“Everyone does motherhood differently. There’s no one right way.” she said. “At the end of the day, my kids are all serving the Lord, so I’m obviously doing something right. That’s how I know I’m a good mom.”
I rinsed the skillet, drained the sink, and turned her words over and over.
I went about my day, and her words went with me.
I’m sure I’ve spoken similar words. There was a time, much earlier in motherhood, when I clung to the cute prayers my toddlers would whisper at dusk, all their s’s filed down with a lisp. I remember “praying the prayer” years ago with our preschooler and believing I had fulfilled my life’s work.
And then our oldest son came into our life.
I penned entire volumes on yellow legal pads while he sat in prison, loaded with Bible verses and the usual spiritual cheer-leading. His responses landed like a song in my mailbox, stacked with questions about God, loopy script devoid of punctuation but pulled hard toward possibility. Robert had found God apart from us, and I know nothing of the jailhouse Jesus. But I know He cannot be outrun. He sniffs people out in dark corners where they’re positioned to listen. I know this from experience, from a different kind of jail.
Yet all around were Christians who found themselves incapable of holding a steady gaze when I glowed about the redemption of my newest son. Their skepticism showed its face in the single arch of an eyebrow, and I burned with unholiness. Others dove straight into the deep end of my hallelujah, and I worried I hadn’t given them the full story.
The truth is, opinions had no bearing on the gravity of the miracle.
Wait, was it a miracle? Or was I just naive? I became vigilant about Robert’s spiritual health, constantly taking his pulse, checking his vitals, looking past his pain in search of fire. I was a good mom, after all. My status hinged on it staying lit.
Over time, it quieted. I grew satisfied with just a few curls of smoke.
He moved toward us, and away from God.
He sat in the dark — we sat there with him — and he said he wanted us forever, but not our faith.
The longer I’m a mom, the less I really know.
But here are a few things I do know. I know the church has allowed us to believe our job is to raise children of God, or maybe it’s soldiers for Christ or Jesus Freaks or some other cliche that feeds our hunger for independence and pride. It’s half true at most, and the distinction is important. We are tasked with leading our children well, pointing them to the cross while bearing the unique weight of not owning another’s soul. Nothing more.
I know our kids who look us straight in the eye and say they don’t want God might be the very people God uses to remind us of His unflagging affection and authority.
I know when we default to boring, blanket statements about whether or not we’re getting things “right,” it’s only because we know there are so many glaring things we’re getting wrong. We are all hardwired to self-soothe. We want so badly to sleep at night. I get it. But we are not fooled by our own words. These platitudes do not strengthen the kingdom.
The wrenching truth is, I pray for the salvation of all my children but I can do nothing to secure it.
There are moms who have “heard from the Lord” that their children will all come to serve Christ. I am not her.I do hear from the Lord. Our talks are unfancy treasure, infusing the air around me. They are my feet on the pavement, my hand on my child’s cheek, the water beating down on my shoulders in the morning, the closed fists of blossoms making promises they will keep. He loves me. He adores you. He created Robert in His image, with intention. I can be sure of this.
Our job is not to lasso our kids’ hearts for God then hand Him the rope.
We cannot tie our goodness to an outcome that was never ours to create. We’ve gotten this all wrong. Our job is to reflect His goodness while we are here in the land of the fumbling, wrecking-ball living.
It’s time to reshape this narrative.
When I walk in my limitations, I am a good mom.
When I remember my cupboards are bare of power and sovereignty, I am a good mom.
When I have the courage to look at my screw-ups and past theirs, I am a good mom.
When I am willing to see myself in their thin places, I am a good mom.
When I pull my wanderer into a tight hug and promise there is no end to my love, I am a good mom.
When I speak the truth, pray, and hold up my light with shaking arms because it’s all I know to do, I am a good mom.
When I never stop hoping, I am a good mom.
God holds us in His palm. We can only feel the ground under our own two feet.
But it’s bright here. It’s warm. We radiate the goodness of our safe place.
It’s impossible to know who might be moving toward the light on our faces.
Maybe that’s the whole point and perhaps it is exactly enough.