Silencing the Accuser

Out of nowhere, intense anger boiled over as my heart raced, and I fought the urge to shake my son. I sat him, screaming, in his crib and fell to the floor sobbing. My reaction to my own anger was visceral. A floodgate burst and memories surged through my mind; I remembered something about being on the other side of the explosion. 

A face slapped. Shouting, only ever shouting—arguments were never calm. A brother standing between me and a parent, “No! I will not let you hurt her!” There were so many memories I had never unpacked because, after all, I was okay; I had not experienced what my siblings did.

But I was not okay.

A “More” Baby and the Accuser’s Lies

Guilt and shame coursed through my heart, mingling with newly unearthed trauma. I am just like my mom. How could I be so angry at him? He’s just a baby!

Prior to that moment, I had no idea the capacity for such explosive anger existed within me. I adore children and typically have a long fuse with them. In fact, the entirety of my professional career has been child centric. I worked at a daycare in high school and college, taught pre-k and kindergarten, and most recently was a developmental therapist for children, birth through age three. 

But I was exhausted. (As it turns out, sleep is a hard thing for spirited babies with strong opinions about their lives.) Sleeplessness continued well past the newborn stage, and I logged countless hours in the rocker praying his restless little body would calm. My husband sat on the floor, his hand on my knee, comforting me when our son wanted only mama but I was falling apart. I think our record was eight long wakes in a night each lasting at least forty-five minutes. We did this for months. We tried so many “strategies” but nothing worked.

Strong-willed, spicy, sensory seeking, and determined might all describe my delightful and sometimes intense little boy. He’s a guy with big emotions (like his Mom). 

For a while I wondered if we had held him too much as a newborn, if our parenting had made him more “needy.” But then I remembered night two. Nurses warned us that newborns get hungry by their second night because meconium has effectively passed through their systems.

 Ok, he’ll want to nurse more. No big deal.

Hours later a nurse exclaimed, “I haven’t seen a baby feed this aggressively in years! You have one of those sweet babies. This one’s going to give you a run for your money.” 

Maybe those weren’t the most encouraging words.

However, I can attest that at four, he does indeed still give me a run for my money. He really is just a little “more.” More persistent. More curious. More perceptive. More passionate. These are some phenomenal qualities, but they frequently bring me to my knees. 

This marvelous boy who gives the best hugs, is tenderhearted, is larger than life at home but feels nervous in new situations, who relishes all books and smothers his baby brother with kisses—this boy reveals sin in my heart like no other person. 

And then the accuser pounds my heart with lies. 

“You are just like your mom.” 
“You will always struggle with anger.”
“You cannot break the cycle.”
“You are perpetuating generational trauma.”

Hope Comes in the Darkness

One day, after being angry with Hudson, I sat weeping into my hands as he perched on my lap. I felt chubby, soft fingers gently grab my own, pulling them from my face. As I looked up, my baby grinned an irresistible smile, as if to say “Mama, I know this game. You’re supposed to say ‘Boo!’” 

Later that same day, as tears flowed again about my sin, he crawled over, smothering me with hugs and open mouth kisses, patting my back. 

On another occasion when a toddler, Hudson tossed back and forth in my lap, chatting away, and I felt frustration rise in my heart. Why is this child so persistent? Why will he not sleep?

Little hands reached up to my face in the dark, and a sweet voice so clearly said, “Mama, I wuv you.” What extravagant grace! My son’s forgiveness and adoration shadow greater grace: “My sin not in part, but the whole was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!” 1

The words of that hymn reverberate in my mind, louder, louder still, trying to drown out the hammering of the accuser. But he accuses me still: “You are not worthy of forgiveness. Your sin is too wicked. No other mother has had thoughts like yours. You are a terrible mother.” 

And I accuse myself: “Lord, I don’t deserve this song. It is not well with my soul! I’m so ashamed. Change my heart, that it would be full of grace, kindness, and compassion.”

The accuser is right. I do not deserve forgiveness. My anger is wicked. However, two beautiful words flip the narrative on its head. But Jesus.

But Jesus took the whole of my sin and nailed it to the cross, canceling out the record of debt against me (Col. 2:14). The innocent, spotless One traded His clean blank page for my list of indictments that trails behind me for miles.

But Jesus already defeated the power of sin in my life and calls me a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He says I’m no longer bound by sin, but free (Gal. 5:1). He presents me, holy and blameless. By grace I have a new identity (Eph. 1). 

I can walk forward without shame.

The Brain Game

The old, wily accuser hates when I flip the narrative, though. He wants me to stay defeated. Guilt is a good gift that lets me know when I’m wrong, but shame is the enemy’s twisted lie to keep me in shackles. For if I continue to wallow in shame, his lies maintain a foothold. And if I repeat them to myself, I’m more likely to be stuck in the pattern of sin. At its root, it’s the oldest lie in the book: “Did God actually say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1 ESV).

Can you hear it? “Did God actually say you are a new creation? You don’t look like a new creation. You just keep going back to the same old reactions. Did God actually say He sees the righteousness of Christ on you?” Satan mixes a little truth with his poison and causes me to doubt the goodness, faithfulness, and holiness of God.

One author said, “If God is holy, then he can’t sin. If God can’t sin, then he can’t sin against me. If he can’t sin against me, shouldn’t that make him the most trustworthy being there is?” 2 God will not sin against me by breaking His commitment to transform me. Because He is holy, He is trustworthy to complete the work He began at the cross. God is also trustworthy to tell me the truth—I am not the sum of my broken parts. Rather, I am redeemed. My life is hidden with Christ on high.

The more I flip the script, the more heart change flows from a changed mind. Recalling truth silences the accuser. Not surprisingly, brain science agrees with the testimony of Scripture here. Messages sent to the brain create neural pathways; repeated messages fire faster and travel more easily. The more we use a neural pathway, the more it becomes a super highway.

Therefore, the more I am angry and frustrated with my children, the more I’m likely to respond that way again because I’ve strengthened that neural pathway.

If I want to change the pattern, I need to change the pattern. My brain needs new messages. And it needs the repeated messages of interacting calmly and connecting with hearts before discipline. It needs messages straight out of Philippians 4:8:

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.

The enemy’s lies are most certainly not true, honorable, pure, lovely, excellent or anything else we’re charged to think on. 

I know my understanding of brain science is simplistic, but maybe, just maybe, I’m dismantling some neural pathways related to my own abuse and neglect. As I’ve learned strategies to remain calm in high pressure parenting situations, I am rewiring my brain. And the more reps I do across different circumstances, the more I’m becoming who I want to be.

When I kneel down and talk to my children instead of shouting at them, neurons are doing some important highway construction—in my brain and in theirs. I’m encouraged that something physical is happening. If someone measured my brain activity, they might see a difference!

Growth happens even if it feels so slow. Even if it feels like construction is at a standstill or an excavator dug a hole across the path.

Transformation by Grace Ahead

But there’s better news! For a Christian, it’s even bigger. If the strategies I am learning are rooted and grounded in the gospel, it is not mere behavior modification. 

As I repeatedly remind myself of the truths of the gospel related to parenting (or any other struggle), those truths send neurons firing across my brain. The resplendent reality of the gospel physically changes my brain. What I actually believe about God, myself, and others starts to change. This is sanctification y’all. 

Over many years a highway called “Identity” has formed. Construction on it will probably never end—an I-90 in my brain—but it’s getting smoother and better. Of course, only God changes the heart, but as thinking changes, the heart follows. What a complex mystery! Sanctification is God’s work, but I respond by recalling His truth.“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Cor. 15:57).

I am not my mom. 

I’m not a perfect mom, nor do I need to be—Jesus was perfect in my place. But there are many things I do well. When I look through objective lenses, I know my children have radically different lives than I had. Past trauma doesn’t define me. 

Praise God for children who show me my need for a Savior! I cannot muster up more patience just by trying harder. But because God is patient with me, through Jesus I am able to be patient. Because I have received lavish grace, I can relate to my son with grace. 

Maybe my buddy just needs more comfort than our culture says he should. Maybe I do too. If God is not stingy in His comfort, then I can be lavish in mine as well. 

My children will see parents who fail and sin. But I hope they also see parents who always come back to them in repentance. 

“Buddy, I’m sorry I was angry with you. Will you forgive me?” 

I hope he sees a Mama who is being transformed by grace. And I hope that makes Jesus beautiful in his eyes.

But that is not how you came to know Christ, assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. (Eph. 4:20–24)

1 Horatio G. Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul.”
2 Jackie Hill Perry, Holier than Thou: How God's Holiness Helps Us Trust Him (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2021), 2.

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