I feel like such a failure.
Growing up, I became accustomed to objective standards of success defining whether or not I had succeeded. An ‘A+’ signifies a job well done. A winning record in my collegiate sport proves my hard work. Even in marriage, a “Great job!” from my husband means I am accomplishing my goal of loving him well. Until recently, I didn’t realize how much I had begun to rely on these exterior praises to determine whether I had accomplished a job well done.
Every day, I am faced with opportunities to fail or succeed but there is no one other than my three kids under three to see. For the last three years, I have constantly strived to be the best and most God-honoring mother I can be. In my striving, I have never, ever felt more like a failure. Even the encouragement from my husband hasn’t been good enough for me. My kids aren’t old enough to understand what a good mom does and is, so I’m left pursuing an elusive affirmation that won’t come. In my struggle to understand why I often feel dissatisfied and discouraged in my homemaking and parenting, I turned to Scripture. By God’s grace, I found five truths regarding the unseen work of motherhood.
First, the work of caring for my home and for my children is good and godly work. In Titus 2, the call for older women to teach younger women includes the phrase “to be workers at home.” This section of text spells out for us what it looks like to be godly women. It is good for us to be working in our homes, loving our husbands and children. Whether it is wiping tables or wiping buns, God has given us the job of raising the blessing of children for his glory.1 It is good for you and I to pursue God’s glory in our most mundane and boring tasks.2
Second, the pursuit of the approval of man regarding my performance can be sinful idolatry. Galatians 1:10 says “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” If my work is dedicated merely to serving man, then I am missing the point and the proper motivation of why my work matters. If I rely constantly on the approval of my husband to affirm my value and worth as a mother, then I am seeking to serve man and not God. Colossians 3:23-24 directly commands us to serve God and not man. Now this is not to say that in serving God, I don’t also serve man. A clean home and fed children obviously serves them as well, but the main motivating factor in our work should be God’s glory. To pursue a clean home and obedient children for reasons other than honoring Christ can quickly become idolatry of man’s approval.
Third, the goodness of my work is determined by God, not by how I feel about it. What if I go to bed and the dishes aren’t done? What if I feel worn out from disciplining my children all day? What if I am completely discouraged by the insurmountable task of faithfully mothering? The goodness of my job as a mother is not determined by how ecstatic I am to be doing it. We all know that not every day feels like Disneyland, and often, even Disneyland isn’t all that great. This is why we must be reminded that God judges the heart.3 When your home is a wreck and your children are sick and it seems like everything is falling apart, God sees your heart, Mama. He knows your desire to honor him and he is not disappointed in the laundry that is undone. When you are patient and long-suffering yet your children still disobey, be encouraged that God has called your job of parenting good.
Fourth, when I inevitably fail, God’s grace is sufficient for me. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been angry with your kids. The fight against the temptation to respond in sinful anger toward my children is one I fight every single day. Often, that fight happens minute to minute. I am keenly aware of my failure in motherhood, but that failure is not found in an imperfect house or undone laundry. It is in a heart of grumbling, in a posture of discontentment, in impatience and anger, in envy and gossip. Part of my problem is that I displace what failure actually is. I am less concerned with the sin of anger if my kids obey. Yet, God says my sin is the true problem I face, not teenagers with attitudes. We are creatures of disordered values. We measure success in the final product, not in the heart of the process. Despite our many failures, God remembers that we are but dust.4 He promises to shower us with grace upon grace as we continually return to him in our failure.5 We serve a God that is acquainted with the hardship of living in a sin cursed world and he sympathizes with our striving and he is honored in our pursuit of faithful mothering.6
Finally, my value is found in Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf, not my striving in this life. When I don’t receive that A+ for the day or even if I do, my value as a mother is not measured in my wins and losses or my grade on the imaginary parenting report card. My life is hidden with Christ and it is no longer I who live but him who lives in me.7 I am called to be faithful and I will inevitably fail, but the truth is that because of Christ’s death and resurrection on my behalf, there is no failure, no sin too big, no utter parenting loss that can strip me from God’s right hand.8 This is the gospel! Through Christ’s sacrifice, we are secure and we do not have to strive for God’s love or seek the approval of our husbands to be considered good. God has declared us righteous in his sight and there is no better place to be.
So be encouraged sweet Mama, we are not striving in vain. The Lord has given us the good work of motherhood and no matter how we feel about it at this moment, this is a good work for us to do. We don’t need the approval of man. We don’t need a winning record. We need God’s grace in our failure and we need to be reminded over and over of the precious good news of the gospel.
1. Psalm 127:3-5, Ephesians 6:4
2. 1 Corinthians 10:31
3. 1 Samuel 16:7
4. Psalm 103:14
5. John 1:16
6. Hebrews 4:15
7. Galatians 2:20
8. John 10:28