Today retired pastor Amanda Diekman reminds us that God meets us with His perfect grace, even in our hardest moments.
Guest Post by Amanda Diekman:
Lent is a holy season for parents of challenging kids.
Parenting has not gone the way I expected. I had three boys in four years, each with very challenging and particular needs. We swim in deep waters of diagnoses, treatments, and therapies. In their dysregulation, my children scream in my face, pull every book off the shelf, destroy valuables, and smash their heads into the walls. All my parenting gurus have failed me. Or am I the one who has failed? I do not see my parenting story reflected anywhere. We are too wild to attend church, and despite the fact that I am a retired pastor, I am too tired to care. Disconnection haunts every corner of my life. I am struggling to sleep. Nightmares come like ocean waves, crashing endlessly, some mild and others so violent they slam me to the ground, disoriented and sore. Despite the cool winter air, I sweat through my clothes.
Lent is a season in the Christian calendar when we sit and stare unflinchingly at pain, brokenness, sorrow, and loss. In Lent, we face our powerlessness, the truth that we cannot earn our wholeness, cannot pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, and escape fragility, sorrow, pain, and death. In Lent, we dwell in loss, knowing that Jesus lost everything in his vast love for the world. We watch as all his friends abandon him, and see ourselves in the crowd, crying out for blood. In Lent, we walk with Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death.
In the deepest part of my own walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I pick up and read a parenting book called The Explosive Child. I read it mostly because of the title. If there is one single way to describe my children, it is definitely explosive. The author’s stories comfort me; I recognize these children. Instead of combing through parenting articles about unrecognizably tame issues, I read about pre-teens knocking holes in walls, parents who get months of the silent treatment, kids who are restrained in school, and I feel sad and comforted at once. Life is so hard for these kids. They are the unlucky ones. The unlucky kids are the “hitters, bitters, fighters, and screamers.” The lucky kids are the criers, whiners, and sulkers. No one is kicked out of school for crying at their best friend.
In this strictly secular parenting book, I am shocked to discover that it is essentially about grace. The centerpiece is that kids do well when they can. Kids always try their best and always want to please their adults, all on their own, no rewards or consequences needed. They always do well when they can. And when they can’t, as their adults, we drop what’s hard. We affirm their effort. We figure out with them how to change things so the expectations are not so high, so everything doesn’t feel so hard.
The answer is not to work harder. The answer is release. Grace.
Grace is that elusive, glorious Christian word that hints at vast unearned love and a deep rest in the palm of cradled hands.
Grace is the power that runs through Lent; grace, the gift of life over death. Grace is the promise that the God who was tortured and murdered is alive, now and forever.
As I wake to face yet another challenging day, my heart beats with a new rhythm. Instead of “hard, hard, my fault, my fault” I hear “grace, grace, grace, grace.”
When I was in graduate school, training to be a pastor and theologian, my classes would begin with definitions, clarity. “Grace is a spontaneous, unearned gift of divine favor, the salvation of sinners, bringing them from death to new life.”
I add my definitions to the list. Grace is saying “Ok,” when my child says, “No, I won’t do it.” Grace is taking space to decide if this thing really matters to me at all, and if it doesn’t, I get to drop it. If it does truly matter, grace is listening to my child as they tell me honestly why it is so hard, and grace is collaborating on a solution that works for us both. Grace recognizes that there is always tomorrow, that it’s ok to choose love and respect today and save brushing teeth for down the road.
If kids do well when they can, do adults? Is parenting so hard because I am not trying hard enough, or is it because expectations are just too high?
This Lent, I am embracing grace in the midst of sorrow, love at the heart of pain. There are still days when screams echo off our walls, when all I hear is “Go away!” and “I hate you!” I am working through my trauma with expert therapy and finding companions who can sit with the painful realities of my journey. But mostly, I am cradling my little ones with acceptance and love; I am dropping what’s hard and welcoming the release.
When Jesus drew close to his final days, he looked at the city he loved and said that he longed to hug his people like a mother hen gathering ducklings under her wing. This Lent, as I release expectations and settle into grace, I am looking for the shadow of a wing overhead. I have eyes to see the promise that Jesus is gathering me still.
As I hold my little ones, I am held.
As I make room for their pain, Jesus holds mine.
The power of Lent is not just to set individuals free from their sin. It is to unbind the world from powers and systems that limit us to only one way to be whole, only one way to be human. Free from needing to be “good children” and “good parents,” we instead get to be who we are, wild and distinct, outside the lines, and still whole. With humility and radical acceptance, my children’s struggles have brought me to new life. And as a newly formed family of grace, we are changing the world, joining with the power of redemption in actively remaking our world with the power of Lenten grace.