I’ve almost forgotten this fact: Raising children can be discouraging. This stands to reason because children are, by definition, not yet what they will be. This “not yet” quality children possess persists for years, so much so that it feels like the “not yet” will never go away.
Good habits like bed-making, doing homework with some proficiency, doing homework at all (hello, middle school), basic hygiene, table manners, answering politely when spoken to, kindness, and self-control… Sometimes I wondered if they’d ever learn. And then there were the bad habits like wearing their brand new, clean socks without shoes in the back yard or leaving the milk jug on the counter, unless it was empty—then they’d put it in the fridge. Sibling rivalry was the bane of my maternal existence for what felt like forever.
The other day my mom told me that I pitched a temper tantrum once. One. Time. Only. My mother has impeccable integrity, but in this instance I seriously doubt her. No child of mine (her grandchildren) committed any grievous or commonplace sin just once. Sin is habitual. And, in children, immaturity is too. My mom is like me in that she forgets. But the point of this post is not to tell you that you’ll forget the discouraging parts of parenting (even though you probably will).
In fact, most days I knew our boys would not end up going to college in diapers or never having clean fingernails except in the summer (when they spent all their days in the pool). I knew they would develop decent table manners and common courtesy. They would not sulk like teenagers forever.
But I did wonder if they would encounter Jesus—personally and authentically—and, in that encounter, be transformed into His likeness. I wondered if they would seek Him and find Him. I wondered if they would love well. If they would have pure hearts and clean hands, metaphorically speaking. Sure I wanted our boys to wipe their feet on the door mat and hang up their jackets in the hall closet. I wanted them to make eye contact with adults and bathe every day. But I wanted a lot more.
I think you probably have a lot of important wants for your children too, thus the discouragement during the “not yet” years.
Today I want to suggest that you ask God to give you something in the middle of it all.
I’m not suggesting something to pray for your children. Although I do hope you pray big and bold and audacious prayers for them. I hope your heart explodes with longing before the throne of God. I hope you have a faith-imagination on your children’s behalf that defies reason and exceeds all these small habits you want them to learn. No, this is not about what to pray for them; it is about what to pray for yourself to help you get through the “not yet”.
During that long season when our boys were habitually missing the toilet or the hamper or their curfews, when we found cigarettes in their closets or they couldn’t seem to interact with their peers without ugly sarcasm, an older friend told me she used to ask God for fifteen minutes of encouragement every year. Fifteen minutes of clarity from her Creator, giving her hope that it would all be okay. Fifteen minutes that flew in the face of the other minutes that suggested it wasn’t really all that okay. Fifteen minutes of light delivered on dark days. Fifteen minutes of confirmation that the truth and wisdom she imparted to her children would one day stick.
At first that sounded like underselling God. But then I thought about how many separate moments fifteen minutes could hold. As long as it was meted out in tiny intervals, 900 seconds total, fifteen minutes sounded about right to me. I couldn’t see any clear biblical basis to this prayer request, but it seemed like what I needed… so I prayed for fifteen minutes.
I’m here to tell you those 900 seconds of light sustained me for years. And lest you think this is parenting advice that shoots way too low, I’d like to add that I’m not including our responsibility as parents in those 900 seconds, a responsibility that includes loving our kids so fully that we “hope all things” for them. That’s the better part of obedience, to look for hopeful signs of excellence every waking moment you are with your kids.
To heed Paul’s words to the Philippians:
Finally… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8 ESV).
I’m not talking about this. No, I’m talking about those moments when you take off your shoes, because God himself has whispered something hopeful to you about your not-yet-there child. Fifteen minutes is not shooting too low.
Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, James, and John, they were sustained by smoking firepots, burning bushes, hot coals, and a time when Jesus, ablaze in glory, appeared before their very eyes on a mountainside. These were not everyday occurrences, even for men such as these. They were flickers of hope sprinkled in brief, bright increments to sustain them as they parented generations of believers. Like us, they counted on the sparks flying upward, sparks that prophesy to a not yet world that there will come a day, a day when we will completely forget that we were ever not yet there. A new day engineered by a God who knows the beginning from the end and speaks in the in-between.
So pray big and bold for your children. And pray small and hopeful glimpses of light for yourself as you wait for those big prayers to come true. That’s grit and grace parenting.