Before I had my children, I had it all planned out. I would be a loving, affectionate parent, while at the same time setting clear boundaries for my kids. Good routines would be established early on, so that my offspring would grow up secure and well-equipped to deal with whatever life might throw at them.
I soon discovered that the reality of family life was somewhat different from how I had imagined it. My three had their own ideas on routines and boundaries, and they weren’t afraid to make their views known – usually at three in the morning. My first decided that sleeping was for wimps, and that I had been put on this earth to keep him amused at all hours of the day and night. His sisters, thankfully, were more appreciative of their beds, but still managed to point out several other areas where my parenting left a lot to be desired.
I’ve always had a perfectionist streak, so learning too late that children don’t come with a manual was hard for me. I wanted desperately to do the best for them, yet there were many days when my efforts seemed doomed to failure, and it appeared that my best simply wasn’t good enough.
As parents, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up and be self-critical when we get things wrong, particularly as most children are programmed for brutal honesty rather than tactful silence. However, this issue is not restricted to parenting: most of us find it easier to dwell on our mistakes than on our successes. Our television screens and social media feeds are full of not-so-subtle hints about what success should look like in our society, and we can often be seduced into believing their message.
According to modern wisdom, success depends on looking a certain way, or wearing the right clothes. Having a flashy car, a well-paid job and a huge house will mean that we have somehow ‘made it’ in life. Even in church circles, we can fall into the trap of thinking that those with certain roles are the most successful, or that Christians who (apparently) have no problems are somehow more spiritual than the rest of us.
There’s a famous passage in 1 Samuel, where the elderly prophet is tasked with anointing a new king after Saul turns away from God. Samuel – following God’s direction – goes to visit Jesse and his sons. As soon as the first son steps forward, Samuel is confident he’s found the future king. God, however, has different ideas: ‘Not this one,’ He says. ‘You’re looking at his physical appearance, but I’m looking at his heart.’
And so it continues through Jesse’s family, until he remembers to send for David, who is still out in the fields, and it’s at this point that God gives Samuel the go-ahead to proceed with the anointing.
One of the glorious truths of Christianity is that God is far more interested in who we are in Christ than in whether the world considers us worthy of admiration, one of the themes I explore in my novel The diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum. The times I feel I’ve grown most in my Christian life are when I stop trying to assess myself by self-imposed standards and remember who I am in Jesus. We know in our heads that God forgives us, but we often forget to extend that same forgiveness to ourselves and to others.
It’s probably clear from my opening paragraphs that neither I nor my kids are perfect – but that doesn’t prevent me loving and delighting in them. Similarly, it pleases God when we learn to see ourselves from His perspective: not as flawed, broken and worthless, but accepted, precious and forgiven. We don’t have to worry about whether or not we are ‘good enough’, because God welcomes us as we are. And when we are tempted towards self-flagellation, He reminds us that we are His and that we are loved beyond measure.