I looked at my husband across the couch and heard myself say, “I’m tired of blowing it, of sinning the same way over and over again with our kids. Can’t I trade this in for another sin or something?!”
Ever since I can remember, I’ve fallen into what some have called the “performance trap,” setting standards for what it means to be a good friend, a good student, a good wife, a good mom, even a good Christian. In college and young adulthood, it was easier to “make the grade" and meet those standards. But then came lots of transition and moves, more relationships to keep up, marriage, and the real kicker for me: motherhood.
Having young kids exposed my sin again and again. It felt impossible to “perform” in this role, to hit the benchmark I had in my head of what a good, Christian mom should look like. I’d hold it together for awhile, but eventually I’d totally blow it. For me, this looked like losing my temper and yelling in anger at my kids. Shame always followed quickly behind, and I’d beat myself up, so frustrated that I’d fallen short of the “good Christian mom” standard yet again. Feeling terrible, I’d apologize profusely to the kids and try to make it up to them. Then, I’d pull up my proverbial bootstraps and determine to do better next time. But, inevitably, I’d blow it again. And the cycle of sin and shame and “trying harder” would repeat.
The truth is, I wanted to get an A+ in this role, day in and day out! I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I also didn’t want to struggle with my temper or sin against my kids—ever. “It’s just not what a good Christian mom would do,” I thought. It felt like no amount of self-talk, self-effort, or even Bible reading, prayer, and accountability would ever give me complete victory over this sin in my life. But I wanted complete victory so badly. Sometimes, when I felt really frustrated and defeated, I wanted to give up and declare: “This is just part of my personality, and parenting is so hard!”
But this is not the gospel! These three responses to our struggles with sin—trying harder, living in shame, giving up completely—are simply not in alignment with the good news of Jesus. I believed the gospel but functionally, I lived as if it were not true.
In his mercy, God repeatedly brought me to a point of desperation. I always said "I'm a sinner," but now I felt the weight and reality of my sin more keenly than ever before. As C.S. Lewis said, “No one knows how bad he really is until he has tried very hard to be good.” I had tried very hard. But God helped me realize that no amount of staring at my sin, or beating myself up, or “trying harder” would ever help me hit that standard. I’d finally come to a place of acknowledging my utter spiritual poverty. Oh, how I needed the gospel to be true. It was my only hope.
As I came to the end of myself, I found that God was carrying me to the foot of the cross. He pointed me back to the good news I could never achieve or deserve. Like the snakebitten Hebrews we see in Numbers 21, he invited me not to stare at my own “snake bites” and sin, but to behold the brazen serpent, lifted high on my behalf. Instead of fixating on my performance, he taught me to fix my eyes on Christ, who already fixed his eyes on me in love.
The gospel was true indeed, and was even better than I remembered:
In Christ, we meet God’s standard. Christ “performed” perfectly on our behalf, setting us free from our need to “try harder” to earn our salvation.
In Christ, we’re free from the condemning power of sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So, we need not beat ourselves up, stare at our sin, or listen to the enemy condemn us.
In Christ, we’re free from the enslaving power of sin. Although we may feel defeated at times, the resurrection guarantees we’re not powerless against our sin. The Spirit convicts us and empowers us to repent, day by day.
In Christ, we still struggle with the presence of sin. The struggle we feel—between the Spirit and flesh, the new creation and the old self—is a normative Christian experience. The fact that we see our sin at all testifies to God’s grace at work in our lives. So, we don’t give up because we keep messing up!
In Christ, we never outgrow the gospel. When we see our sin bubble to the surface in the pressure cooker of motherhood, we must resist the cycle of self-condemnation and "try harder, do better." Instead, we cling to the cross. We run to the resurrection. We glory in the good news. We do it again and again, without reservation, every day and every time we blow it. Although it sounds strange, God can use our daily struggles with sin to cause us to rejoice and boast in Christ, even as we wait eagerly for that glorious Day when the presence of sin will be banished forever.
Our journeys in motherhood are not over. Though we’re growing, we’ll still blow it all of the time. But instead of wishing we could trade in our struggles, let’s learn to trade in the treadmill of performance, resting in Christ’s perfect performance instead. As author Kimm Crandall says, “I am learning to trade in my ‘performance obsession—which is really a sin obsession—for a Savior obsession.’” We can ask our kids for forgiveness and point them not to a perfect mom, but to a perfect Savior. We can walk in the good work of motherhood in an attitude of worship, resting, and rejoicing in the undeserved friendship of Jesus and point our children to the same.
 2 Cor. 5:21
 Rom. 6:6-14
 Rom. 7:17-25, James 3:2
 I John 1:6-10
I wrote “There is a Mountain” as I was coming out of this season of falling and “trying harder” in my motherhood, and tasting again the sweetness of the gospel. I share it here as a reminder to you of the good news of Jesus and his gracious invitation to sinners like you and me. May we never outgrow the gospel! It’s a gift that could never be earned or achieved; it can only be marveled at, received with ever-increasing joy.
In 2011, Caroline Cobb gave herself a goal to write a song for every book of the Bible in a year. That year of writing set in motion a new passion to tell the stories of scripture through music, faithfully and creatively. Caroline’s latest album, a Home & a Hunger: Songs of Kingdom Hope, explores the tension between the "already" and "not yet." Produced by Gabe Scott (Andrew Peterson, David Crowder), and featuring Shane Barnard and Jill Phillips, the album traces the biblical themes of Eden and exile, restlessness and rest, and God's "upside-down" kingdom. Her last album, the Blood + the Breath: Songs that Tell the Story of Redemption, takes the listener on a journey through redemptive history with each song parachuting into a different biblical scene. Caroline has been compared to Ellie Holcomb, John Mark McMillan, Sandra McCracken, and Rich Mullins. She and her husband Nick live in Dallas, TX with their three young kids (Ellie, Harrison, and Libby).
Twitter: @carocobbmusic Instagram: @carocobbmusic