Three-step plans are so easy. So helpful.
If you ask Google what it takes to be a good mom there’s a zillion sites ready to give you a plan for how to be a better mom, or a list of three (or eight or thirty-five) signs that you’re a Good Mom. There’s even a WikiHow article on it. Most of them come down to about three things:
1. Keep your child first above anything else
2. Be at your absolute happiest when you’re with your child
And my personal unfavorite:
3. Make sure to cultivate your relationship with each child with lots of one-on-one time
Yeah, tell that to any mom of more than one kid.
I was walking through the yard after a rainstorm the other day picking up the sticks that routinely drop from the huge silver maple in our yard. My kids were happily playing, but I was feeling kind of low or puzzled over who knows what, and a portion of Scripture began to run through my mind:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you…
It’s probably a sin of some kind, but I generally steer clear of the type of well-worn verses that evangelicals turn into clichés. But since I had just read through Micah recently, this one was fresh.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Boom. Three step plan. Easy and pat, I can do this. Just like those dumb listicles, right?
But you have to start somewhere, and I think this might just beat out Wikihow. So here it is. The ultimate guide to good momming.
It’s a stripped down answer of what’s essential for living a life pleasing to God, and freedom from legalistic and worldly goals. Simple, yes. But not simplistic.
The application for doing justly isn’t just for a global, community, or neighborhood cause. Our first responsibility is to our closest neighbors, those living in our own homes. As the mom you’ve got to uphold God’s law with your children. You have to bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. They need to know what God requires of them and therefore, what you require of them. Obedience. Which means you’ll have to follow through with discipline. We all know that discipline isn’t the opposite of love.
It also means preserving equity among your children. Making sure that your children are loving one another. That’s more tricky than it might seem, because it requires knowing your children. It requires listening to them as they play and interact with each other. Sometimes it might even require you to put aside the housework to dig down to the real issues in play.
Certainly the bigger ones can oppress the little ones with their size and strength. But the little ones can just as easily oppress the big ones with their screams and whines and cries of “not fair!” Sometimes the bad guy is the bossy girl who wants everyone to play this exact game at this exact time in this exact way. But sometimes the bad guy is the obstreperous boy who refuses to play the game that everybody else is happy to play. Sometimes the bad guy is enticing his brother to steal a cookie before dinner. But he might just as easily be quoting Sunday school verses or saying “God wants us to share” as a way of lording it over his siblings.
True mom justice means not punishing all the cookie monsters and rewarding all the Bible-verse monsters. True mom justice has eyes to see where the just-plain-difficult kids are trying their best (the little guy with the loud voice being as quiet as he knows how), and the “easy” kids are not trying at all (the little girl (so sweetly and demurely) judging all her brothers and sisters).
Then there are the moms who let some children use mom’s own irritability to oppress other children.
But you’re not like that. Your children aren’t like that. Discipline is easy. 😉
Justice and mercy go hand in hand. It’s easy to swing from all mercy to all law, but a godly mother brings balance and security to her home with both. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it crushes the spirit.” A merciful mother bears with the weakness of her children and dies to her own felt needs and desires so that those of her children would be met.
If justice is upholding God’s standard, mercy is how we help our children love God’s standard. God’s law is firm and uncompromising. But God is always mindful of our weaknesses and tender towards us. He knows we are but dust. And that tender, compassionate approach to us never requires him to set aside His justice. It only makes his justice sweet. Our orientation to our children should be the same.
This is what makes it all come together. Humility is the grace and dignity of good mothering. Humility reminds a mother that she is also but dust, and that makes it easier to remember her children are, too. Walking humbly with God means that a mother will be more focused on knowing and obeying the Lord than she is on ticking the boxes in her Google-researched listicle, and even more free from comparing herself to anyone else. Such sweet peace lies in being a humble, repentant sinner before our children and the world. Here we find the fruit of joy and growth as the Spirit works in and through us in service to our families.
Okay, so it’s not exactly a three-step plan, and it’s not easy. But it isn’t complicated. It’s straight forward and simple, and doesn’t pile on the guilt of a million dos and don’ts. It just requires humility and the grace of God.