Are You Who You Want to Be?

Conquering flower

About a month ago, I was driving home late one night by myself. Now if you are at a place in life where alone time is a common occurrence you might have just skipped blithely by that little prepositional phrase like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. So let me repeat it. I was in the car BY MYSELF. As a mom of 3 children under 5 this alone time thing is very rare. And so as any responsible adult who suddenly finds herself shed of her responsibilities, I was blaring the radio entirely too loud, the way the teenager that still lives trapped inside me likes her music. So on this night, this alone night, a song by the band Switchfoot from a few years ago happened to be playing on the radio and for some reason, though I’d heard the song before, the lyrics hit me in a fresh way. I haven’t stopped mulling them since. The song’s chorus is simple. It repeats this statement and question:

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; is it everything you dreamed,
when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

Of course, a question like this coming as you drive your mini-van, strewn with Cheerios and sippy cups, your shirt stained with baby’s sweet potato mash, on a drive out that is the first little bit of truly alone time you’ve had in a month because everyone in the family has been sick, sick, sick, is bound to make you stop and think. “Hmm… this mom-life I’m in the thick of, is it everything I dreamed?”

But it was the pronoun in the song that caught me off guard. The question isn’t are you “what” you want to be or are you “where” you want to be. The question isn’t: “Do you have all you wanted?” or “Are things going like you expected?” The question is: “Are you who you want to be?” It’s a question that gets to the heart of identity and character.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager and young adult, I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over the question of what I would do when I grew up. And yet, I don’t remember asking myself about “who” I wanted to be when I grew up—not in a way that would have elicited thoughts about what kind of character I wanted to possess. I had grandiose dreams of being on stage or being a writer. And I had more ordinary dreams of being a wife and a mother. But I don’t recall dreaming about becoming a woman of kindness, a woman whose first impulse is selflessness. I don’t remember dreaming about being a peacemaker or having that kind of deep joy in your heart that lets you smile even on the really rough days. I don’t remember dreaming about that, but I probably should have.

So I’ve been mulling this. And then this week and last, I’ve been making my way through a book called, “Expectant Parents” by Suzanne Gosselin. After reading my book, Waiting In Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, Gosselin, who formerly worked for Focus on the Family, wrote me last year to ask if she could interview me for her book. I was honored to share a little bit of my motherhood journey with her and her readers. And I’ve been delighted to see the final product in my hands. Gosselin has created a wonderful resource–a book that truly will help both moms and dads prepare not just their homes, but their hearts to welcome a precious little one.

So anyhow, I’m reading along in the book and I come across this chapter called “Roots” which is all about being the best parent you can be whether or not you’ve come from a strong family or a very broken one. And here, I stumble over these sentences where Gosselin is quoting Chrystal Evans Hurst: “Regardless of your situation—the pregnancy is earlier than planned, it’s unplanned, you’re by yourself, maybe you’re not with the guy—from this point forward you get to choose. You get to choose what kind of parent you’re going to be. You get to choose what kind of childhood you’re going to give your baby.”

And all I can think about as I put the book down is this: “This is your home, are you who you want to be?” My children will only get one childhood. They will only have one natural mother and father who shape their views of the world, of God, of love, and of who they are. This is their life; am I the mother I want to be?

Now of course, none of us will parent perfectly or even anywhere near it. But the fact that I will not be a perfect mother, doesn’t excuse me from striving to be the best mother I can possibly be for my children. As Hurst goes on to say in Gosselin’s book, “We create healthy kids by giving the best we can out of what we have to give.”

But this is what I think is so key: we spend way too much time thinking and worrying about the “what”, when the thing that is going to matter most of all for our kids is the “who”. Whether they learn to swim or ever hit a homerun, whether they read early or late, whether you move them cross country or stay close to home, whether illness strikes a blow at your family in a way you never imagined or a job-loss cripples your dreams—no matter the “what”, the “who” of you is what will be shaping them. And hopefully, as you shape them, loving them, however imperfectly, yet with all you have to give, you will also be pointing them to the much greater “Who”—the One whose nature never changes, the One who is perfect, and who will parent them perfectly even when you fail. This God we know as our loving Father.

Along with the haunting question posed in the Switchfoot song, “Are you who you want to be?” there’s also this warning and injunction, “Today is all you’ve got now. Today is all you’ll ever have. Don’t close your eyes.”

Everyone says it—you’ll blink and their childhood will be gone. So remember this: Today is your gift. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t miss it. Instead lean in. Worry less about the “what”; care more about the “who”. Be who God made you to be because God made you for them. They need you. They need God shining through you.

 

Hey, thanks for stopping by this little outpost of grace in a world that’s too weary. I hope you’ll stay awhile and be refreshed for the journey ahead. I write a lot about motherhood and have even written a book or two, which I hope may lead you or someone you know to walk just a bit closer with Jesus in this humbling journey they call life.  And if you’d like to hear more from me, I’d love to be one of those little voices of encouragement you look forward to finding in your inbox.

Grace Conditioning: Nurturing Godly Habits in Ourselves and in Our Children

ballet shoesLast spring I got to go see my sweet six year-old niece, Lucia, perform in Cinderella at the Kennedy Center. She was a delightful bumble bee who received spontaneous applause when tossed over the shoulder of one of the adult dancers in a humorous moment where she left the stage kicking her little leotards in a well-practiced protest.

Going to the ballet at the Kennedy Center is not something I get to do often, and so that evening, I soaked in the beauty and the grace of so many well-conditioned dancers doing exactly what they had trained their bodies to do. I lost myself in an enchanting forest scene where snow drifted peacefully to the ground while nymphs and fairies made magic with pirouettes, grand jetés, arabesques and relevés. Through the ballerinas’ constant practice, their muscles obeyed their minds in a way that seems almost unconscious. Grace becomes instinct. (Even off-stage, a ballet dancer can’t help but move gracefully. It is in the tilt of her chin, the line of her spine, the obedience of her shoulders, and the lightness of her step: grace habits.)

Lately, I’ve been thinking of those grace-conditioned dancers as I’ve been reading some of the writings of Charlotte Mason, a British educator, born in the 1840’s, whose life and legacy re-shaped English schools and is today having an impact on countless other families. While Mason has much to say on educational practices as we traditionally think of them, recently what I’ve been soaking in are her thoughts on habit-training.

She writes: “As has been well said, ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.’ And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” (Vol. 2, p. 124).

While certainly only the Holy Spirit revives and reforms our corrupt hearts and the sin-bent hearts of our children, we can and are instructed to train our children in righteousness. And through constant reinforcement of godly habits, God uses us to shape their characters.

I don’t want children who are merely outwardly conforming to good habits; I want children whose hearts have been transformed such that they crave goodness because God has changed their natural thirsts. But I pray that as I surround them with that which is good and pure and right and train them in habits which reflect those qualities, that I could somehow participate with the Holy Spirit in what God alone can begin and bring to completion: the work of giving them new hearts and minds. If my motions mimic His, if my mothering reflects that which is good, and pure, and true, perhaps somehow in this beautiful mysterious dance of aligning my life and heart with His, He might be gracious enough to choreograph His work of change in their spirits.

How I long and pray that my children—yes, my boys—would be conditioned in grace, would move instinctively through life with the grace of ones whose hearts have learned to bend to God in obedience, whose hands extend in gentle kindness, whose feet leap to help the hurting. How my heart burns to see their lives revolve around their rightful center, the God who is their fixed point in a turning world.

But it begins with grace in my own life. And so I have been asking God to train my heart as I seek to practice the daily conditioning of bending in obedience to my Creator, stretching toward Him in the midst of my heavy days, or holding the pose of patience even when my whole body aches to let go. My habits need constant attention, but I’m more mindful now of letting my ever-gracious instructor condition me in the disciplines of grace that I might in turn live gracefully before my children.

 

Interested in reading more about habit training? Download a free e-book from Simply Charlotte Mason called Smooth and Easy Days. Interested in reading more from me, check out some other recent posts about mothering with grace here: Play with Me Mama: a Lesson in God with Us, Just Another Day Dragon-Slaying: Raising Braveheart, or The Interrupted Life. You can also find my books: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting or As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

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