I’m not a young mother any more, and my children aren’t little. They’re all grown, happily married to wonderful spouses, with precious children of their own. They all serve the Lord, and I believe this cycle will repeat itself in the future: my grandchildren will prayerfully marry men and women who encourage my grandchildren to love and serve the Lord, who will in turn teach my great grandchildren to do the same.
I hope I haven’t painted a picture of perfection for you. Our families are anything but perfect: we have been through struggles, and failures. Some of my children don’t agree with me on the way we raised them. In fact, there have been many, many times in recent years, when I’ve wondered: “Have my children looked back on their childhood, and their teen years, and seen how many mistakes their father and I made?” They’ve probably…I hope…sworn not to make those mistakes with their children.
So, I guess I’m addressing those of you who have passed those child rearing years. And I ask us this question: “Is it too late?” Well, yes, it is as far as those years go…years that now seem like a vapor.
This chapter actually isn’t only for mothers who have passed their child-rearing years. It’s for everyone who has looked back on an unpleasant experience, and thought to herself, “Oh, if only I had a second chance!” But going back and un-doing our mistakes is like trying to put an egg back in its shell once it’s broken: you can’t do it.
But I think I have hope for us this morning, as I sit in my very quiet, child-free house: I have hope for those of us who were too strict, or maybe not quite strict enough. There’s hope for those things that come back to our memory…time spent on those things that didn’t really matter a hoot; failure to spend time on others things that really, really did matter.
What about the negative things I said to my children when they were growing up? What about the positive things I didn’t say about their silly little accomplishments? Can I ever erase my failures from my mind and from my past? Of course I can’t.
But let me share some mothering things that I’ve learned in my forty-plus years in this career:
1. I’m a sinner. I’m not perfect. God knows I wasn’t a perfect wife, and not even in my wildest imagination, was I a perfect mother. My husband was a sinner, too, and we made little sinners. We live in a sinful world with other sinners, and we’re surrounded by sinful influences. In no way am I excusing myself this morning by blaming my failures on my nature. I know mothers who have never read their Bible, who did a splendid job at mothering. I don’t even come close to their admirable qualities. And they didn’t even know the Lord as personally as I do. But in some small way, I hope to remove some of the negative feelings about past failures if I can, by letting you know why we make mistakes.
2. While we can never go backward in life, I do believe God does close old doors, while He opens new ones. If you are the mother of adult children, maybe you have done things in your past which have actually harmed relationships. May I say something here? If your children are still small, you probably look at us older mothers, like I used to do thirty-five years ago and think, “Oh, if only I didn’t have diapers to change, homework to patrol, and baths to supervise…” Well, believe me, that day will come so quickly, you won’t even realize it. Just enjoy the simplicity of your career now. Perhaps the biggest boon of having small children is that they don’t judge you. You can pretty much get away with anything, and they will come running to you at the end of the day, and hug you. Young children usually don’t hold grudges. Big children do. Unless you know the tragedy of not being forgiven, you don’t know much about suffering. How do you cope with the burden of “sins unforgiven?” I don’t know. I haven’t really figured that one out yet. But I have found comfort in knowing that God does forgive, because He is God. Children are people. They are sinners, and they haven’t completely learned the art of forgiveness. They hurt. And when we are the cause of that hurt, perhaps the hurt has gone far beyond the capacity to forgive. Have you done everything you know to restore broken relationships? Still no forgiveness there? Don’t let it destroy your joy. Take courage in the fact that God does forgive you. Then just back off, and leave it in His hands. If you’ve confessed your sin to the child you have failed, and if you’ve asked for their forgiveness, then confess it to God, ask Him for forgiveness, and rest assured that He will forgive you. You cannot control people’s emotions. Forgiveness is an act of the heart. And the heart is sacred territory, where only the Holy Spirit can tread. Especially if that child knows the Lord, trust Him to take control as only He can. Then just claim that joy that you lost, and don’t let the devil rob you of the happiness God wants you to have. Another thing I would like to say here is this: no matter how much you are hurting, remember that child who cannot forgive you is suffering more than you are. Holding grudges always, always hurts the grudge-holder more than the person who does not receive forgiveness. If you love that unforgiving child, and I know you do, pray for healing in their heart. There is no way a person can have perfect peace and joy as long as they have an unforgiving heart. By the way, do you have an unforgiving heart? Has one of your children done something to hurt you that goes beyond your forgiveness? Shame on you. Ask God to take that hurt. Give it to Him, and ask for His healing. You do unimaginable damage to relationships when you refuse to forgive. You can forgive, yes you can.
3. Learn from your past mistakes, or balance the books. I am by no means condoning the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I never want to encourage a ho-hum attitude toward sin by thinking, “Oh, well, God knows I’m a sinner, and I’ll never be perfect. That’s just the way I am.” Never! But the past is in the past. We can’t change it, but we can learn from it. Just like a businesswoman balances her books at the end of the year: what brought a profit? What caused losses? What did I do in the past to harm relationships? What did I do right? What did I do that brought me closer to my children? What did I do that drove them away? I must analyze my actions, and my attitudes. I still have children who love being with me. I must never take that for granted like I have taken past relationships. I must guard my mind, my words, my attitudes, and my heart. I must treasure those moments that I once took for granted. I must place my priorities in order. People, not things, not time, not even ministries, are what count most, and I must place them at the top of my list. I won’t bore you by confessing my failures, but you know yours. Bow your head right now, and ask God to show you where you have failed in the past, and ask Him help you to look forward to the future; ask Him to help you not only to avoid doing or saying or thinking the things that destroyed wonderful relationships; but also ask Him to turn every negative into a positive…where you didn’t listen, be absorbed in what your loved ones are saying to you, not only in words, but in expressions, and in attitudes.
So is it really too late? It’s never too late, “because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Let’s say with Paul:
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14
Personally, Mom, I think you’re doing a great job! Keep up the good work! Have a good time mothering today.