Guilt: A Mother’s Habitual Shadow

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Episode Synopsis

Guilt nibbles at the souls of mothers, eating way our inner peace and joy. This episode helps us learn how to listen to (and deal with) our guilt in a biblical, Christ-honoring way.

Audio Transcript

Heidi Howerton: As you know, we’ve been talking about children: that the next generation might know, influencing our children for Christ. We all interact with children throughout our day, whether we’re teachers or Moms, whether we work in Sunday school, we all come across children and we want to know how can we show these little kids Jesus,

Jani Ortlund: That is so true, Heidi. We hope that even if you’re not a mother, you still might listen in and get some helpful hints for how to relate to different children in your life.

Grace-Filled Mothering: Our plan for the next few episodes 1:04

Jani: We want to talk about grace filled mothering over the next few podcasts. I feel terribly inadequate at this because I haven’t always been gracious towards my children and grandchildren. Plus, I have friends who’ve written whole books on giving our children grace. But Heidi, what am I to do with the Titus 2:4-5 mandate, that as an older woman, I’m to train younger women to love their husbands and children. So over the next few podcasts I’m going to give you, with Heidi’s loyal, loving, and humble assistance (she’s so great at that), what the Lord has given me now that I’ve been married for almost 48 years and am mother to four and grandmother to 13, and we’ll just leave the fruit of these podcasts in the Lord’s hands, right, Heidi?

Heidi: That sounds good.

Jani: Okay. Well, I really want to talk about three things over the next few weeks. First of all, the guilt we experience as moms. Secondly, God’s grace for you as a mother. And our final point would be how to give that grace to our children so that they feel loved in a gracious way.

The Guilt We Struggle With 2:27

Jani: Today, let’s talk about the guilt we struggle with as mothers, grandmothers, maybe Aunts, maybe Sunday school teachers or school teachers. I know that as a mother, everyone wants something from you, your children? Who else do you feel tugging at you Heidi?

Heidi: My kids, my house, my husband, or friends which I love dearly, but everyone wants something and it’s hard to know how do I give it? Oh mom guilt! I just hate mom guilt.

Jani: Oh, I hate it, too. Especially when I’m one of the ones pulling at you for work, but it’s true: everyone wants something of us, don’t they? Most likely our listeners, and I know this is true in your life, Heidi, you’re giving way more than you ever thought was possible in your early years.

Heidi: Because everybody wants something, but they’re all good things. I don’t feel like, “Oh, negative! Negative! Negative!” But it’s all I wish I had more to give because it all comes from a place of love.

Jani: Exactly. And along the way, guilt starts nibbling away at your soul, doesn’t it? Because you want to do more. That guilt tells you that you should be able to do more, you should be giving more, doing more, accomplishing more… “More! More! More! Always more!” And sometimes that guilt can linger through the years even after your children are grown and gone. I can speak to that as an older mom. Guilt, which I think is a mother’s habitual shadow, has a nasty way of dampening much of our efforts at nurturing and serving and loving others.

Heidi: It leaves me always feeling like I’m just not quite good enough. It’s, “You’re doing this, Heidi, but it’s just not quite good enough.”

Jani: Never enough. Always more. Those questions of, “Am I doing enough for my children? Am I doing enough for others? What do they think of me? What does God think of me?”

What are we to do with that guilt? 4:39

Jani: Well, I just want to encourage us all today. Let’s not waste that guilt! We talk about it. It’s an awful feeling, but let’s not waste it. Let’s use that guilt. Let’s listen to it. Let’s take it out of the shadows and examine it in the light of scriptures. Let’s lay out our feelings before Christ.

Jani: Is this guilt a conviction from him? Is the thing I’m feeling guilty about one of the sins that nailed him to the cross, that drove those nails into his hands and his feet? If it is, then I should confess it and receive his forgiveness and ask him where and how he wants me to change. But maybe, I don’t know about you, Heidi, but maybe like me, sometimes my guilt is just a nagging, self-focused fear of failure, that kind of guilt whispers to me that if I were just a bit better or work just a little harder, then I would be noticed and admired enough to feel okay about myself. That is false guilt because it’s rooted in pride. It will hurt our families and it will hinder our relationships with our grace giving Father.

Jani: Do you ever feel guilty Heidi, about working outside your home or your mothering?

Heidi: I think “mom guilt” weighs so heavy on me. I even think sometimes, Jani, as I lead a discipleship group, typically sometimes in the year from August through May and every Wednesday night, and my husband has freed me to do that and he says, “Yes, I think this is good for you and this is good for our family.” But to see their little faces and oh mom, we just want you to be with us and do you have to do discipleship group? It’s so hard because I don’t want to love other women more than I love my kids. And yet I think that I could give and give and give and my kids want me with them all the time, and that guilt of, should I be or is it okay to do this? It’s heavy.

Jani: It’s very heavy.

Different Kinds of Guilt 6:56

Jani: Well, Scripture talks something about different kinds of guilt. Heidi, would you read 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Heidi: I’d love to.

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

2 Corinthians 7:10

Jani: A “Godly grief” that leads to repentance or a “worldly grief” that produces death. So I think as women we can ask ourselves…

  • Is my guilt a godly grief that leads to repentance, or is it a worldly grief that just brings grey dark death?
  • Does this guilt lead to repentance that brings joy and peace to those closest to me, or does it add unnecessary stress and strain to my soul and my home?
  • Is this guilt—as I think about it as I take it out and look at it—is it wasting emotional energy or producing repentance that leads to life?

Jani: Let’s be women who listen to our guilt! Let’s not waste it. Let’s deal with our guilt. Is this Christ correcting you, disciplining you, leading you into renewing your soul? Do I hear the Spirit in this or do I not hear the voice of my Savior in this guilt? Does it just nag at me? Jesus is not a nag. The Holy Spirit is not a nag. They don’t nag and drag us down.

Jani: One guilt that we can let go of is making our children our primary ministry investment when they’re young. We do not need to feel guilty over investing in our little kids. Our children are our gift to the future. We’re teaching the younger generation to form intimate emotional bonds with others. Our sensitivity and availability, our affection and unhurried attention are irreplaceable in their little lives.

God’s Design in Titus 2:4-5 9:13

Jani: Paul’s word to me as an older woman is to train the young women to love their husbands and children. Why does the apostle have to tell us that? I think because it’s hard to love our husbands and children. It can be easier to minister outside our home.

Jani: Think with me for a minute, why is it more rewarding for us to organize a “Themed Ladies Retreat” for 200 women than it is to plan an indoor picnic with our preschoolers on a rainy afternoon? Why do you think that is, Heidi? I don’t know. In in my own life, I feel like it’s because the rewards are more immediate. The women come up to me and say, “Oh, thank you for planning this.” The demands are not as draining.

Heidi: You can easily set boundaries for different things. The reward is “immediate satisfaction” versus motherhood which is “very, very slow satisfaction”. It takes a long time to see the fruit of all your labor. It’s something that you do day in and day out. You can plan a retreat once, but raising children, it’s a lifetime.

Jani: Right. Day after day after day.

Jani: Let me encourage the young moms who are listening that you have received this commission to raise your kids from God. As mothers, our privileges to teach our children how to respect their daddy, how to be kind to their siblings, how to choose good nutrition and wholesome entertainment; why they should value certain things…Oh Heidi, I know you’re teaching your kids a lot about courtesy these days. You’re teaching them not to interrupt. I love that. You’re such a good Mama. What about neatness? Orderliness?

Jani: We also have the opportunity as mothers to teach our children which causes are worthy of their efforts, their reputations, and someday maybe even their very blood.

Are you home but not really all there?

Jani: In Titus 2 God calls us to love our children from home base (Titus 2:4-5). We can’t improve on God’s design. This means more than staying at home. It means fixing our hearts on home. Now, I know sometimes that can be hard. I worked for 13 years as a second grade teacher. Ten of those years were with children at home, so I know what it means to be outside my home, and then come home and have to fix dinner, and go through homework, and get the kids to their dental and doctor appointments, their soccer practice and music lessons. I know it’s a lot, but women can also leave their homes through more avenues than just work or ministry.

Heidi: That is so true, Jani. I think as a mom, especially in my generation, it is so hard to not check out when the kids are playing legos or we’re going for a walk. It’s so easy to think, “Oh let me just look at Facebook for a few seconds. Or let me look at Instagram. Or even let me text a friend.” Sometime’s we think we experience deeper community thru social media than we do in the presence of our own children. Isn’t that sad? That’s a constant struggle for me. To be present with them instead of with them but, in a sense, present with others.

Jani: That’s so good, Heidi. If we think of our kids as ministry that helps me—as my chief ministry. And ministry always means being all there.

Heidi: Yes! I wouldn’t have my phone out if I was doing a ministry event or if we had friends over for dinner.

Jani: Right. Even now during our podcast, our phones are turned off and hidden out of sight. Being all there with our children means rejoicing that we get to show them how to peddle their bicycle, or make their bed, or build good memories, or share their toys with their siblings.

When we serve our family, we’re ultimately serving our Heavenly Father.

Jani: What I want us to see is that when we serve our family, we’re ultimately serving our Heavenly Father. We serve our Heavenly Father by helping our children do that puzzle for the umpteenth time, or by getting them to wash those dirty hands so no one else gets sick, or by planting a garden with them, or acting out Bible stories and praying together, or by preparing for their dad’s return and teaching them that that can be the highlight of their days. You’re serving ultimately God the Father by caring for his little children under your care.

Jani: What’s the alternative? Solomon tells us in Proverbs 29:15, “…a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” We don’t want that do we, Heidi?

Being a mother is hard work! 14:23

Jani: Now you and I both admit, and we know all our listeners know, that being a mother is just plain hard work. That’s part of the difficulty of it, especially if you work outside the home. But even if home is your base—maybe you’re, as you are Heidi, doing homeschooling on top of running your home and working and stuff.

Heidi: Yes. It’s a lot of hard work, and something that can so easily expose my sin. I think by sending so much time together, the kids so easily see my struggles and sin.

Jani: Yes. You’re exposed deeply as a mom. I like how the little cartoon put it—because I think being a mom is slave labor; there’s just no end in sight—and this little cartoon is about a two-year old boy, maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but a little boy sitting on his daddy’s lap and they’re both looking at the wedding album, and the little boy is pointing to a picture of his mommy and her gorgeous wedding dress and looking up at daddy’s face and he’s saying, “Oh, so that’s the day mommy came to work for us.”

Jani: Oh, being a mom is really demanding. But, let’s remember. Let’s encourage each other in this way. God has called us to this ministry. He knows there are no neutral moments in the life of a child. A young child’s life is an experience of one continuous need after another, and our children will bear the imprint of our mothering throughout their lives because most human behaviors springs from imitation.

Your ministry as a mother 16:04

Jani: Listen as I say this: you are the only mother—if God gives you life throughout all of their childhood—your children will ever have. Your ministry to them is the deepest expression of your love for them. Raising your children has to be done right the first time around. It’s one of the few places in life where you cannot say, “Well, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Jani: Think of the honor of guiding the spiritual, and intellectual, and social development of young minds and young hearts. Think of the thrill of teaching them eternal truths from God’s Word. Think of the delight of sending one more godly, vibrant, strong, secure, loving young person into this needy world with the courage to live well for Christ’s sake. Oh, what a worthy investment. Your ministry as a mother is to answer deep questions in the heart of your child. Your child, not through words but in their very psyche, is asking, “Am I a burden? Am I unwanted? Am I unappreciated? Or does someone love me with a love that cannot be broken? Is someone totally committed to me? Do I bring someone joy?”

The Standard of Repentance (not perfection)

Heidi: You know what, Jani, as we talk I keep thinking of all moments where I’ve failed to respond well. But, an older woman once taught me a beautiful truth. She taught me, when those moments happen and I fail to live up to my idea as a mom, to go and repent to that child and say, “remember that day when Mama did that? Mom is so sorry. That was sin in my own heart and life. Will you please forgive me?” I love the grace that the Lord gives us. I love that we don’t have to live to a standard of perfection, but instead a standard of repentance. What a gift that we have repentance and forgiveness through Christ. We can repent to our children and be forgiven and repent to the Father.

Jani: Yes, and what a beautiful model to set for your children, Heidi. That’s so true and so good that even as we raise a high standard for mothering, we know we’re all not going to be able to hit it 100% of the time. So, when we don’t, when we miss the mark, which is what sin is, we do repent. We confess to our kids and to the Lord, we pray together, we ask their forgiveness, we ask the Lord’s forgiveness and we show our kids what it means to feel sorry over hurting another person.

Jani: That’s so good because as we mirror life to our children, we’re teaching them what we believe about life. We’re teaching them what is worth our effort, our money, our very life. Your influence over your child is intense as he sees the likes and dislikes you express. The friendships and family relationships he observes. The conversations he overhears. You are mirroring life to your child.

Jani: I like this story of the mother who invited a family over for dinner. Everyone was around the dinner table and the daddy asked the little five-year-old to pray and he said, “Well, I don’t know what to say.” And the mom said, “Piper, oh honey, you can just say what I say.” Meaning what I say when I pray. And the little boy closed his eyes, bowed his head, and said, “Dear Lord, why did I invite these people over for dinner?”

Jani: We do. We mirror life to our kids, don’t we?

An example of Influence from 2 Kings

Jani: Oh, we read about Joash in the southern Kingdom of Israel in 2 Kings chapter 11. There we see how his horrific evil grandmother killed all of his family.But, God spared this little baby boy and, in the midst of a horrible culture of Baal worship, God hid baby Joash for six years. And when, at age seven, he was crowned king. The Bible records this about him, “And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days because” (listen to this), “…because Jehoiada, the priest, instructed him.” That’s in 2 Kings 12:2. Someone was influencing this little boy in those early years as a mother. King Joash didn’t have a mother, but the high priest influenced him.

A divine calling during this season 21:08

Jani: Remember this, dear moms, you have the privilege of passing onto young hearts a sense of God. Should you feel guilty for that? Never! As you let your children experience intimacy, nearness, and availability in their earliest years with you, you can point them to find those soul necessities in Jesus Christ, their Savior, as they mature. And then you have the delight of sending them out with a light in their souls to bless this darkened world. Someone is going to be influencing your children, inculcating values, and imprinting standards on their impressionable young minds. Let it be you.

Jani: Now, does this mean you’ll never invest in others outside your family? We’ve talked about this a bit, haven’t we, Heidi? No, it doesn’t mean that. Goodness, no. But if you are a young mother, let your primary ministry of mothering guide your choices about where you can best serve Christ now. Don’t let anything woo you away from your unique role as a mommy.

Jani: This season in your life is just that: a season. And each season is a divine calling from your Creator and King. Organizing a new church event is important. Teaching your little boy to be kind to his sister is also important, but which one can best be done by you during this season? Serve God well by ministering to your children first. Very soon, there’ll be grown and gone with no opportunity available to recapture teachable moments and you will have ample opportunity to serve Jesus outside your home in the seasons ahead.

Jani: Now, as Heidi has brought up, we want to end this podcast today with just a word about guilt we sometimes feel. Because as moms we make mistakes. We’re gonna make more. I’m still making them and my kids are in their mid-forties. There is no perfect mother. That’s why Peter instructs us in 2 Peter 3:18 to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We need to grow in His grace. Our kids don’t need a perfect mother. They need a mom who is bathed in God’s grace and a mom that can give her kids grace throughout their young lives.

A Prayer for us All 23:53

Jani: Let’s stop and pray right now. Could you pray for our young moms, Heidi? You’re in the midst of it right now. Would you offer up a prayer for God’s grace to surround them?

Heidi: “Heavenly Father, I ask that you come fill our hearts right now. God, help us to hear your voice. Block out the enemy’s voice from our minds. We want to hear what you say to us, Lord. I pray that you would lead us to repentance in the ways that we sin, and I thank you for grace. Thank you for repentance. Lord, thank you that when we sin against our kids, we can apologize and display the gospel to them. Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross so that our sins can be forgiven. I know I have some seasons, Lord, where I just think, ‘How am I going to fail today? I know I’m going to do it and when is it going to happen?’ But, thank you that instead you offer us grace and you say, “Dear daughter, when you fail, repent. Tell your kids that mommy is sorry. Show them me. Show them. Ask for their forgiveness and ask for my forgiveness.’ God, thank you so much for forgiving us of our sins. Thank you for filling us with the Holy Spirit and helping us to love our children well. We come to you with open hands and open hearts and open ears. We want to hear what you have for us, Lord. Help us to honor you as we raise our babies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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