The Capacity for Pain in Parenting

“A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.” Proverbs 10:1

The sobriety of this truth came to bear again upon my heart as I studied through Proverbs while I held you, our newborn son, in my arms just two short years ago. I wasn’t new to the almost overwhelming responsibility that comes with parenting. When Stella was just two, I wrote here about feeling the weight of caring for her soul that would live forever. Now it was the same burden, but times three! 

John Kitchen, in his commentary on Proverbs, admits regarding this verse, “What capacity for pain we take on when we [first] hold our…child in our arms!”

Carolyn Mahaney, posting of A Mother’s Trust, transparently confesses her biggest struggle as a parent was that she didn’t trust God more. She saw her children’s sins and feared how those vices might grip their hearts and play out in detrimental ways in their lives. I know I’m not alone in acknowledging my own similar battle.

I see dear Christian friends heart broken over their wayward grown children. I’ve heard them rehearse how they parented and try to pinpoint where they went wrong as if they were ultimately to blame for how their children turned out. I’ve seen them almost collapse under the grief of the foolishness of their son and/or daughter. 

Honestly, all of this sometimes makes me wonder why in the world we opened ourselves up to the potential for such pain!

But love drives out fear. And these risks, the possibility of the heart breaks, this sacrifice, is what biblical love is all about. It’s following God’s path in a responsible way, counting the cost not dear, and trusting Him with each step. It’s knowing a sword might pierce my soul, like it did Jesus’ mother’s, but going ahead with it nonetheless.  It’s examining the high price tag on love, and gladly paying it all. How do I know this?

Because I’ve learned from Jesus who is the fulfillment of the loving truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). I know how I should love because I’ve been shown great love even though I broke my Father’s heart, caused Him unimaginable pain, grieving Him by thousands of falls. Jesus loved me to the end of Himself (John 13:1), while I was still a sinner and completely undeserving (Romans 5:8), and covered the high cost of my sin (1 John 4:10).

So this great love controls me (2 Corinthians 5:14) and compels me to love my precious children, regardless of how they reciprocate my love for them and even His love for them. I follow Jesus who gave, even if I might not receive. In doing this, I try to keep a few things in mind.

1. No matter how faithful I am to train my children in the way they should go, I must humbly remember it is not a guarantee they will not depart from it. 

Dr. Sam Dawson, Professor of Biblical Hermeneutics at DBTS, helped me learn to interpret the literary genre of proverbs. Proverbs are not promises. They are wise sayings that are generally true in life. It’s actually freeing to know Proverbs 22:6 isn’t a set-in-stone guarantee, because I would be way too self-reliant if it were. Instead, I remain dependent on God to keep my kids from departing, and ask Him to use our hopefully diligent but still feeble, failing, insufficient attempts at training. We work hard, but pray hard, as well, since it all depends on God to make our work bear fruit in their lives.  And if it comes to this, “When the harvest time is over and I still see no fruit, I will wait for You.” (emphasis mine)

And you, dear ones with wayward children, can be free too from scrutinizing your past parenting failures. I have a long list of regrets only seven years into it. Our expectation is ultimately in God, not our training efforts. We all fall hopelessly short. Wait for Him.

2. What my kids need most, I can’t give them. They need a new heart. A regenerated heart. A new birth. I might give them a first birth, but only God can give them a second. So, again, we pray, and wait on God.

3. I need to seek out the encouraging perspective of moms with grown kids. “[The older women] can urge the younger women to love…their children.” (Titus 2:4)

A few times last month, I was encouraged greatly by what two moms at our church shared with me. One told me about her grown son and his wife becoming foster parents. She said when he was growing up she never would’ve dreamed he would do this important ministry. I thanked her for reminding me not to see my kids as the sum of their faults but to remember that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord! He knows the plans He has for them and is sufficient to equip them accordingly! Another mom told me how fervently she prayed her daughter through her public school years and helped her navigate being the designated driver for her friends and confrontations with sexual temptations. God kept her daughter safe, in spite of the peer pressure and teasing, and she gave her husband the gift of purity on their wedding night.

Carolyn Mahaney finished her transparent confession referenced above, with this encouragement in her book, Girl Talk:

“For every fearful peek into the future, I wish I had looked to Christ instead. For each imaginary trouble conjured up, I wish I had recalled the specific, unfailing faithfulness of God. In place of dismay and dread, I wish I had exhibited hope and joy. I wish I had approached mothering like the preacher Charles Spurgeon approached his job: ‘forecasting victory, not foreboding defeat.'”

4. I need to listen to the encouraging perspective of grown children.

I loved hearing Matt talk about the instructive, edifying sermons he heard at Together for the Gospel when he came home last month. But the most encouraging thing he relayed to me, hands down, was from a panel discussion on the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture. One by one, the panelists explained from a scholarly point of view, why they each held the belief that Scripture is without error. It was John Piper’s turn and the gist of his answer was, “I believe the Bible is inerrant because my mom told me it was.” I was choking back tears when I heard this brilliant grown man’s admission to the power of his mother’s influential teaching.

As I take you again in my arms today, my bigger, wigglier, broader, heavier, ornerier 2-year-old baby boy, I will remind you how much I love you, even with all the sacrifice, risk, and potential for personal pain love entails. I will remind you that I love you enough to tell you no when you do wrong and warn you repeatedly that the way of the transgressor is hard. I will remind you that I love you enough to instruct you in wisdom’s way – the way you should go – by directing you to the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Those treasures are worth digging for! I will remind you that I love you enough to diligently seek to drive out the foolishness that has deep roots in your heart. And I will admit to you – although you’ll soon realize it yourself – that as much as I want to be the perfect picture of biblical love to you, I am but a poor reflection of the great love I’ve received. So, as long as I am able, I will remind you too, that you can know perfect love. And this is how: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16)
Happy 2nd Birthday, to the 2nd boy who stole my heart!

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