God’s Work is to Make it Perfect
by guest blogger Rachel McHugh
In my experience, whether I like it or not, there tends to be a lot of guilt and fear associated with being a Catholic mother. We know that Jesus says “My yoke is easy and my burden light”, but it often doesn’t feel like it. In one sense, our Catholic roots give us an excellent grounding for knowing that our work as parents is important- the dignity of Catholic motherhood finds its basis in the motherhood of Mary. Yet even though we know our work to be valuable, we often can’t help feeling…well…that we’re *bad* at it. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, either! And it seems to us that the stakes are very high- our children have eternal souls, and we certainly don’t want to be found responsible for steering them wrong.
Now how are we to reconcile the apparent contraries of Jesus’ words “My yoke is easy and my burden light” with our own knowledge of how difficult it is to be a parent? Children are people just as much as we are, with their own expectations, their own ideas, their own frustrations. Their psychology is either different from ours, frustrating us and making it difficult to understand their motivations; or else it is maddeningly similar, and we are horrified to watch faults with which we have struggled our whole lives begin to be apparent in them. And we love them insanely- which makes our failures and weaknesses a hundred times more painful. Oh, there’s certainly joy in parenting- but it’s easy for this kind of guilt and fear of hurting them get in the way of some of that joy.
We want them to know God, to love God, and to have life abundantly. Is there a foolproof way to make sure it’s so?Yes indeed, and it’s called grace. But the concept of grace is not often very well defined for us. We know that it is the way that God works in us and makes us holy, but how exactly does that work in our lives as parents? How does it help us to bring our children to God?
St. Therese is my favorite saint. She’s known as the Little Flower, and her teachings have been called the “Little Way”. She offers the following insight in her autobiography: “I understand, Lord, that when a soul allows herself to be captivated by the odor of your ointments, she cannot run alone, all the souls whom she loves follow in her train; this is done without constraint, without effort, it is a natural consequence of her attraction for You.” So in other words, it’s not necessary that we do *anything* special to attract our children to God except that we be drawn in ourselves. That’s it! Therese may not have been a parent, but she was given the task of acting as novice mistress in her convent, which could be considered a parallel task. Here’s what she has to say upon hearing that the prioress wanted her to take on the role:
“Mother, from the moment I understood that it was impossible for me to do anything by myself, the task you imposed upon me no longer appeared difficult. I felt that the only thing necessary was to unite myself more and more to Jesus and that “all things will be given to you besides.” In fact, never was my hope mistaken, for God saw fit to fill my little hand as many times as it was necessary for nourishing the soul of my Sisters.”
Note what she says- “it was impossible for me to do anything by myself”. THAT is grace. The moment we recognize that it’s impossible for us to bring children up in the “right” way, we are free to let go and let Jesus do the work in us. And he won’t fail us! We have to stop believing that it’s possible for us to fail, because it’s impossible for love to fail…impossible for God to fail.
Jesus said “be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.” How is our father in heaven perfect? By his Being. By grace, that is the same for us. It is our “being” that is made perfect. That means that in all the messiness, in all our mistakes, in our faults, failures, etc, even in our guilt and fear, God has made it perfect. The incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection make all things well. Our parenting can’t possibly “fail” if we love God. And loving God basically comes down to letting God love us. Which in itself is something that only he can do in us. We are weaker than we imagine, really. In the same boat as our children.
Mary is our model. Mary didn’t always get things *right*. She was entirely without sin, surely; baptismal grace was fully present in her from the moment of her conception. But she didn’t always understand Jesus. She didn’t know why he needed to be in the Temple as a child, and she tried to keep him from preaching at one point. But Jesus turned it all into grace. “All things work together for good for those who love God.” That’s *all*. And we won’t be disappointed- we can’t be.
This doesn’t mean that we won’t see things which disturb us. Our children will still draw on the walls and get playdoh in the rug. They will make noise in public places. They will get angry at one another and at us. They may lie, they may make sexual choices that cause them or us pain. They may use drugs or divorce. And we will feel all the pain of seeing these things. But we can’t fix them for our children any more than anyone could fix our stuff for us. We can let God love us the whole time, in all of our childrens’ messiness and in all of OUR messiness, and we can know that we aren’t responsible for *fixing* our children. Their faults will remain theirs for all their lives, and God will work his grace in them also.
We need good will, and to dive in. God will take care of the part that makes everything perfect. If we can maintain our peace- or at least maintain our peace about NOT maintaining our peace- in the midst of all the mess of parenting…this can only help our families. And it’s hard- it’s hard because when there are human beings, they will hurt each other and there are tensions and frustrations. But we can allow our children to be humans, and we can allow OURSELVES to be humans (harder sometimes). Humans redeemed by Christ. Our only work is Love. All things else will be added.
I’ll end with what Julian of Norwich, an anchoress of the middle ages, has to say about the Final Judgment:
“And therefore when the Doom is given and we be all brought up above, then shall we clearly see in God the secret things which be now hid to us. Then shall none of us be stirred to say in any wise: Lord, if it had been thus, then it had been full well; but we shall say all with one voice: Lord, blessed mayst thou be, for it is thus: it is well; and now see we verily that all-thing is done as it was then ordained before that anything was made.”
Rachel McHugh lives in Maine with her husband and 5 children. She is a contributing author to the Catholic apologetics site http://www.NewApologetics.com, mostly in the form of poetry. She enjoys spending time playing internet games in between cooking, homeschooling and having intense, concept-laden discussions with her philosopher husband.