had determined that we absolutely MUST make it through a few math and grammar lessons that afternoon.
As my daughter reached her math worksheet, her mind was clearly almost as frayed as mine as she repeated a simple subtraction problem out loud over and over, unable to think of the answer. In my moment of weakness, I was overcome with the irrational thought that this one little subtraction problem flub was actually a giant reflection of my adequacy, or lack thereof, as a homeschool teacher. My sense of failure and frustration began to boil up inside of me and without warning blew out of my mouth with an explosive cry of exasperation at my daughter. My obvious disappointment at her inability to come up with the answer evoked immediate tears from her eyes as her lip quivered beneath the weight of my anger.
At once I felt the Holy Spirit’s conviction piercing my heart, and I joined my daughter in her tears. “Oh, I am so sorry, baby. I am so sorry. I should not have yelled or treated you that way. Please forgive me. I love you so much.” And we just held each other. Once we had embraced and reconciled and wiped away our tears, I offered a meager smile and reminded her of a little strategy I had taught her before for that particular problem. “Oh yeah!” She perked up and continued on through her worksheet.
I often find myself in moments of weakness buckling under the pressure of the expectations I set on myself and on our children. While there are many joys in both homeschooling and parenting, one pitfall I find myself in again and again is wrapping my identity so tightly around what I do and accomplish in any given day. Have I checked off all the boxes on today’s school, housework, and responsibilities list? Have my children impressed everyone we encountered today with their manners and behavior and obedience? Did I present a perfect snapshot of our enviable day for others to admire and approve of on social media?
Of course, we might agree that those accomplishments are shallow at best. But other more noble lists also haunt me as I evaluate my success and worth at the end of the day. Did I love my kids with gentleness, kindness, and patience? Were my words toward my husband life-giving, respectful, and encouraging? Was I a faithful friend who prayed for and reached out to others proactively and intentionally?
While these can be important areas of self-reflection, if I am truly honest, I will fall short of these standards every time. I can never measure my worth and identity on my strivings as a wife, mother, friend, or human being. And yet so often I do.
I constantly walk around with an unbearable burden of feeling like a failure. As time has passed and the number of our children has increased, I have become more and more cynical about the inevitability that I will somehow disappoint each person I encounter. I carry regret that I have allowed relationships to dwindle and become neglected. I fail to show up with my kids to social engagements or other commitments because we just could not get all ten of our little feet out the door. I get behind on meal planning yet again, and I scrape together a last-minute pathetic solution to fill all six bellies which I am responsible to feed. I forget to do the load of laundry my husband requested for me to do that morning. I yell at my kids when their mess and their noise level exceeds what my OCD and sanity can handle. I go days without cracking my Bible, and I plug through my days running on fumes.
The list could go on and on, and every day it does. It floods my brain as I fall asleep at night and condemns me with thoughts of failure and guilt. My glaring weakness and inability is overwhelming at times.
And other days? I actually start to feel pretty good about myself. I have a particularly successful day where everything aligns, the children are delightfully obedient, and all my lists get checked off. I have a good hair day, I get the laundry done, and I feel a temporary high as I think – hey, I kind of have it all together. For today.
And then I drop back down to the pit of despair again the very next day.
If our identity is wrapped up in what we do, we will undoubtedly experience this constant seesaw of highs and lows. High when we think we are doing pretty well and low when we are overwhelmed by our failure. Vacillation between guilt and pride is exactly where the Enemy would have us reside. If we are distracted by our own works, we will easily forget the work of the only One whose work ultimately matters when it comes to our identity.
When Christ lived a perfect life of obedience, service and suffering, died the painful and shameful death of the cross, and rose from the grave in victory over sin and death, he eternally accomplished an identity shift for those of us who belong to him. He took our guilt and failure, washed us clean, and covered us in his perfect righteousness. When God looks at us and evaluates us at the end of each day, if we are in Christ, he sees the perfect record of his Son on our behalf. We are his beloved children, held in his grasp.
Romans 8 tells us there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because Christ Himself was condemned on our behalf when he took our sin upon himself on the cross. When we feel the weight of our failure and the overwhelming sense of our weakness, rather than wallow in a pit of guilt and despair, it is actually an opportunity to boast in Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 11:30 Paul writes, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” He goes on in the following chapter to write about a thorn in his flesh that he has pleaded with the Lord to remove. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:9-10).
When we boast in our weakness, we acknowledge and declare our dependence on Christ. Let us not be ashamed to share with the world that we do not have it all together! When we confess that we are weak, needy, messy people who fail daily to measure up to the demands of the Law, we have the opportunity to point to our Savior who perfectly met the demands of the Law on our behalf! I am weak, my Jesus is strong. I am going to fail you and disappoint you, but our God never disappoints! He is perfectly faithful and will never leave nor forsake his children.
So tomorrow when I blow it with my children again, I can point them to the Savior whom they can look to and trust in with all their hearts never to let them down. When they fail to obey or when their stubborn, selfish hearts grind against one another in sibling conflicts, I can kneel down to them in their weakness and show them their need for the Savior to rescue them from their rebellion. Just like Mama.
The power of the gospel shines forth through our weakness in a way that it cannot in our well-presented facades of feigned strength. We are needy people relying on a mighty God who supplies sufficient strength and grace for each moment of this life. Let us shine a spotlight on our Jesus by boasting of our weaknesses with each other, with our children, with our neighbors, thus boasting in the power of Christ on the cross to save even floundering, rebellious wretches such as us.