My children have always been collectors. Rocks, pine cones, colored bits of paper fashioned into pretend clothing for stuff animals, drawing, etc. My daughter especially is quite a pack rat. I frequently have to go through her stuff and try to get rid of it when she’s not looking. I try to be sensitive to her feelings, but she gets attached to EVERYTHING. I tell my husband that it’s his fault, because he too has a strange attachment to his things. It’s a weird kind of loyalty, that some how the item represents the person it came from and any positive feelings associated with that person.
I no longer have as much of an attachment to things. But I do my own kind of collecting: grievances. I never thought of myself as one to hold a grudge until I had children. Then suddenly every day was filled with a list of ways I’d been wronged. I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks or months, the children got into a stash of special snacks I was saving, a favorite item was ruined, unnecessary messes were made. Every disobedient act and refusal to comply seemed to be subconsciously recorded on a mental balance sheet. If there were enough of them, I deserved a break, a treat, something. Not just deserved, was entitled to.
I know that parenthood would be hard and would involve a lot of self-denial; but I didn’t fully anticipate how much dying to myself I would have to do. Does this mean I am a martyr? No. Or at least I shouldn’t be. There are definitely times when I resort to neglecting myself and blaming my family for it. Then I feel justified in my irritation and frustration. But that isn’t how I want to live. This also doesn’t mean that I don’t take care of myself. Obviously self-care is important, but when it steps over into entitlement, I know I have a problem.
Instead of collecting grievances when I am wronged by my children, I can extend and receive grace. When my emotional bucket is heavy from carrying rocks of my discontent there isn’t room for much else. Will life still be hard? Yes, because the world is broken and I am not a perfect parent, nor do I have perfect children. But I don’t have to let myself be dragged down into despair. The temptation is strong to give up, especially when I keep such a long record of wrongs. This parenting gig isn’t for the faint of heart. Grace means taking those rocks and dumping them out and refusing to pick up more. Instead, reaching out to the one who has wronged me and loving him or her a little harder.
I have a long way to go with this. I still yell when I should be calm. I still let out words of frustration when I should be instructing in love. But I am tired of feeling heavy with discouragement and feeling as though there is little to look forward to. I may have been gifted with hard to handle children but that doesn’t mean there can’t also be joy. I may be having trouble finding it at times, but it certainly won’t be easy to find if I’m taking every unkind word and rebellious moment as a personal affront to my parenting record.
So I am slowly, ever so slowly, learning to release my hold on those grievances even as they come to me. It requires me to trust that God’s got this and that I will not be overwhelmed.
“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”
Psalm 46:5 (NIV)