Jeremiah, Motherhood, and New Hearts

Imagine being asked to serve a people who would not listen to you, a people who would not obey you, a people who would not respect you. Imagine serving a people who would see your counsel as foolishness and something completely not worth heeding.

Meet Jeremiah.

Or moms everywhere.

Did you ever think you would find kinship in your mothering challenges with the prophet Jeremiah? I didn’t. But I’ve been working my way through the book of Jeremiah this month, and have found a faithful friend for my journey.

In Jeremiah 7:21-26, Jeremiah recounts the rebellion of God’s people. From the time they marched out of Egypt and through that parted sea they rebelled and rebelled and rebelled. They saw God deliver them with miracles of manna in the morning. They saw enemies defeated when the odds were stacked against them. They were brought into a land the flowed with milk and honey. God gave them kings and prosperity. And yet, they rebelled. God showed his kindness and character to them over and over again, and they didn’t listen to his words. Instead they chose their own way. In Jeremiah 7, he says that they didn’t obey God, they didn’t listen to God, and they repeatedly did their own thing.

Jeremiah was tasked with prophesying to these very people. In fact, it’s not just God they rebel against. They reject Jeremiah, too (Jer. 7:1-8:3; 11:18-23). It was a hard and lonely road for the prophet. But it was not a road without some hope.

Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God tells us that the people rebelled because they needed a new heart. And this is where the hope for motherhood comes in. Like Jeremiah, my words often fall on deaf ears. They might be cute ears, but they still don’t listen very well sometimes. Like Jeremiah, I am regularly confronted with belligerent attitude and hearts that are not soft. But like Jeremiah, I have the promise of new hearts that make obedience possible.

Understanding this transforms how I view my kids, and anyone else God places in my path whom I must give instruction to. My kids disobey because they need new hearts, not because I am a bad parent. The great predicament of the Israelites is that no amount of effort on their part was going to make them obey. The same is true for my kids. God had to give his children new hearts, and he must do the same for mine.

This reality about their heart and disobedience shouldn’t anger me (as it so frequently does)—it should soften me towards them and make me long for God to grant them repentance and hearts that desires holiness. So often I am angry that they disobey me, rather than broken that their cold, dead hearts hinder their obedience yet again.

Disobedience is our natural bent. We see it with the Israelites. We see it with our kids. And we see it in ourselves. We need the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to change our natural desires into what doesn’t come naturally to us—a desire to do what is right.

Jeremiah was called to a people who would not listen. Sometimes God calls us to kids who won’t listen. But there is hope for the mother, seen in Jeremiah’s experience, and in the experience of Christ. Jeremiah knew who God called him to and he went anyway, but even he couldn’t do what he prophesied was necessary. Our Savior, Jesus, also came to a people who would not receive him, listen to him, or respect him, but when he came he finished the work that Jeremiah promised God would do. He died to give new hearts so we could repent and believe.

We not only have kinship with Jeremiah, but we also have kinship with our Savior. When we are rejected by our kids or scorned by our kids, the Savior understands, and is the only hope for the scorn to be softened into love. When our kids disobey or reject our authority, the Savior understands what it’s like to have his authority questioned and be rejected by his family, and is the only hope for turning disobedience into joyful submission.  

Parenting work is hard. I’m only a few years in, so my experience is limited. But I’m hopeful. I’m called to a path that others have traversed before me and shown me that God is faithful. I’m called to a work that cannot be accomplished on my own, but needs a power that only God can supply. And though I may be called to endure the disobedience of little people that I love fiercely, I know that the promise of a new heart can be true for them as well. Hope is not lost on them.

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart—Jeremiah 24:7

Yes, Lord, do it soon.