Remember when dentists would come to school and give you those tablets to chew that showed all the plaque that remained after you brushed your teeth? Those things grossed me out. But they served an important purpose – they revealed the junk that was hidden so you could deal with it and get it cleaned up.
I’ve found that marriage and parenting are kind of like those tablets. When I was single, I kept my weaknesses fairly under wraps. If someone pushed my buttons, I could just leave and go home, or retreat into my room.
Then I married Nate and got to be with him all the time. The person pushing buttons was suddenly in my home and in my room, and my worst definitely came out (and comes out)…a lot. I didn’t bother hiding who I really was – burps and all – because to do so constantly would be exhausting. Many times Nate didn’t even know he was pushing buttons, but when I responded negatively to something both of us said, “Wait, what’s going on here? Where did that come from?” I realized how selfish, manipulative, and passive-aggressive I really could be.
And then we became parents, and oh my, was it hard to be selfless! I did things for the kids, like clean up their spills and get them more milk, but I grumbled the whole time. I parked them in front of the TV because it was just easier than sitting down and playing an extremely tedious game of chess with them. Even if I tried hard to keep my unloving tendencies under wraps, they rose up and exploded out in moments of chaos or stress, and I ended up treating the kids in ways I never thought I would. What was revealed was my impatience, anger, and dismissive nature.
I’ve been thinking recently about the sanctifying, purifying nature of marriage and parenting. We like to say that our kids alternately bring out the best and the worst in us. We see our “best,” the amazingly powerful urge to protect them and nurture them, to even wipe their butts with a smile because we think they’re the cutest things on earth. But when they get me riled up – which they do quite often – I lecture, yell, rage, and storm. And then I constantly find myself standing before one of my kids, saying “I’m sorry” and asking for forgiveness. Constantly!
Over the last 13 years of our marriage, coming face to face with my “worst” – my bad temper, impatience, and controlling tendencies – has been difficult, but also really good, because I realize how much needs to change. My weaknesses have pointed me to the Lord and prompted prayers like, “Lord, help me to stop! We can’t keep going on this way.”
A preacher once said, “After a while you find that you don’t work on your marriage. You find that your marriage works on you.” I would add the fact that parenting works on you, too. Marriage and parenting are like those plaque-disclosing tablets – they lay bare all the rubbish that’s inside you. And as you lay it before the Lord and ask Him to clean it up, He keeps changing you into the parent and spouse He wants you to be. In the end, it’s His mercy – not just our junk – that’s revealed.