Every parent has dreams for their children and expectations for how life is going to go. Rarely does it go that way. I remember God saying to me, “I am writing a story for your children that you wouldn’t write.” I knew that meant that they would experience pain, suffering, and disappointment. As a mom, I would have omitted that part of life for them. God reassured me He would use it for their good.
It was then that my eyes were opened to two truths. I realized the depths of pain so many parents are experiencing. I learned first-hand that God will sustain me through challenging times with my children—and that He has something not just for them, but for me in those times.
Consider these circumstances faced by many parents:
• A child has rebelled against God and wants nothing to do with Him.
• A child is an abusive relationship and refuses help.
• A child has declared that he/she is gay and wants to live that lifestyle.
• A child is acting out sexually.
• A child suffers from deep anxiety.
All of us who are parents will find ourselves in some kind of unintended journey with our kids. Navigating these difficulties is not easy, but there are principles I’ve learned that have been really helpful along the way.
1. Just knowing what’s “normal” can help.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote the stages of grief in 1969, and they are applicable to parents today. Often, when we first learn of our child’s situation we are in shock. It just doesn’t sink in. We experience denial. “No, this can’t be happening!” Anger is next. “God, how can you be allowing this to be in my child’s life?” We bargain and plead with God. “Lord, I will do anything to make it different.” We drift into depression. Finally we may begin to feel some acceptance—not that things are “fine,” but the circumstance no longer overwhelms us. Getting to this stage can take a long time, but it is here we begin to more fully experience God’s presence and love despite the circumstance.
These stages are not linear—they’re more like a labyrinth. Knowing these feelings are normal can be a comfort in pain. As we cycle through them and allow God into our pain, He can move us to deeper levels of acceptance.
2. A parent’s priority is loving well.
There is power in Christ’s love for us. He loves us unconditionally and—at the same time—does not approve of things we do that separate us from Him. He wants the best for us.
We want our love for our kids to mirror His, to be accepting and discerning about what is best for them. For example, a mom discovers her 16 year old daughter is sexting her boyfriend. She sits down with her daughter and seeks to communicate, “I love you. You are precious to me. You matter. This is not who you are. This will hurt you. It is not best.”
Our words are important, and equally important is our tone. Your peace and care has to be sincere and warm.
Children act out like this because something is broken inside. They need our love, not our judgment. They also need protection, boundaries, and conversation. How do we stay calm in these heated conversations? Not in our own strength.
3. Deepening your own intimacy with Christ is vital.
The most important thing you bring to your relationship with your child is your own deepening intimacy with Christ. There are no shortcuts to this. We are tempted to get distracted from our own spiritual journey when our children are going through difficult times, but that’s the worst thing we can do. When you are faced with challenging circumstances, take time to pray, meditate on Scripture, take walks and listen to God, listen to worship music, journal. You need soul care for yourself. Spend time doing whatever practices draw you nearer to Him. This is where we receive the opportunity to learn from God and become more like Christ. Our greatest growth comes from our greatest struggle.
Invite trusted friends into your pain. It can be an incredible blessing to rely on friends during hard times. Seek out spiritual coaching, counseling, or mentoring.
Take time to enjoy God, friends, and other things that bring you life. Be compassionate with yourself. What you are going through is tough.
4. Prayer is essential.
We must ask God to help us believe that our prayers are more powerful than our words. One mom of teens told me she sensed God saying to her, “You put more stock in what you say than what you pray.”
†Intercessory prayer for our children can…
• Penetrate hearts we cannot open.
• Shield those we cannot guard.
• Teach where we cannot speak.
• Comfort where our hearts have no power to soothe.
Prayer with its unseen hand can enter where we may not.
5. Unhealthy guilt and shame are not helpful.
As parents, we want to find some reason for what is happening; often, the first place we look is at ourselves. The truth is that we have very little control over much of our children’s lives. Let go of false guilt that doesn’t address the issue at hand. An honest look at ourselves is essential, and where we’ve done wrong we can seek forgiveness from both God and our kids; but let this be a holy experience with God, not a self-bashing process. Ask Him to show you anything He wants you to know or to learn. Psalm 139: 23-24 states, Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
6. Our children need a Savior and we are not Him.
When we believe there isn’t anything our children can say or do to lose our love, we can then surrender them to God’s care. Then, and only then, can we be free to be with them instead of trying to fix them. We realize that fixing them won’t work, but loving them will have a great impact.
We are to give our children to God, detach in love, and trust God for them. In fact, we can get in between the Lord and our children by trying to fix or rescue them. We have to let go of our agendas and trust God for His. Our children’s well-being is not actually ours to own. They have a Savior, and His name is Jesus. When we reflect on what He has done for us, we can more readily release them to Him, so He can transform them as only He can.
7. Live in the present moment.
A wise friend once shared with me the power of choosing to live in the present. God is alive in the present moment, and in eternity—Satan tries to get us to focus on the past and future. Cast down what if’s and if only’s, and ask God to meet you in the now.
Most of all, remember that the God who knows and loves you intimately, knows and loves your dear child in the same way. His desire for your family is that you would flourish and thrive. He is for you, and He is with you, even—especially—in your pain.