A few weeks ago I sat in the grocery store parking lot sobbing. I put on a video for my boys because I couldn’t hold back the floodgates any longer. The stress of waiting for more cancer tests to come back was more than I could bear in that moment. I’m glad I gave myself that time, because the next hour we spent in the store was awful.
Since our home was on the market, we had been kicked out during another nap time for a house showing. I had pulled up to a park to let the boys play, but--literally--as I opened the van door, the blue sky turned to rain. To redeem the time, I put my devastated kids back in the van and headed to buy groceries. As I read nutrition labels in an effort to protect my son with numerous food allergies, and picked out soft food for my son about to undergo a tonsillectomy, my three boys were obnoxious and aggressive. It made me want to cry again. I had cramps and a headache, and for some reason I thought about parenting books. No one tells you what may be going on in your life when your child starts pushing their sibling out of the shopping cart or yells so the whole store can hear. We don’t parent in an isolated box, we parent while going through trials of various kinds.
As I spoke with one of my college best friends, I found myself confessing, “Life is just so much harder than I ever expected it would be.” She agreed wholeheartedly. Her daughter, although completely cognitively-capable, is in a wheelchair and unable to speak due to Rett Syndrome. It is a tragic chromosomal abnormality holding many little girls captive. Great advances have been made to communicate with these intelligent, precious little girls, but there is no cure. My sweet friend pushes on daily, keeping up with various therapy appointments while caring for her three young sons… often while her military husband is overseas serving our country.
When we were rooming together in college, praying for our husbands, and surrendering our future to God’s will, none of my roommates and I would have expected that in the next ten years one of our fathers would take his life, one of our mothers would lose her battle with cancer, one of our children would be in a wheelchair, two of us would still be waiting for God to fulfill the desire for a husband, a few of us would have miscarriages, some of our husbands would face long seasons of unemployment, our kids would face various health issues, or that we’d be taking care of ailing parents already. We have had marital and financial challenges, health heartaches, parenting struggles, horrifying labor experiences, loneliness, and so many other types of pain. One of us moved across the country leaving friends and family to marry the man she loves, and they both need to work so much they barely see each other. Another continues to work hard every day in a career she doesn’t really want because she’d rather be a mom, yet she is still waiting for that desire to be fulfilled. It seemed so much simpler when we were promising God we would go on the mission field if He called us to, and we’d give our very last breath to give him glory. Now we are in the trenches of real life… and the reality of our daily trials mocks our former naivety. I believe we were all genuinely devoted to serving God with our lives. I don’t believe we were the soil with thorns Jesus described in The Parable of the Soils, but I’m learning it is more of a fight to be the Good Soil than I ever anticipated.
Matthew 13:19b-23, “This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Oh my heart longs to be the good soil! How I long for my children to be good soil! I want us to come out of our trials better than we went in, convinced of His goodness because we saw it at work. The popular quote by Charles R. Swindoll has been swirling in my head, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes.” I think when I read those attitude posters in elementary school I thought that if I made good choices, good things would happen. Now I am older. I know God brings countless blessings for obedience, but trials often come our way too. They are unavoidable, even to the most righteous of believers.
So what does all of this have to do with training children? I have been pondering how I can prepare my children for the pain of this fallen world. I don’t think my parents missed it, I’m just asking God how I can be more intentional. As believers we need to shelter our children from some of the evil of this world, but how do we teach them the reality of suffering while keeping their innocence intact? Here are a few ideas I am praying about implementing:
While reading Bible stories, don’t rush to “the good part.” Abraham waited 25 years for his promised son. Joseph was in prison 13 years. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt 400 years. There were 400 years of silence before Jesus came as our Savior. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his epistles while in prison. I could go on and on. Next time you read to your children, don’t rush through these parts. Talk to them about what that time may have looked like. “Do you think Joseph doubted God’s goodness?” “How do you think Daniel felt on his way to the lion’s den?” Help your child understand that trials happened to everyone in the Bible too.
Let your children be sad or cry over hard times. Don’t rush them through their pain. When your child is upset, let him grieve for a moment. Point her to Scripture that declares God’s faithfulness, but acknowledge the reality of their pain. They have a God who sees them and cares about their feelings. I think this is important because it will help them to know how to handle hurt when they are older. Teaching them to grieve well in the face of small trials will help them when they are older and the trials feel insurmountable.
Let them face consequences, even when it seems unfair. Don’t try to protect them from every pain and hurt. It will set them up for failure when they leave you. Life isn’t always fair, but God is always good. He has a good plan for each of his children. Even when man fails us, God’s plan will prevail! Point them to that truth when they sit on the bench because of school politics, are excluded by a former best friend, or get placed in detention because of a misunderstanding.
Pray faithfully for people around you that are going through trials. We don’t need to share all the details of trials people are experiencing, but we can pray consistently for those that are struggling. When my brother and his wife were struggling with infertility, we regularly prayed for them with our children. Now, my boys are rejoicing at the birth of their baby cousin! They have seen God’s faithfulness, but they know it took a very long time. If we make this a regular practice, they will have a storehouse of testimonies in their hearts of God’s faithfulness through trials.
Read books about missionaries and saints so your children can see the trials they endured. This is similar to point #1, but I think it is important to show that believers throughout time (not just in the Bible), have gone through trials. This is a truth that spans the entire history of mankind .
Be transparent, with hope, about your circumstances. Don’t sugar coat everything. It’s okay to tell your children you are sad, or to occasionally cry in front of them. If you do it too much, they will feel insecure, anxious, and unstable. In moderation, however, they will gain a better understanding of the reality of life. That day in the parking lot my son asked why I was crying. I told him, briefly, what I was concerned about. Sometimes I ask them to pray with me. Then I like to tickle them or snuggle up and read a book. I can’t let fear of the future stop me from enjoying them each and every day. As Betsy reminds us, “Every day is a gift!”
Jesus told us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) May we embrace his peace as we face tribulation, and may the soil of our hearts be good and fruitful!
Whatever you are facing today, may you find peace in Jesus, dear sister.
P.S. This classic hymn written in the 1700s has been comforting His followers for generations.