Something happened in my Facebook feed recently. Homecoming photos. So many, I couldn’t help but realize that more of my friends are raising high-schoolers than babies.
This revelation was yet another reminder that our kids are slipping away from us. Time’s pull on them is inevitable, and fighting it is as futile as trying to hold back the tide.
Knowing this doesn’t stop me from trying. I cling to those sweet years when I could scoop up my kids and make them giggle, when the hurts and dangers of life were nothing more, in their eyes, than waves passing harmlessly underfoot.
This yearning for the past, it leads to regret—how much time I’ve wasted, how many things I wish I’d done differently. I see now, in my growing children, how my own failures were seeded into their young hearts. When they struggle with anger, insecurity, and fear, I think to myself, “That’s me. I did that.”
Regret Begets Regret
I often look at other moms—the ones whose kids have somehow managed to turn into functional adults—and wonder how they did it. What was their secret? Sit-down dinners every night of the week? Family devotions before bed? Did they volunteer as room parents and take their kids on spiritual retreats?
My assumption is that these moms were all about motherhood. They ate, drank, and slept maternal responsibility, and did it with enthusiasm. They didn’t slog through their days stressed, irritable, and overextended. They didn’t have to fight an overwhelming urge to bury their head under a pillow at the first sign of tween angst.
They didn’t feel like unnatural mothers. Or did they?
When I ask these moms how they did it, I hear something like this: “I have no idea how my kids turned out okay, but somehow we all survived.”
My friend, Cath, refers to these young-mom years as the “tour-of-duty.” Her kids are grown now, thriving with families of their own, but she’d laugh if you tried to give her credit. “God is our X-factor,” she’s fond of saying, especially to moms.
I’ve been feeling the need for an X-factor lately. My kids’ struggles are rubbing up against my own deficiencies, and I’m raw. Why did no one warn me that parenting is like staring at yourself in a mirror, naked, under harsh fluorescent light?
Learning to Rest in Grace
It didn’t occur to me, until recently, that this regret I’m holding is a dangerous foe. It’s a wily thing—condemnation posing as humility—and the tighter its grasp the less it occurs to me to fight.
But I must fight, because no amount of regret can prevent brokenness (including my own) from touching my kids’ lives. And it certainly can’t teach me how to love my children in their hard places. Only grace can do that.
Grace has been the theme of my thought life these last few weeks. Battling regret has led me to examine moments I’d all but forgotten. I’ve been scavenging through memories, asking myself where I took wrong turns, and why. But instead of burdening myself with more regret, I’m laying my failures down like broken shells, and asking God to help me accept His grace so I can let them go.
This process is teaching me that grace is a powerful antidote.When I learn to accept grace, I learn to show it. I teach my children what to do with their own sin (accept grace), and how to respond to sin in others (give grace). Just as regret begets regret, grace begets grace.
I’m not talking about cheap grace, a.k.a. blind tolerance, relativity, or apathy. I’m talking about Gospel grace, the only kind that acknowledges the grievousness of our failures yet obliterates them with love. That kind of grace is where hope lives, where I’m slowly learning to release my regret in exchange for deeper strength and fuller joy.
Grace and Peace to Us
The Apostle Paul often began his letters like this: “Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I believe he meant these words to his core, no matter how many times he said them. And I mean then now:
Grace and peace to you. When regret has you by the throat—when your kids’ struggles look like the collateral damage of your own sin—may God reveal to you the riches of His grace, which He has lavished on you with immeasurable love and compassion. He knows the heights and depths of your heart, and loves you anyway. His grace is sufficient for you, for me, and for our children.
May He be your X-factor, and mine.