For many of us, life is like one giant mirror. You see the world as a reflection of yourself. What people think of you, how people treat you–it’s all information that shapes your self-image. The way your parents raised you, the way your spouse loves you, whether your peers include you, whether your boss promotes you–it all informs your view of self. The “mirror” shows you your strengths and weaknesses, what you look like to others, and what you’re worth.
Many of us even treat the gospel like a mirror, looking to the Bible, Christian books, and blogs, not so much to know more about God, but to know more about ourselves. What does God think about me? What does the Bible say about me? Can it make me feel better about myself?
This mirror effect has been a struggle of mine for years. It began when, as a girl, the image in the mirror was a positive one. I was an obedient child, I made good grades, and I was a high achiever. The “mirror “of my parents, teachers, coaches, and friends was an affirming one. And as a result, I loved the mirror.
Over time, however, I encountered reflections that weren’t so positive. I wasn’t the smartest in my college classes. I went through break-ups. I experienced heartache. I failed. Suddenly, the world wasn’t reflecting back to me an image that I liked.
But it was too late. The mirror had become my way of seeing the world.
Since then, I’ve wrestled with my need for affirmation from others, and a preoccupation with my self. It’s distracting, and it’s a burden I want to be free of. But the question is how? How can I stop thinking about myself, my insecurities, my fears, and my self-doubts? How can I get rid of the mirror?
As I’ve prayed through those questions God has provided many teachers, but there is one that took me by surprise:
Few things have shattered my mirror like becoming a parent. Instead of looking at the world as a reflection of myself, God has used parenting to turn my vision outward. And I’ve found great freedom in that.
Granted, it doesn’t always feel like freedom…like when you can’t even use the bathroom without a small child barging in on you, or you can’t leave the house without it being this whole big thing. But the freedom that comes through parenting is a spiritual one. It is the freedom of self-forgetfulness.
Not self-neglect, not self-denial, but self-forgetfulness. It’s freedom from self-absorption and self-preoccupation, the ability to forget yourself the way you “forget” your heart is beating. Sure, you take care of your heart by eating healthy and exercising, but it is not the center of your thoughts. It simply is, it simply does, and there is a sense in which we should desire the same forgetfulness about ourselves.
God sets us free by prying our attention off of ourselves, and one of the ways He does this, is through our children.
In my own life, God has used parenting to shatter my mirror–to help me forget myself–in two ways:
1. The Focus of Parenting
Parenting is like a crash course in learning to love your neighbor. Some days it’s easy, and some days it’s hard, but our kids demand our attention–and more importantly our love–every moment of every day.
One of the fruits of our focus on our kids is that it draws our attention outward. For a season, we don’t have time to worry about our insecurities, the need to be liked, or the desire to be impressive…and there is a strange freedom in that.
As we love on these tiny, demanding little neighbors, God works something good in us. He teaches us to forget ourselves.
However this principle comes with an important DISCLAIMER: we can focus on our kids in unhealthy ways. There is a way of mothering that turns our kids into idols, and there is a way of mothering that is self-serving.
Our children can become one more mirror that reflects our own self-worth, and we can spot this dysfunction by its fruits: one form of parenting leads to freedom, the other to slavery. Unhealthy parenting binds us with pressure, guilt, and self-neglect, but a healthy focus on our children can bear spiritual freedom.
2. The Wonder of Parenting
For over a month now, I have seen the hour of 3am nearly every night. My son thinks 3am is party time, and he doesn’t like to party alone. So every night I stare at him, willing him to sleep, PRAYING him to sleep, my head bobbing up and down, while his bright, wide-awake eyes stare back at me.
One of the surprising gifts tucked into these nights is that my son is most smiley at 3am. I call it a gift, because it’s exactly what I need to keep from screaming. It’s hard to stay frustrated with a little person who is so dang cute. It’s like God said, “Hey girl, I’m gonna help you out a little.”
That’s the paradox of being a parent: My days are filled with grit but they’re also filled with wonder. And wonder directs us to God. In Job 38-41, God declares the wonders of creation: the sea, the clouds, the stars, the birds, the beasts–they all proclaim the glory of the Lord. All of it reminds us that we are human and He is God. It awes us, and it humbles us, if we’ll only stop to notice.
In those chapters, God was rebuking Job but He was also drawing Job’s vision outward: Look, behold, wonder, be in awe. This looking and wondering is not only key to worshiping God, but it’s key to forgetting ourselves.
When we take time to soak in all those magical little moments–even at 3am when we’d rather be asleep–God draws us outside of ourselves. And in doing so, He sets us free.
That has been the unexpected gift of parenting. Without losing myself, God is helping me to forget myself. By drawing my attention to my kids and to the wonder of Him, He is shattering the mirror I’ve been carrying around for so long. Yes, parenting is hard–especially when I turn it into one more burdensome mirror–but if I let it, God can use this season to set me free.