Ask any parent about the most important thing in his or her life, and the answer is likely to be “my children.” Any emotion or feeling associated with our own child is heightened: no pride is greater than that which we feel at their success, no pain more devastating than when we watch them suffer, and no happiness more intense than sharing in our own children’s happiness. It’s a love that is difficult to describe. It’s my reference point in attempting to understand the love of God.
God’s love is truly unfathomable to me. I simply cannot understand a love that is greater than the love I have for my own children. I “know” this greater love exists; indeed, it is the basis for my faith and the reason for my hope. But submitting to it is a difficult prospect for us as parents. Most days, I live in harmony with God’s love: those days when my family is healthy, successful, and blessed.
But some days, things get tough where it concerns my children – a difficult diagnosis, an unexpected disappointment, a decision of which I disapprove. On those days, God’s love for them (and for me) can seem distant and uncertain. In these moments, how do we as parents live as though we truly believe God loves our children more than we do? How do we let go of our instinctive desire to plan our child’s life? How do we trust instead in God’s plan, even when it seems completely contrary to our own plans and aspirations for them?
1. Our children are not an extension of us.
Psalm 127:3 tells us that “children are a heritage from the Lord.” Other translations use the word “gift.” Conspicuously absent in any translation or commentary is the idea that children are somehow an amplification of our own being. It’s difficult to think of our children as separate and distinct from us, especially when they are young, but Scripture makes it clear that God knows the path of each individual before they are created in the womb (Psalm 139: 13-16).
2. Our children’s struggles are theirs, not ours.
It is natural for us as parents to try and do everything possible to spare our children from disappointment and pain. We must, however, resist the temptation to personalize their struggles and make them our own.
I learned this lesson in rather dramatic fashion. Several years ago, I had just received yet another phone call from my son’s teacher. This particular son marched to the beat of his own drummer, one who played a beat that defied all acceptable rules of rhythm. My frustration level was high, and as a devoted student of contemporary Bible studies, I knew to look for what God was trying to teach me through these trials. As I stood at my kitchen sink, suds dripping from my elbows, asking God (for what seemed like the umpteenth time) to reveal to me what it was He wanted me to learn, I heard a voice. Distinct and unequivocal.
“This is not about you.”
I stood there in stunned silence, both at the unexpected clarity with which I heard those words, and at the enormous importance of their meaning. Of course my son’s struggles weren’t all about me, any more than his successes were. I felt deep shame at my arrogance and selfishness. God had not engineered my kid’s situation for me; He was, in ways I couldn’t understand at the time, fashioning my son into a person who could achieve the purpose for which he had been created.
3. Our children are created for God’s purposes, not ours.
In Jeremiah 1:5, we read: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you…” Our children have a task, appointed by God, just as the prophet Jeremiah did. It’s a bitter pill to swallow sometimes when we realize that God’s purposes differ from ours.
Any time we try to substitute our will and desires for those of our Creator, we sin, just as Moses did in chapters three and four of Exodus. When God presented Moses with his appointed task, Moses was less than enthusiastic. It was not the task he wanted. He objected and questioned, offering up every hypothetical barrier to success he could imagine, trying to change God’s mind. Even after being shown the power God would give him to accomplish the job, Moses still refused to accept God’s plan, finally pleading, “just send someone else.”
God didn’t though, and the rest is a history that continues to form the foundation of our faith.
4. God’s purposes always bring about good, for our children and for us.
When we begin to see our children as individuals uniquely created for God’s purposes, we can rest in the promise stated in Romans 8:28. God will work for the good of those who love Him and trust in Him. That God’s goodness and provision are so often seen only in hindsight is no accident. God wants us to trust Him. If faith means being sure of what we can’t see, then we can be assured of times when we simply cannot discern God’s plan. This includes His plans for our child.
Our children are watching and learning. Will they see parents who talk a good game about trusting God, but cling stubbornly to their own plans for the future? Or will they see parents who trust Him enough to let go of those plans, believing in God’s faithfulness and provision? When we release our grip on our children into God’s hands, we model to them our own belief in His goodness, and our profound trust in His love – a love far greater than any we can imagine.