Breathe in, Breathe Out: How the Holy Spirit Revives and Refreshes the Weary Parent 

When my boys were younger, I had very little time alone to refill my cup or recharge my battery. The days were limited by my youngest son’s preschool hours. The boys’ needs were constant, requiring physical help and attention, which often made the days seem long (and yes, the years are short). 

A friend who also had young children once asked me what it would feel like to put on an oxygen mask. We were seeking practical ways to revive ourselves in the midst of a particularly physically demanding season. She challenged me to look for ways in which I could find the necessary breath I needed to continue in the long days of raising my young children. For me, a walk with friends or a date night with my husband would give me that boost.

Yet those “oxygen masks” were temporary. The next week, I was in need of another hit from the mask. I needed a deeper and sustaining refreshment and source of strength that could only come from the Spirit of God dwelling inside me.

The Gift of the Spirit 

Paul tells us in Romans 8:9-11 of the power that we receive in the Holy Spirit and a life walked in the Spirit: the true life-giving oxygen mask that sustains and sanctifies. The Holy Spirit is a gift from God the Father who makes us look more and more like Jesus, no matter how exhausting the season of life in which we walk. 

“You however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

Romans 8:9-11

Paul begins this section of Scripture by stating to whom the Christian belongs: to God, because of Jesus Christ. Those who belong to God have the Spirit dwelling within them. His language is clear and strong. If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, his righteousness is counted as yours. You who once were dead because of sin now live because of Jesus’ righteousness. You are a new creation in Christ, given a new life that is no longer bound by sin.

Life in the Flesh 

Paul continues by comparing life in the flesh with life in the Spirit. The flesh is defined by the law that we could not uphold because of our sinful nature. Life in the flesh feels like slavery. When we live in the flesh, we live as though Jesus Christ did not die for our sins on the cross, giving us his righteousness and access to our Heavenly Father. We live as if it is up to us alone to save ourselves, or our children. In the flesh, we exist on a merciless rat wheel of chasing approval and righteousness. That truly is death. 

Living in the flesh is often subtle. I find it in the “why” of my actions. For example, I send my child to private lessons or academic tutors to insure he will make a team or have a high GPA. If I am acting out of the flesh, I have a parent-driven goal, fueled by a fear of failure or seeking to have my community’s approval. My “why” comes from a belief that I (or my child) will not be okay if he does not make the team or get in that college. 

When I am living out of the flesh, I am living out of fear. By trying to do everything I can to prevent failure and secure success, I put unrealistic or undue pressure on myself as a parent or on my child. When I am living in the flesh, I am not trusting God to care for my child or that his plan for my child is good.

Life in the Spirit 

Life in the Spirit, on the other hand, is defined by the grace that God gave us through Jesus Christ. Life in the Spirit feels like freedom. When we live in the Spirit, we live as though Jesus Christ did indeed live the perfect life on our behalf, die for our sins, and rise again. When Jesus declared “it is finished” on the cross, he reminded us that there is nothing that we can add to make God love us any more or any less. We do not have to live for anyone’s approval because we already have the righteousness of Christ and thus the approval of God. That truly is freedom. 

Living in the Spirit is equally subtle because I have to examine the “why” to know if it is the Spirit or flesh at work in me. I may still pay for extra lessons and a tutor. But if I am living out of the Spirit, I am genuinely motivated by the well-being of my child. I am willing to support him at an appropriate level with the extra help. Life in the Spirit does not seek to manipulate people and events for a specific result because that result does not reflect on my worth or my child’s.

At the heart-level, I believe that I (or my child) will be okay if he does not make the team or get in that college because I (and my child) are already well-cared for, loved, and seen by God. 

When I am living out of the Spirit, it is only out of the overflow of the abundance God has already given me by calling me his beloved child. My identity (and my child’s) is secure in Christ. I trust that even if the result is not what I expected or desired, his plans and ways are better than mine, and he will not forsake me or my child in the midst of joy or suffering. 

Parenting in Freedom

How is that for an oxygen mask? My identity and my belonging are in God, and I am washed clean. For the Christian, that is where we live. But our actions and thoughts do not always reflect our new identity. When I was raising my young boys (and even now as they are older), I often was operating out of my own ability and energy, or my own righteousness, which would leave me feeling depleted. I was fearful that if I didn’t parent perfectly and keep my household in “control” that I would appear to be inept and my children would suffer. I had forgotten to whom I belonged, why I belonged to him, and the power he had given me through the Holy Spirit. 

Those practical “oxygen masks” are still good. Relationships, connection with friends and family, time away from children, work, hobbies—all of these are gifts from God that he may use to revive you in the midst of childrearing. 

Doing your job well, be that at home or at work, is good. Yet, the “oxygen masks” and my solo efforts will not sustain. The relationship may disappoint; childcare may not be feasible; your job or hobbies may change; you’ll make a mistake; your child will make a mistake. 

But one thing does not change—the good news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that I might be counted as righteous before God the Father. 

The gospel gives us hope in the midst of our diaper-changing, carpool-driving, sibling-rivalry refereeing. The gospel, as Paul reminds us, means that we are secure in our identity and given the Holy Spirit to guide us. Coming to the Lord through prayer, Scripture, and worship draws upon the limitless account that God has given us in the Holy Spirit.

We can parent in freedom and peace under the banner of God’s great love for us. As we grow older alongside our children, the Holy Spirit promises to be at work.Not because of our great effort, but because of Jesus’ perfect effort on our behalf. Breathe deeply and inhale the life-saving and life-sustaining Spirit that comes from the Father through Jesus Christ.

Join us in Dallas October 24-26 for gospel-centered parenting workshops!

Dawson Cooper lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Wil, and three boys (ages 7,10, and 15). She graduated from Wake Forest University. While at Wake Forest, she began freelance writing for a local magazine. She has been writing for Rooted Ministry since 2017. She also works as a lead floral designer with Marigold Designs. Dawson and her family attend Covenant Presbyterian Church where she is involved with leading a youth small group. When she isn’t at or driving to her boys’ various games, school events, or activities, she enjoys reading, playing tennis, and enjoying a good meal with friends. 

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