How to hope when your child’s life is out of your control

 

Version 2

I’ve been quiet on here lately.  The reasons may be obvious, that life is real and messy and spilling over at the brim.  But these real messy days that have a way of shutting everything else down for a bit?  These are the spaces where I’m learning what it means to have faith, what it means to claim joy, what it means to lay my life down in love, and what it means to hold onto hope. These things get real when you need them most.  I don’t want to miss the opportunity to walk with you right here in the messy middle.

In this new year, I’m reflecting again on the big and beautiful invitations of motherhood.  There are these exquisite invitations to walk in joy when it makes no sense, to claim peace when anxiety is far more logical, to be carried by trust, when our hands want to hold on with the tightest grip.  

In the early days, I was the mom with Excel spreadsheets to keep track of nap and feeding schedules.  I was convinced that if I did it right, motherhood didn’t have to be so overwhelming, or quite so life-altering, and that dedicated effort could make it work better than the stories I heard.  We would make a home of peace and calm.  Sure, there are lots of things parents can do to cultivate that kind of home, but control it we cannot.  And convincing ourselves that we can control it can lead us right into a sticky, muddy pit of frustration.

I think it’s normal, even wise and industrious, to enter this parenting thing with a shelf full of books, a mind full of strategies, and a heart full of hope.

But before long, the reality crushed me, and I started scrambling for a sturdier foundation.  Maybe you, too.

The reality of children who make their own choices and have their own bad days and go against the grain. The reality of waking up to a brand new child who no longer sleeps or eats or obeys. We had just figured out a discipline strategy that worked, and then it didn’t.  We thought we found the sport that we would play as a family, and then she decided she hated it. We bought new clothes with approval, but putting them on was a constant battle. I had a fun day planned, but he decided to be oppositional.  Someone got stung by a bee.  Someone had an accident.  Someone spiked a fever.  Unexpected trip to the ER.  Up all night for some unknown reason.  Sudden and unexplainable temper tantrums.

The life of a mama is not her own, and the lives of our children aren’t ours either. We can drive ourselves crazy wondering when the joy and peace are going to just start flowing.

The only thing that’s predictable is that every day holds unpredictability.

Little by little, in those early years of motherhood, I was glimpsing the reality of my children’s independent identities and dispositions that I didn’t understand and that my parenting books failed to mention. I was facing the strength and character that manifests in unfiltered form as defiance or disrespect.  And I was navigating the frustrating mystery of trying to meet needs that cannot be communicated by tiny preverbal people.

I was seeing the unpredictability of it all, and the reality of my own limitations, the consequences of prolonged sleep deprivation, the impossibility of being everywhere for everyone at once.

I was finding out about the limits of my patience, that seemed to be fixed to hit empty at about 5pm every day.

And I was facing the reality of a distance between my child’s heart and my own, and the disconnect between what their daddy and I are saying and what our little loves are hearing.

And more than anything, I was facing the reality of my intense attachment to thinking I could control the outcomes.

I try to be intentional about connecting with their hearts. . . but they sometimes do not feel loved.

I try to be attentive to their safety. . .but we’ve had numerous trips to the ER.

I try to listen well. . .but they sometimes do not feel heard.

I believe in and teach them about the power of their friendships with one another, but they hit each other and hurt each other’s hearts.

At some point, I had that gut-wrenching realization that makes the older mamas grab their chests and say “I know.”

I can’t protect them.

I can’t defend them.

I can’t make them believe. 

I can’t meet all of their needs.

I am going to hurt their hearts, and the world will too.

The world isn’t going to go easy on them just because I want it so badly.

They will face danger, get scars, maybe even know the names and faces of the staff at the closest ER. (This may already be the case for a few of them!)

I can’t make them receive my love the way I meant to send it.

I can’t do this perfectly. . .or sometimes even well.

But you and I?  We have to keep getting up and being Mom, and God’s word says there is joy and abundance for us to claim, so I figure there has got to be more to the story than all of those can’ts

The more tightly I grip to what I had wanted it to look like, the more it all seems to slip away.  The more I hover to try to keep my children safe, the more anxious and susceptible to injury everyone is.  The more I try to control, the more they are inclined to rebel.  The more I push the sport or the interest I want them to have, the more they resist.  And it’s like that moment when you squeeze silky soft white sand in the palm of your hand and suddenly realize your hand is empty.  You didn’t realize you were holding it too tightly, but it just suddenly slipped away.

Around the time when my insides twisted in knots over what I didn’t realize I had signed up for in motherhood — that it is an endless road of being split wide open, and an endless road of surrender and lack of control, and an endless road of desperate prayers — I heard the Lord whisper a question to my heart:  Do you trust me?

I wrestled over and over it but when I finally nodded a feeble “yes,” I began to hear the sweetest invitation from the Lord.  I began to hear him inviting me to be held with all my vulnerabilities.  I heard him inviting me to cry out all my fears and just let Him be my everything. I didn’t need to shake off the fear of something happening to my children, I could climb into His lap and tell Him about it like a bad dream, let Him hold me and tell me He’s never going to leave or change or stop loving us.  I don’t have to beg Him. I can let Him hold me and tell me how much he delights in these children of mine, and in my mama bear heart.

I can choose to look into the eyes of Eternal Understanding with a feeble childlike yes

Of course we hope and pray that everything will be ok for our kids. . . it would be weird if we didn’t.  But our hope can’t live there.  We can’t be sure of the choices our children will make in their lives, but we can be sure that there will always be a gentle whisper of God pursuing their hearts.  We can’t be sure that their life will be free of pain, but we can be sure that God always sees, always knows, and is always working for their good.  We can’t be sure of the circumstances they will face or avoid, but we can be sure that our Father God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

These days, I’m grateful that I’m not in control of my children. This wild ride of life is far better engineered by the One who engineered our wild hearts. Being a mama set free is all about serving as a big ole’ road sign pointing straight at the heart of God.  If we show our children how to fix their eyes there, than we have nothing to fear.

 

John 14: 26-27 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

2 Corinthians 12: 9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Psalm 139: 7-12 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Romans 8: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Hebrews 13: 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

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