Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this, my Mama said
(Mama said, Mama said)
The 1960s Motown girl group, The Shirelles, give us the facts on life in their song, “Mama Said.” There are gonna be hard days, there just are.
As a mama of four adult sons, I can tell you that some days were so challenging I didn’t feel as if I was gonna make it.
I still remember one particularly nutty day 17 years ago. It was a day that defines “crazy mom” and also the four personalities I worked with on a daily basis. Peter was 9 years old and (no surprise) we were having a yelling match. I don’t remember what the war was about, but I remember we both wanted to win. Usually I would have the last word, but on this particular day, Peter wanted it.
I was shouting and reminding him that I was the mom, as he turned his back on me and walked to his room, shut the door and held it tight to prevent me from entering. I used all the strength I could muster to open the door. Eventually, I managed to get it open a crack and began pushing with my right foot to get a big enough space to squirrel through. It didn’t work. Instead, my barefoot middle toe got stuck and lodged itself underneath the door. The skin pulled away from the toenail. I screamed, loud and long.
Joey, age 8, immediately appeared in the hallway and, holding the cordless phone, asked in his monotone voice, “Should I call Dad or 911?”
I told him to call Dad and then go downstairs to get his brother, Marco, age 12. Marco bounded up the stairs and demanded that Peter open the door. Peter obliged and then Marco pinned Peter to the bed and said, “You don’t talk to our mother like that.” Peter was quiet and stunned. Marco left the room and went back downstairs. Joey, sitting quietly in the living room, was waiting for more instructions. But where was David, age six? He was in another room, kneeling on the bottom bunk bed with his hands folded and crying, “Dear Jesus, help our family. Protect my mom and Peter from each other.”
My toe healed fine, but it hurt like hell and, hours later, when my husband Dan came home, we all had a story to tell.
Yep, Mama said there’d be days like that, and there were many more just like it that followed. I came through those early years of parenting stronger and more empathetic to other people, and not just moms. Because of those hard days I am better, not bitter. No one has a story on being a “perfect mom.” The “perfect mom” ideal is left to Instagram, with edited and staged photos.
Of course, there are perfectly wonderful moments captured in photos that are honest and true, and I thank God for them. There are so many stories in parenting that are hard, funny or endearing, and sometimes those sentiments are all mixed together. But the most important factor in raising kids is the peace that comes in knowing your child has a personal relationship with God.
Our sons, on some level, know of God’s amazing grace. Only God knows our hearts so that’s why I say, “On some level.” Do any one of us really get it? Can we really fathom God’s sacrifice in paying for our debt of sin, a payment we could never cover or earn? He offers this gift to us with no conditions. He promises redemption and to work all things for the good, now and for eternity. Seriously, that is such good news that it if we really pause, take a breath and think, it can make all the bad days doable.
I do think a lot of how we see God is due to how we’re raised. I was raised without religion, and because of my Aunt Ginger, I was given a clear understanding of who Jesus is and how to connect with Him personally. My husband, Dan, didn’t grow up going to church and didn’t care to know God. Then, after serving as a Senate Page and having his idealistic view of government shattered, he decided he wanted to know. Dan and I knew Christ personally, and it definitely helped us in guiding our sons to know Him, too.
Without understanding who God is in our lives, and the relationship we can have with Him, life is a tremendous struggle. Even though there’s freedom in Jesus, it doesn’t mean there’s freedom from problems. Jesus is our only real hope in making it through life with any peace or joy. And we have the Bible, not as a book of “Rules on Good Behavior,” but as a “Love Story with Redemption and Promises.”
The book of Romans, specifically, is a great read for understanding Christianity. The Apostle Paul, as the author, understood that the things we do are separate from who we are. He teaches that once we know who we are in Christ, our behavior (our “do”) will change, but trying to simply change behavior will never work. Transformation comes to our “do” as we understand our “who” from God’s perspective. Jesus loves us. We cannot earns God’s love, but must receive it as a gift; everyone sins; sin requires death; Jesus’ death paid the price for our sin; in Christ, we are made righteous; we do not have to live under guilt and condemnation; and know this: nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Should you then forget about bringing your kids to church, Sunday school, and the Wednesday night kids' group? Of course not. Encourage them to attend youth group, too, but don’t guilt or manipulate to get them there. Setting up a rule list that makes them feel their good works are worth more than receiving God’s grace, is not what Jesus had in mind. Good works are good, but they aren’t your salvation.
Remember, too, “More is caught than taught,” and prayers for your children to let God move in and guide them really work. Our son Peter shared his testimony recently when on leave from the Navy. He said to the congregation that Sunday morning, “I have memories of my mom’s Bible being messy with her underlining verses and lots of notes and dates in the margins. My dad showed what it is to have wisdom,” Peter said. “Not only is my dad smart but it’s something deeper, something you can only get when you seek God with all your heart.”
Peter also shared how his older brother, Marco, (the one that pinned him down during the “911 Mom episode”) had helped him see Jesus as real, too. People need to see us live our lives in such a way that they know we believe and trust in Jesus despite our feelings and circumstances that are difficult. They need to see our missteps and struggles and how only the grace and strength of God, with lots of prayer, changes everything.
Our sons saw the way we handled hurt and hard places, and a lot of times they saw how we fell and failed; but they saw us get back up again with hope. Hope is the belief that things get better and despair is the belief that things won’t. When I needed counseling over past hurtful relationships, I went and got it. When I needed medication for my anxiety, I got some. You can’t limit the way God wants to work. It’s not this formula of “If I do ‘this’ along with reciting this Bible verse, then all will work out.”
One kind of “rule thing” I can pass on to you is the power of a morning prayer before your babes go off to school. Every morning before school, I got into a rhythm of praying for each of my boys by putting my hand on top of their heads and praying: "Jesus protect (enter name). Bless him. May your hand be on (enter name). I ask too that You bless and protect his future wife. Thanks Jesus. Amen." Sometimes I’d add a sentence for something specific, like a test at school, but mostly it was short and simple.
But what if you do all the “right” things and your child still rejects? It happens to many people. Remember, your child has free will and can still make good or bad choices. If you are struggling with a child walking away, hold on to this promise from Joel 2:25, where God reassures, “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts.”
God loves our children more than we do. I think my biggest achievement in parenting was not anything I did, but what Jesus did in me. Unconditional love means I love my children no matter what they do or don’t do. Real love means I let them make choices, with their free will, to live a life of love based on knowing who they are in Christ, and even if they don’t follow Him, I love them unconditionally.
Bottom line: We all have hard seasons, and as Mama Said, “There'll be days’ like this,” but there are wondrous days here now, too. Earth is not our final destination. There is so much to look forward to. This isn’t it. There is hope and life ahead, and God always has the final word, because He is the word.
This column is a regular feature on the Detriot Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Detroit Lakes-born speaker, radio personality and writer who now resides in International Falls, Minn.