The above picture is my attempt to provide a semblance of sanity with five kids on quarantine from school. I developed a system for them to keep track of intentional things they do with their time (they hadn’t had a chance to finish their chores yet).
If you’re anything like me and you’ve got young (and particularly aimless) kids at home right now, you are likely feeling parent guilt on a whole new level. Parent guilt is that realization that you should be doing more with them, should be more intentional, should be savoring every moment differently than you actually are in your exhausted state. And this is doubly true if you are attempting to work from home.
This tension applies to far more than parenting. The Apostle Paul writes that “So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:14-15).
I have resonated with this passage for a long time. My only resolve was to attempt to think my way out of it when I found myself in similar moments. Perhaps you can relate.
Yet I recently read something that has challenged this way of thinking. One of the early Church Fathers named John Cassian wrote that “The conflict in a person’s mind between wandering thoughts and the desire to adhere to God is beneficial inasmuch as it demonstrates how dependent one is on the divine assistance.”
This conflict is beneficial?
This idea invited me to meet God differently in this space and allow myself to realize that I still desired God even in the moments when my mind wandered to something else. It opened my eyes to see that I can choose to focus on the divine assistance in these moments and to allow myself to feel dependent upon it. I may not desire to do the thing I know I ultimately want to do, but I can desire God’s Spirit to instill that desire in me. Although this seems a simple application of logic, I have noticed a tangible difference as I have spent time dwelling on it.
Rather than lamenting this reality, Cassian offers a different perspective on this struggle. “If we delight in always pursuing integrity of heart we must constantly strive to acquire the virtue of humility. ‘That the pride attached to this purity is more pernicious than any other crime and shameful deed and that on its account we would acquire no reward for our chastity, however integral.’”
Thank God I don’t deal with that particular version of pride!
Rather than attempting to force myself to feel something I do not feel in a moment of weakness, I can instead approach these moments with gratitude for the reminder of my need for Jesus. It can also remind me of the opportunity to lean into God’s Spirit at that very moment. I then find that I can feel a new desire for connection with God that previously seemed unreachable.
The Conflict in Community
On two separate gatherings of our Life Group, we have essentially worked through the question of what to do when we do not desire God the way we know we should. Said differently, how do we navigate a lack of passion for the things of God we intellectually want? In our experience of wrestling this through in our community, we noticed that the everyday challenges of life—such as parenting young kids—provided us with the most tangible opportunities to apply this thinking.
It seems the traditional outcome when we experience this struggle is to feel shame as a result. Yet desiring for God to shape our desires differently is a way in which we can experience freedom in the Spirit, rather than the shame that is not of the Spirit. This allows us to experience what Paul talks about shortly after explaining his own struggle. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Romans 8:1-2).
Take a breath. When you feel the guilt and shame creep in and remind you of how you fall short in the moment, of how you should feel differently than you do, remember that you can begin by desiring for God to shape your desires. This simple observation reminds us of our profound dependence on Him… and keeps us from pride.
“We may not desire to do what we want to do, but we can desire God to instill that desire.”Click to tweet