This Mother Is a Debtor Too

We’re almost ready, and by the way, I’m sorry
In all this hurry I forgot to be kind
I got so worried that I lost my mind

By the way, I’m sorry

– Sara Groves, “Station Wagon”


Until I became a parent, I never knew there were so many ways to be unkind.

To be clear — I had a great ability and capacity to be unkind and selfish before children, usually expressed in passive-aggressive ways. But my failures then were easier to cloak, I think, and the circumstances that sparked impatience and exasperation could be avoided long enough for me to regain my wits, if only for the span of a few hours. Now, my failures needle through the task-laden and rushed hours of the day so often that after the children are in bed, they stand out like a stark constellation of deficient love.

For me, there’s so much scope for wonder in motherhood: joy to see the friendship forming between two small siblings, gratitude for the good health we hold and memories we are making, and laughter at a toddler’s hilarity and a preschooler’s imaginative jokes.

There’s also my parade of graceless responses. I’ve exhaled loudly — and gutturally — with exasperation while cleaning up a fresh spill or stain, thrown frustrated hands skyward when small accidents cause my plans to go awry. I grit my teeth, answer calls of “Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy” with a “Yes!!” so sharp and final that I dismay even myself, and sometimes do a mad little hopping dance of impatience at the bedroom door when asked to do “one last” anything.

“It’s only human,” I hear, and I nod — yes, I’m glad that my children know I’m not superhuman, and that we use these failings to apologize and work forward together.

But it’s also the season of Lent, and a time of mercy for me to examine what these unkind gestures say about what’s within.

In my actions at home, I see how I treat the lowly and the dependent and the ones who love me unconditionally. This daily chafing in the same places, in my interactions with the same people, shows how thin my self-sufficient store of love really is.

Even more soberingly, however, I’m beginning to realize that my responses to the spilled cups and the persistent demands and the rebellious “no’s!” show how lightly I regard my own sin. I am the debtor in the well-known story, forgiven of her great transgressions, who brings others to account for their small offenses.

For the kingdom of Heaven is like a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When he had started calling in his accounts, a man was brought to him who owed him millions of pounds. And when it was plain that he had no means of repaying the debt, his master gave orders for him to be sold as a slave, and his wife and children and all his possessions as well, and the money to be paid over. At this the servant fell on his knees before his master, ‘Oh, be patient with me!’ he cried, ‘and I will pay you back every penny!’ Then his master was moved with pity for him, set him free and cancelled his debt.

“But when this same servant had left his master’s presence, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a few shillings. He grabbed him and seized him by the throat, crying, ‘Pay up what you owe me!’ At this his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and implored him, ‘Oh, be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused… (Matthew 18:22-30, J.B. Phillips)

Have I not caused my share of accidents, clung hard-headed to my own wants, and deliberately refused to hear how the Word of God applies to the corners and conflicts in my life?

And yet I still come, more than willing to accept the love of God.

“Just as I have loved you,” Christ says, “you also are to love one another” (John 13:34b). How great the contrast is between the diluted spoonfuls of love I mete out, so sparingly, and the pure deluge He heaps on my head! Seeing it helps me not to brush my weak moments away as a mere sign of my humanity, but to bring them to Him, ask forgiveness, and begin again.

For Easter Sunday is, among so many things, a triumph over death and the downward spiral that always attends it: a sign that His atonement is deep enough to cover, redeem, and make far more of us than what we have been. To plumb down and bring out of us a greater love than we have been capable of bearing toward anyone.

“It’s only human” to fail to love. So it is. And only on the upward road, helped and convicted by the Counselor with us, does that sentence become not a condemnation to remain as I am, but as a relief: a basis for knowing that He, fully human and fully God, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are,” makes possible the daily forgiveness and transformation of even my broken love for others — because He ever lives and intercedes for me.


“Mother Combing Her Child’s Hair,” Mary Cassatt, c.1901. {{PD-US}}