That time a friend betrayed you. The year you moved to a new school. The missionary who spoke so compellingly when you were a teenager. Looking back, you can probably identify the moments when the world fell away and you felt the Holy Spirit’s earthquake in your heart. How often those pivotal moments came in times of crisis, through tragedy, transition, or tears.
How often they still come through complications we want to avoid, the kinds of difficulties we try to help our kids sidestep.
The Timely Word
Shouting good advice on deaf ears never gets us very far, but if we can cultivate an awareness of turning-point moments in our kids' lives, we can make this parenting thing a lot easier. Better to say less with more oomph than constantly nag.
John Newton was a pastor who knew the importance of strategic moments. Much of his legacy can be attributed to thoughtful pauses—pausing to write a letter just when a friend was ready to quit, setting aside his agenda to encourage someone standing at a crossroads (no better example than William Wilberforce, the world- changing abolitionist). Newton’s knack for giving a challenging word at the right moment propelled many into incredible, influential vocation. In wisdom Newton embodied Prov. 15:23, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!”
One right word, spoken at just the right time, has more power than a whole beautiful book left unread on the bedside table.
When your teen turns moody and snappish, maybe it’s raging hormones getting the upper hand. But chances are, those mercurial mood swings are symptoms of something else—stress at school, unrequited love. We can go low, dive into the surly conflicts, or we can pause and ponder what’s going on behind the scowl. If a little digging unearths a struggle, we can speak to the fear, the loss, or the shame.
Once when my bright boy was floundering academically, I felt the automatic parental urge to holler. “Why are your assignments late? Whatever happened to doing your best?” The angry words tumbled out, my mouth a spigot of spew. The Lord, however, gave me pause, and I soon found myself jotting on a Post-It note an unlikely word of encouragement for the occasion, Josh. 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Behind the procrastination and arguments God showed a rising tide of fear. I didn’t ask. For once I didn’t push. I just left the Post-It on his desk. Later he thanked me for the note, the giving of courage. God, searcher of hearts, knew better than I what he needed.
God Has No Grandchildren
Learning to see our kids as unique individuals standing before God—individually responsible to God—helps me to turn off the nagging and tune in to the Holy Spirit. I am not, after all, the molder of hearts, the choreographer of moments. God’s unique plan for my children includes trials I’d just as soon skip—learning from failure, unattainable dreams, and heartbreaks. I’m tempted to help my kids circumvent the consequences of their actions, but that denies them the opportunity to grow in Christlikeness. If I can remember how God swept through my own worst (and best) moments, I can trust him to do the same in their journey towards sanctification.
God, as they say, has no grandchildren. There will never be a day when he calls me to speak up on behalf of my kids, to explain in reasonable terms why they behave as they do. Nope. Each of us will stand alone, naked as we came. Their better Advocate sees past every mask, around every dodge, and knows their hungry souls. God, rich in justice and mercy, will forgive without making excuses, judge without condemnation. And so parenting brings me round smack into the gospel once again—“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32)
I thank God for the moments of crisis that have brought me to this place; how can I not thank him also for the deep water he asks my children to wade? He is good; I trust his kindness.
Setting Aside Plans
It turns out in parenting, as in life, the best laid plans gang aft agley. (That’s Scottish for “whatever can go wrong, will hit the fan spectacularly.”) We can have the most noble aspirations in the world, but Providence doesn’t consult us. Write your plans in pencil.
This past spring, our eldest son turned 16. I made plans. He’d get the driver’s license, get a job. We’d talk colleges and strategize for savings. But as the year wound down, it became clear my plans were moot. Our boy was at a crossroads. We laid our summer before the Lord. What should we do? A camp came to our attention. It would not help us save money, in fact, it required more money than we had. And yet. Sending our son away from home, outside of our easy provision, letting him face unimagined challenges in a place soaked in love of Christ—it seemed God was calling us to let him go, despite my practical rebuttals.
There under a wide sky, a million miles from home, God met with our son on holy ground. Strategic? Not in the terms I’d penciled down. But in God’s economy, a handful of days to change a life.
Catherine Morgan lives in Colorado with her husband, Michael, a Newton- Wilberforce nut. She is the author of Thirty Thousand Days: The Journey Home to God, and blogs at catherinesletters.com.
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Publication date: September 5, 2017