Spontaneity energizes and excites me. Road trip? Let’s go. Impromptu dinner party? The more the merrier. For years, I delighted in collecting unplanned experiences. Meeting new friends and trying new things were and still are absolutely life-giving to me.
Enter an infant.
I immediately found consistency to be the single most challenging, humbling, refining, and sanctifying aspect of becoming a parent. My daughter needed consistency in every area of her life, and a lack thereof seemed always to result in chaos at home.
My previous years of spontaneity stopped on a dime and time became a series of blocks. The same things had to be done at the same time everyday. Any mother remembers feeding an infant every three hours and keeping track of how many ounces the baby takes each time. Sleeping, waking, and playtime became an endless cycle. As my child grew, I was responsible for her evolving schedule. For her sake and for my sanity, I had to be extremely consistent. When I struggled, I foolishly tried harder. I thought I could ‘do better’ and create our new normal all on my own.
What a ridiculous idea. How could I teach my child to ‘pray without ceasing’ through my own start-stop efforts? How could I model generosity with an innately selfish heart? How could I demonstrate self-discipline when my greatest desire as a full-time working single mother was simply to take a nap? I gravitated towards self-sufficiency in an attempt to point my child to Christ.
Please read that last sentence again. Because it is truly absurd. As a Christian, I knew better. But it took years for me to realize the only thing I could be consistent in was falling at the foot of the Cross over and over.
Practical advice (that actually helps): pray
Praise the Lord we are not left to our own devices when navigating the pitfalls of parenting and our own shortcomings. The Holy Spirit has rescued me with supernatural wisdom on several occasions. I have come to loathe vague, simplistic advice on consistency in parenting, such as: “Just make it a habit,” “set a reminder on your phone,” or, “repeat the thing that worked well last time.” The best practical advice is to stop and pray. The Lord provides wisdom in the moment for that moment. I find it extraordinarily difficult to pause long to remember this. So often, my initial thought is to jump into action without first conferring with my Maker. He knit my child together inside of me and spoke night and day into existence. He knows how to help me stay consistent.. Why oh why wouldn’t I confer with him before taking action?
Discussing my exasperating inconsistency with my sister, I often say, “I just don’t know what to do!” She always replies, “Well, you don’t have to know right now.” She’s right.
Because I want to avoid inflicting more vague advice upon the world, here’s a sample path a parent might take when confronting their inconsistency:
- Read Job 38 & 39 to remember your own lack of wisdom
- Read Psalm 139 to remember God’s infinite wisdom
Choose your own favorite passages to study and pray through. Please understand this is an approach provided in Scripture and not a one-and-done solution. These steps can be repeated countless times with different verses. Repetition by no means equals failure. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Trajectory matters more than perfect consistency
We are finite beings and cannot see what is next, but we are called to do the next thing in faith on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis. This is sanctification and it happens in painful increments. That’s why Elisabeth Elliott’s poem, “Do The Next Thing” has long been a favorite. In particular, this verse encourages me:
Do it immediately, Do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, Tracing His hand,
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed in omnipotence, Safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings, Do the next thing.
No matter how you say it— “one thing at a time,” “take it bit by bit,” “eat an elephant one bite at a time”—the sentiment is the same and the wisdom holds true. Trajectory matters more than each individual scenario. I long for growth (in myself or in my child) to be linear, but it never is. For that matter, nothing that has a refining effect, like marriage or community or friendship, ever progresses like we want it to. Therein lies the beauty. Our inconsistency allows us to model a consistent need for Christ. Throughout our days on this side of heaven, we have an ever-present opportunity to go to the foot of the cross again and again. This is ultimately what our children need to see most from us. The single most valuable lesson we can give our children is our neediness because it points them to Christ. In this, redemption becomes visible to our children and we are truly vessels through which God is glorified.
God is steadfast when we are not
Growing up, the Israelites of the Old Testament seemed so foolish to me. They were quick to turn to anything but God, and they were faithful to Him in short sprints before rebelling or turning away again. Spiritual maturity and parenting have helped me to see that I am no different. I would not have ‘done better’ if given the opportunity. We are not steadfast by our very nature and we desperately need something or someone that is. What a humbling realization. I find myself going to the foot of the cross yet again.
Everything about God is consistent. His character is steadfast. It gives me tremendous joy when I meditate on how He is steadfast for us, rather than just setting an example that I can’t follow in my own strength anyway. Perhaps this is why ‘steadfast’ is most often paired with ‘love’ throughout the Bible. After all, God is love (1 John 4:7-8).His steadfast love does not alter with time or cultural zeitgeists or our own foolish choices. He has always existed and throughout that existence, he has not changed. Despite our inconsistency, his plans, his nature, his character are all wonderfully and perfectly consistent.