Sometimes Christian mothers of toddlers are quickly overwhelmed with their spiritual limitations. Their days are filled with piles of laundry and lack of sleep, constant repetition, feelings of isolation while all the other Christians in the world seem to have exciting ministries, and sometimes even feelings of guilt for being at home with the very children God has given them. (Wouldn’t it have been easier to send them to preschool and do real ministry somewhere?)
And yet, as I look back at those years, I can see how the ideas I wrestled with back then, with my toddler children, were preparation for the ministry that God gradually brings my way now. Discipling toddlers is incredible preparation for discipling myself, and discipling other adults. Let me show you what I mean.
- Parenting toddlers forces parents to strip away the non-essential peripheral truths and focus on the essential. I was intrigued when I first realized that the lessons I repeated ad infinitum to my toddlers are the very lessons I have needed as I have faced life’s uncertainties and difficulties. They are the very truths that I share with a sister who is struggling with her faith, or a friend who knows nothing of Jesus.
- I learned to wrestle with salvation and its role in enabling spiritual change.
- I was challenged by the relationship between physical needs like sleep and food and exercise and obedience. When my children missed their naps, they were irritable. When I am sleep deprived, I am more prone to laziness and irritability, too.
- If I hadn’t talked about obedience so much, I might not have realized that trust and obey with a happy heart is just as needed in the adult world, for me, and for others around me. It’s not a simple lesson to learn, and I am still learning variations of this theme in my own life. [Do I expect children more mature than I am?]
- As I shared fellowship with other mamas of small children, I wrestled with sinful comparing, with learning how to be transparent, and knowing how to encourage and be encouraged. Our conversations at the playground often revolved around the problems we were dealing with, and again I found myself challenged to pray for answers.
- I see now God’s wisdom in helping me try to teach the Bible in a way that a child can understand. No, they don’t understand it all, and I miss the mark often, but the process of praying for help, teaching and looking for understanding, and teaching again, is just as helpful for me as it is for them. My children show me the truth about how I’m actually using Scripture to deal with my own problems.
What I can see from my vantage point now, is that the time spent with my toddlers is exactly the training I needed as God has gradually given me opportunities to serve him in other ways. I could not have received a better education.
And I am still learning!
- A lecture doesn’t change my children. They tune me out. I need the Holy Spirit. Teaching my children continues to challenge me to learn more about the Holy Spirit. Without his ministry, change is superficial and doesn’t last. I can’t force repentance!
- I’ve learned that change is often gradual, so gradual that I sometimes don’t know God is working. I’ve learned the weaknesses in my trite, beautifully parallel, phrases that make me happy but don’t fit real lives. My children defy assumptions and challenge my understanding of scripture. They force me to pray. I need this lesson urgently as I interact with my brothers and sisters in Christ, as I wrestle with my own sinful struggles.
- As I rehearse principles of conflict resolution, I see that confront, ask repentance, move on, is simplistic. I have to teach my children to overlook offenses, to ask questions instead of accusations, to be quick to hear and slow to speak. I realize they need more patience when forgiveness has been granted and the hurt feelings remain. (I need these lessons, too!)
- Through my children, I have been challenged in my own life. I’m learning to ask questions, to be unselfish (listening instead of lecturing!).
- I am motivated to work on sins I ignored before I had someone copying them faithfully. My children are often a mirror to what is happening in my own life. Many times after I wrestle with understanding a struggle they were having, God impresses on my heart that I must obey him in the same way I’m teaching them. I don’t want them to make the mistakes I made! And so I press on, even though I may be weary in the battle.
If you are feeling weary, take courage. You are learning many, many valuable lessons that you will use the rest of your life. Take the time to examine the lessons you are repeating to your children and ask yourself if God is dealing with you in the same way. Share the verses with them that are helping you to grow. The lessons of discipleship you are learning will not be wasted. God will send you ministry in his time, and he will use the time of preparation in ways that will astound you.
Count on it!
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body II Corinthians 4:1-2; 7-10
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10