I DON’T REMEMBER WHAT TRIGGERED my son’s fury that day. All I recall is the angry pain that glared down at me, the stream of foul language that enveloped me. For years he had lived beyond my mothering. Now I sensed he was even beyond my help.
Was I facing a pastoral family’s shame? Or was this an ambush of the enemy? Was I feeling the grip of failure or the grace of God enveloping me? I couldn’t tell.
IT WON’T ALWAYS BE THIS WAY
Suddenly a thought so odd shot through my mind that I knew it wasn’t mine: It won’t always be this way. Strange. You mean he could find peace someday? Would he really trust life again? Would his heart someday know God’s love? My mind riveted onto the possibilities as I studied his glare. The sharp edge of his voice drifted past me. I felt at peace.
I felt assured God was on task, fully engaged. I didn’t need to fix things. I didn’t need to see every crisis as determinative or every poor decision as final. I could trust that God was working within long time frames. He would accept small steps. He was willing to walk slowly, follow detours, pause at failures. He would never give up. I didn’t need to either.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME
When a 3-year-old becomes hysterical on an escalator, Mom gets “the looks.” When a 10-year-old punches a classmate, Dad gets the call. When a teenager is suspended, the parents get summoned to the principal’s office. But our children grow up and move outside our supervision, beyond our accountability. They build a world of their own making.
“God’s interest isn’t reserved for obedient children only. If it were, what hope would any of us have?”
If my parental heart is strong enough to accept the journey as their own, what happens in their lives is not about me. It’s about them. What do they need the most right now? What can I pray for? What access does God have to them—through me?
I’m not in their lives anymore to tell them how they should live, to make up for the past, or to nurse my parenting wounds. I’m there to understand what concerns them, to be interested in what absorbs them, to laugh with their joy and stand by them in their sorrow. God’s interest isn’t reserved for obedient children only. If it were, what hope would any of us have? (See Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 100.)
HE NEEDS A LIFETIME
I remember listening patiently as an anxious mother explained her family’s impending move. “If we don’t move to the country, we’re going to lose our boy.” I didn’t ask what “country” meant to a family already living in a quiet, one-stoplight town; I was more distracted by what that might mean for a mischievous 10-year-old. “Lose him? What might happen to him?” Her voice dropped, as if speaking out loud would make it more real. “He might leave the church.”
I caught my breath as I tried to picture what that meant to her. “But he’ll still be part of your family, right?” She mumbled a response. I wanted to ask more, but she probably wouldn’t understand: You’ll still be his mother, won’t you? You’ll still love him? You’ll still pray for him, enjoy him, treasure him, encourage him? He doesn’t risk losing you, does he?
Yes, there can be loss in parenting, high loss. Lost dreams, lost innocence, lost potential, lost trust. But my child is never lost to my heart. God never disowns His love. Neither will I.
LET HIM TAKE OVER
A parent’s prospects can be messy. Eve raised both Cain and Abel (see Genesis 4:8). Manoah and his wife reaped some heartbreaking results even after an angel told them how to raise Samson (see Judges 13:8). Hannah left little Samuel with Eli, a notoriously indulgent father (see 1 Samuel 1:28).
The hazards are sobering; free choice creates highrisk parenting. Regardless of how faithful I am or how conscientious, I’m facing great odds. With all my best efforts, I still miss opportunities and pass on weaknesses. I make serious mistakes. To add to my limitations, my life only overlaps with my children’s. I need to let God take over as completely as possible; He’s a far better parent.
God is more consistent, more present, and far more effective than I am. He can dialogue with my children’s memories, interact with their emotions, answer when they’re not asking, go where they think they’re hiding. He is always available to comfort, rejoice, protect, and plead when I’m miles away or next door and don’t know what’s in their hearts. Even when I’m gone, He will still be with them. He has died for the right to step into the battle for their souls. He is prepared to stand by them for a lifetime—even to the last moment of breath—and appeal to them to let Him claim them forever as His.
THERE IS HOPE
To trust God with the process of our child’s salvation is an act of faith.
An ice storm had encased every surface of the woods around our house with a layer of glass. Even the road. I slipped into the night with my faithful dog panting clouds of fog beside me. The intense cold threatened to freeze my tears as I wept for my child. My grown child. “Oh, God! What is wrong? Is there help? Is he facing a lifetime of chaos and trouble? God, what is ahead?”
Nothing in the night answered me. Everything was frozen. The click of the dog’s nails on ice was my only accompaniment as I slipped and cried, slipped and cried. Suddenly, in a flash I could hardly register, the darkness evaporated. A soundless, dazzling firework filled the sky over me. I wiped my face. The shimmering light didn’t fizzle like the common firecracker but, instead, hung silently in the air.
Every icy twig of a bare but perfectly sculpted cherry tree had caught the beam of a neighbor’s barn light across the field. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to breathe. I only wanted to think. If something so humble, so simple, could pierce the tearful blackness and create such wonder—there is hope.
Without thinking I spoke out loud. “There . . . Is . . . Hope.” Through the darkness came the echo off the icy surfaces. “There . . . Is . . . Hope.” I was startled. Was this a conversation? Was God answering me? I said it again, with emphasis. “There is hope!” The emphatic answer returned, “There is hope!” I repeated myself, anxious to hear more. Again and again, back and forth. The volley warmed my heart, dried my tears. I sang the words, and the melody rang back. I whispered them, and assurance whispered back. I cried tears of joy. There is hope! And God cried with me. There is hope!
With such comfort, I couldn’t be so shallow as to think the words were a guarantee of results. Even better, they were to me the guarantee of His heart.
As long as He accompanies me, there is hope. As long as He is working in my life, He has special access to my children. As long as He is pleading for their hearts, they have choice. He will knock on every door and work in every circumstance. He loves them too much to force their will. He loves them too deeply to leave them to the enemy’s traps without an escape. He loves. And He will never stop loving.
I pray—oh, do I pray—but my hope is not in praying harder. I choose my words carefully, but my hope is not in saying the right thing. I ask for wisdom, but my hope is not in relating to complex issues flawlessly.
My hope is in God. I rest my case in Him; I trust my children to Him. Only He knows the silent dialogue that He is carrying on with each of them. Only He understands the real reasons for the intensity of their struggles. Only He can fill the empty corners of their hearts. Only He is equipped to win the battle for their souls. When I feel my helplessness in the face of my children’s great need, He is enough. He loves them even more than I do. He is at work. I rejoice!