“A shadow seemed to have fallen on [Dolly’s] life; she recognized that these children, of whom she had been so proud, were not only quite ordinary but even bad and ill-bred children, with coarse animal inclinations—in fact, vicious children. She could think and speak of nothing else, and yet could not tell [anyone] her trouble.” -From Anna Karenina
We can’t strive, at least not with perseverance and love, without joy. But this is hard to do!
Why? A lot of us find our value in our identity as parents. And a lot of us, like the mother Dolly in the quote above, vacillate between being proud of our children and being overwhelmed by their mistakes. If we find our value in how well we parent then our value diminishes anytime our children fail to live up to our expectations. And our children, all of our children, let us down in ways that surprise, amaze, and even horrify us. This is particularly true in a model like Charis where we play a more active role in our children’s upbringing and education. Most of us feel like we are just not good enough and this feeling of inadequacy robs us of our joy, which in turn robs us of our strength.
And yet, we feel like we are not good enough because in some sense we are not. None of us are perfectly wise. All of us lose our patience. All of us make mistakes. Lots of them. Not one of us lives up to God’s standard of what a parent should be.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is not all up to us. Christ didn’t die only to pay for our sins, but to live the perfect life that none of us can live. This includes our imperfect parenting! If our children’s future lay completely in our hands they would be without hope. But their future is with God; He is the King and we are merely His stewards. And not only does He forgive and cover our failures, He gives us the grace we need to carry out the good works He has called us to. God is sovereign and it is no accident that you have the children that you do. He has providentially called you to parent them and He will give you what you need to do what He has called you to do. God is bigger than our mistakes and He can and will paint straight with our crooked lines.
The secret to joy isn’t better or greater “works”, but faith. It is faith that allows us to find our identity in Christ’s perfect works and not in our failures. It is faith that allows us to believe that Joy is not something we earn and it is not dependent on our circumstances; it is a gift of His Spirit. We are not called to perform and earn, but rather to receive in faith and thanksgiving that which is freely given. And it is in this joy that we are called to strive.