Little Instruments of Grace
Words by Kim Seville // Image by Dianne Jago
Last week Mommy had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
A series of bad days, actually, that led me to finally tell my husband, “I’ve never been so consistently angry before.” The weight of my children’s neediness felt too heavy and my anger was lurching out toward them in the form of yelling and sharp verbal correction. Even though I’d apologized to them, I felt sad and ashamed.
It was no earth-shattering behavioral problems that led to Mommy’s bad day. It was bubbles spilt all over the sofa, the weariness that comes from refereeing sibling squabbles, the constant requests for all variety of things, the baby bringing me the bowl from her little potty to proudly display what she’d done.
It was regular mom stuff. But it was undoing me.
I wept, and I talked to the Lord, who in his kindness reminded me to meditate on James 1:19–20, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
I was experiencing, in the remorse of that moment, the truth of verse 20. Very aware of my own unrighteousness, my sin against my kids reminded me of my need for the Gospel; that Jesus came to die for needy, angry rebels. And that God’s number-one priority for my life is to make me more like Jesus. My children are sweet gifts, given by God both for my enjoyment and for my sanctification. They are a form of God’s mercy to me, revealing through their neediness the selfishness and sinfulness of my own heart.
So step one for this angry mommy was to repent of my own unrighteousness and cling to the Righteous One, who joyfully bore all of my sadness and shame at the Cross.
Step two was (and is) to seek God’s help in being quick to listen to my kids. “Lord, help me listen for the needs and the hearts and the teachable moments with each one. Help me attend to their neediness in a way that shows them Jesus.” Ironically, in a house that is never quiet, I asked God to give me ears to hear my kids.
Step three was to petition God for help with my tongue. “Lord, give me grace to be slower to speak—to think about what my kids are asking me before I say no—and give me grace to be slow to anger, as you are so slow to anger with me.”
As I reflected on this struggle with anger, I also became aware that although angry outbursts had not been a consistently significant issue for me before, I had certainly been enticed for years by other forms of anger, specifically bitterness—that inward, smoldering fire that lashes out with more subtlety but the same deadly venom.
I’m reminded of how I used to get splinters as a kid. A splinter that stuck out from my skin was visible, and therefore more painful and distressing. But removal was fairly simple. The one that got in deep hurt, but for a little while could be ignored. Eventually, of course, my parents would insist it come out. And the buried ones were always the most difficult and painful to remove.
In revealing my anger, God is showing me a splinter in my heart that must come out, for my good and his glory. He’s not only teaching me about parenting, he’s giving me insight into my very soul. He is graciously using these little people to show me things about myself—and himself—which I might have never seen otherwise. He’s revealing my neediness.
This great work of motherhood is hard. But it’s a hard thing worth doing. As parents, we will sin and struggle, sometimes with the same sin more times than we’d like anyone to acknowledge. But God is working to make us, his people, more like himself. And I’m convinced that some of the most powerful instruments for this great purpose of God are currently clinging to our legs.