“Exams are the most stressful things some kids have ever experienced,” my son said wryly as we talked about upcoming midterms. I winced. I’d tried to make the point that schoolwork, while important, didn’t need to cause my kids to lose sleep. Unfortunately, my son already knew that. His dad died just as he entered middle school. He knew life’s struggles could be far greater.
With the death of their dad and the upheaval of multiple moves in a span of four years, my kids have known more stress and anxiety than a child should know in his or her adolescence. Often, as I’ve looked at the course of their lives thus far, I’ve wished I could shelter them more. If I couldn’t stop big bad things from happening in the past, at least I could manage the smaller, everyday battles to turn out in their favor.
I suspect I’m not the only parent who struggles with the desire to control her children’s circumstances. In a broken world, there’s so much from which we hope to protect our children. We’re often tempted to orchestrate our children’s lives down to the minutest detail, cushioning them from disappointment and struggle. We pull strings to eliminate barriers to their success socially or academically. We go to bat for them on sports teams and at their after-school jobs. We try our best to shield them from anything sad or bad that might come their way.
While there’s nothing wrong with supporting our children as they begin to navigate the world with more independence, we do well to look honestly at what we consider “sheltering” them in our care. Does our shelter actually look more like control? Are our attempts to help actually more heavy-handed orchestration? What does biblical sheltering actually look like?
A candid assessment of our actions can lead us to sincere evaluation of our goals for our children. If we realize that we need a little course correction, Scripture offers helpful instruction in how to best shelter our children. Consider these three ways Ecclesiastes offers us guidance in this delicate parenting work as we raise teenagers to love and serve the Lord.
Wisdom is An Inheritance
Many parents use their finances as a sheltering tool for their children’s wellbeing. We save for college funds or give our kids cash to fill the car with gas. We pay for school clothes or the registration fee to a traveling sports team. The Bible invites us to expand our understanding of sheltering to include the wealth of wisdom’s inheritance as well.
From tying their shoes to driving a car, we’ve taught our children so much over the years. Alongside these practical skills and habits, we’ve worked hard to cultivate our children’s character and grow their knowledge of God and his world. We’ve made tremendous investments in their lives. All of these intangible investments are a healthy form of sheltering.
The writer of Ecclesiastes likens these deposits of wisdom to an inheritance (7:11). Whether we realize it or not, through our parenting, we’ve filled up our kids’ bank accounts with riches of an intangible kind. Why do we do this? Because we hope someday they’ll begin to cash in and share their wealth.
Long after we are gone and the trust funds are empty, the wisdom we offer our children in these years will continue to pay dividends. Practically speaking, this may mean that we begin to pay for fewer of our teens’ wants and needs, inviting them to work alongside us to fund their lives. As we do this with intention, we can invest in them the wisdom that they’ll need far for years to come — budgeting smarts, generous spirits, and spiritually-attuned hearts that look to meet others’ needs before their own.
Wisdom is a Shelter
“Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter,” Ecclesiastes 7:12 tells us, and we can immediately see the comparison. As parents, we’ve worked hard to orchestrate our children’s lives so that they avoid the most painful parts of growing up. Whether we’ve paid for new sneakers so they wouldn’t be the only kid without the cool Nikes, or we’ve put in overtime to assure they can go to summer camp, we’ve made sacrifices to offer them the lives we’ve hoped they could live.
Unlike our checkbooks, though, wisdom never runs dry. The shelter of wisdom never has a leaky roof. It never ages or fades or looks out of style. Just as wisdom offers our children a rich inheritance in the future, it also offers them the kind of shelter they need to navigate their lives today.
After my husband died, I sat down and had new conversations with my children about child abuse and body safety. I knew the statistics that said children in single-parent homes were more vulnerable to sexual mistreatment, and I wanted to arm my children with wisdom as they navigated their new lives after loss. My sheltering instinct was born of fear, yes, but also a desire to equip my kids to face whatever they might encounter in the world. Wisdom’s shelter today could reap benefits for years to come.
Wisdom Preserves the Wise
Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, “Wisdom is as a wall, and money may serve as a thorn hedge, which protects the field.” Our human protection and resources may provide limited care, but godly wisdom provides for today and tomorrow. It is, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, the gift that keeps on giving.
“The advantage of knowledge is this: wisdom preserves those who have it,” verse 13 tells us. Our children may forget the daily work we invest in their care. They may empty those savings accounts we opened for them at their births. All of our protections may fall short of doing what we intended. However, the gifts of wisdom we bestow upon our children have the capacity to protect them for the rest of their lives.
We all want to save our children from the very worst that life has to offer, but, if we’re honest, no amount of money or house rules or control can ever meet that goal. Even Jesus himself was not spared the sorrow of loss (John 11:35) and the ridicule of others (Matthew 20:19). His love for us placed him in ultimate vulnerability as he went to the cross. Though he was never outside the Father’s sovereign will, the Beloved Son was forsaken so that we who believe might never lose the Father’s protection.
As we teach them wisdom along the way, when they sit and when they rise, we prepare our children for whatever God has in store for them. In doing so, we’re offering them the very best protection available. As we connect our teens to the Source of all wisdom, we can rest assured that God’s care will go with them wherever life takes them, whatever they face.