Ten years ago I was in my third year of graduate school, and my wife was getting up each morning at 5:30 so she could drive 45 minutes to teach 7th grade science. Both of us were not particularly happy in our professional lives, yet we pushed forward, grinding away at life so that some day we would be where we wanted to be. Although I remember being frustrated during those years, my general attitude was that I could handle it. I was in control of my circumstances and was living decently. I would have defined myself as being patient in the midst of imperfect times; I had been peacefully married for a few years and never became angry with the people in my life. My wife and I used to take walks, which allowed us to talk about and resolve many of the challenges we faced in the day. We could figure things out. We could work hard. We were in in control. We also had no kids.
A few months ago I found myself walking the dog in ten-degree weather praying for my children and admitting my relative helplessness in the face of a seemingly endless steam of challenges. The short list of kid-related problems included: late potty training problems, anxiety about kindergarten, refusals to eat at dinner, temper tantrums, not listening, and so on. Moreover, I have learned that I am more selfish and less patient than I previously assumed. The temptation to avoid parental responsibilities or to respond to problems with frustration/anger is strong. Even the inevitable small parenting failures feel like a burden that I cannot support. Children are precious, and they are subject to my imperfection. That realization scares me.
My old mindset of hard work and solving problems is not particularly helpful. My children are not projects that I can fix by discovering the “child raising formula” or by reading the latest self-help book for Christian parenting. That mindset often causes me to go to bed at night thinking about my daily failures. “I need to try this approach to my childrens’ problems, or I need to work harder at being patient and unselfish.” This, of course, only leads to future frustrations. Living under my own power produces a continual cycle of failure (Romans 7:14-25). As life continues, I am slowly learning that I cannot work hard to solve all problems or reason my way through every challenge. I cannot depend on myself. Being a father has humbled me.
Pride comes in multiple forms. The pride of self-reliance is a subtle yet common form that can be very dangerous in even the most well meaning Christian’s life. It involves the general attitude of “I can do this because I am competent, wise, intelligent, hard working, etc.” This form of pride places self over God in a profoundly foolish way. It is the pride that led to the fall of man in the garden, repeatedly led to demise of Israel in the Old Testament, permeated the spiritual lives of the Pharisees, and even tempted Christ in the desert.
Although pride often causes people to disregard God’s instructions for living, it can also cause a person to pursue good things through the improper means of self-reliance. It convinces me that I can rely on myself to be loving, patient, kind, good, faithful, self-controlled, peaceful, and joyful in the midst of life’s frustrations. I can persevere on my own strength. Yet such an approach, though well meaning, only produces frustration and failure. We can only truly love those around us when we surrender to God, rest in Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit (love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) (Galatians 5).
Parenting has forced me to my knees in prayer more than anything else that I’ve encountered. The stakes are enormous. The relationships are intimate. The challenges are unceasing. I don’t really know what I am doing. Yet parenting is not the only thing in life that can force us to face our limitations. What are you struggling with? What are you attempting to solve or accomplish through your own strength that produces consistent frustration, worry, anxiety, and a sense of failure? We have access to the Holy God of the universe who has humbled himself in the form of Christ and empowered us with the Holy Spirit. He loves us personally and graciously allows us to talk to him. We can also know him through scripture. Why do we resist him and depend on ourselves?