From Rumination to Repentance: Parenting With Our Minds Set on the Spirit

Sometimes knowing the history of a word clarifies a lesson I need to learn. 

Take the word sarcasm, the root of which is sarcas, meaning “to tear flesh.” Pretty descriptive. Knowing sarcasm’s origin helps me want to avoid using it, especially with my kids.

Another such word is ruminate. According to Merriam-Webster, to ruminate means “to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly.” Sounds harmless enough, until I learned that the word originally meant “to chew the cud.” The word is derived from the Latin rumen, referring to the first of four stomachs in some large mammals. Chewing the cud “involves regurgitating partially digested food and chewing it again.”

Camels do it. Cows do it. Ruminating works well for them.

People, not so much.

When we ruminate, we bring back up old gnawed-up thoughts and feelings and fill our minds with them, meditating endlessly on something that our mind has already figuratively “chewed” and needs to be digested. 

When my children were small, their problems demanded immediate attention (clean the spilled milk, bandage the skinned knee), and I was easily diverted from needless fretting back into the present moment. But as my kids have grown older and need me less, my tendency to rehash old concerns or to dwell on troubling new ones has caused much anxious churning in my one human stomach. When I get stuck in a mental spin cycle, I am far less available to offer my children the  life-giving, God-honoring support a parent wants to give. 

Some of my well-gnawed ruminations include: 

Past Mistakes

I wonder if the struggles my sons face now are a result of my own idols or sins, but it’s hard to trace a clear cause-and-effect in raising children. After all, our kids are sinners too. They may react sinfully to our wisest guidance; we parents may make utterly foolish choices. By the intervention of our gracious God, our children emerge unscathed. Looking back on whether our family spent too much time on travel sports, or if I put too much emphasis on academics, is not only fruitless, it distracts me from attending to their present needs from me as their mom.

Future Forecasting (Also Known as Imaginary Outcomes)

I sometimes avoid taking present concerns to God in prayer by imagining dire outcomes for my children. My son didn’t get the job he wanted? I worry that his disappointment will color the next job interview, which will lead to another disappointment. Before I know it, in my head he’s 34, unemployed, and living in a van down by the river. In spite of Jesus’ clear instructions not to be anxious about tomorrow, I am weirdly attracted to projecting worst-case scenarios far into my children’s future (see Matt. 6:34).


I’ll admit offenses are a favorite rumination spot of mine. Just last week I found myself growing tense and angry as I described to another mom how my son’s 8th grade basketball coach mistreated him. The offense was real, but for heaven’s sake, my son is twenty-five years old. All these years later, I am still trapped by my unwillingness to forgive this coach. I’d rather chew on how my son was wronged than move on.

Magical Thinking

If you’ve ever assumed you know why the teacher didn’t give your child the lead in the musical; if you’ve ever had an imaginary conversation with the boy who dumped your daughter; if you’ve ever ascribed sinister motives to the coach who sidelined your kid, you’ve engaged in magical thinking. I can carry on lengthy discussions with other people that are entirely in my head. And of course I supply the other person’s half of the exchange. 

All my ruminations share a common delusion: I seem to think I have the mind of God. I believe that if I can figure out why my children struggle and who’s to blame for their troubles, I can fix it. I believe that I can predict the future, or that I understand the impact of the past. I believe I can read minds and influence outcomes. All these things are in the sovereign hand of God, but endless fretting hardens my speculation into “fact.” Ruminating warps my perspective, and I lose sight of what it true and real and good. That makes me a far less loving parent, so I am unable to be the blessing I long to be for my children.

Lord, have mercy. We who have been bought by the blood of Christ don’t have to live like this. Scripture shows us a better way:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 

Romans 8:5-6

Setting Our Minds on the Spirit

If you’re like me, you struggle to let the Spirit shape your thoughts about your children. In chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans, Paul offers us encouragement. Those who are in Christ have the indwelling Spirit, which means they have the mind of the Spirit (v. 9). Although our bodies (and minds) are dead because of sin, the Spirit dwelling within us is life because we have been given the righteousness of Christ (v. 10). 

Though I often feel powerless against my churning mom-brain, Paul reminds us that we have this same Spirit who has the power to bring Christ up from the dead (v. 11). If the Holy Spirit can resurrect a dead man’s body, he can resurrect a mom’s (or dad’s) “dead” mind. The Spirit rescues our fleshly minds from death and sets our minds on himself, where we find life and peace (v. 6). He sets us free from the rumination which torments, so that we might fill our minds with what is true and lovely and pure and commendable about our children (Phil.4:8). 

From Rumination to Repentance

It helps me to remember why I ruminate on the negative: worrying gives me a sense of power, as if I had some control. I fear being blindsided by something bad happening in one of my children’s lives, and I mistakenly believe fretting might help me see what’s coming.

 In my flesh, I behave as if I have the mind of God, and that leads me to death. But wonder of wonders, by the Spirit I do have access to the mind of God, who leads me to be the loving, wise, peaceful mother I so long to be. 

Setting our minds on the Spirit, particularly when it comes to the children we love so dearly, is not easy. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul exhorts us to take our thoughts “captive” precisely because they tend to run away from us. This discipline requires nothing less than the resurrecting power of God. May the Spirit lead us from rumination to repentance, from fretting to freedom, so we may ponder the good gift of our children in peace.  

Be sure to check out the most recent season of the Rooted Parent Podcast: Parenting, Technology, and the Truth

Anna is a single mom of three young adult sons. She is the Senior Director of Content at Rooted, co-host of the Rooted Parent podcast, a member of Church of the Cross in Birmingham, AL, and the author of God's Grace for Every Family: Biblical Encouragement for Single Parent Families and the Churches That Seek to Love Them Well (Zondervan, 2024). She also wrote Fresh Faith: Topical Devotions and Scripture-Based Prayers for College Students. In her free time, Anna enjoys gardening, great books, running, hiking, hammocks, and ice cream. She wants to live by a mountain stream in Idaho someday.

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