“I need to hear this; this is good stuff. Debby, this needs to be your next blog post. No, I’m serious; I need to hear this.”
I was on the phone with a young, energetic, hardworking, doing-it-right Mom. Her love for Jesus, her selfless devotion to her family, her involvement in the lives of others make her “shine like stars in the universe." (Philippians 2:15)
Yet, as I listened, I could tell all was not well.
Holding my phone to my ear, I leaned against my sink and looked out my kitchen window. A beautiful blanket of pristine snow carpeted my lawn. A bright red cardinal was sitting alone in the naked branches of the tree. Winter. Every detail spoke winter.
But my mind didn’t stay gazing out the window. Rather, my mind carried my heart to a wintery feeling in my own past and my own parenting.
I could relate to what my precious friend was sharing. She is dear to me, and I felt deeply the disappointment of the current scenario she and I were discussing: a child, a disappointment, a broken heart, a shattered dream, and an uncertain outcome. The tone in her voice let me know the depth of her sadness.
Embracing her Mother’s pain, I offered, “____," and I called her by name, "one of my greatest regrets as a parent is I did not teach my children how to navigate suffering.”
When I elaborated, my sweet friend stopped me mid-sentence and said, “I need to hear this. This is good stuff. This needs to be your next blog post. No, I’m serious. I need to hear this.”
At her insistence, I will share our phone conversation with you.
One of my greatest regrets as a parent is I did not teach my children how to navigate suffering.
Here is what I did wrong:
• I tried too hard to protect them from suffering. I worked desperately at rescuing my children from life’s pain. I saw myself, unconsciously, as The Great Mother Warrior standing between my children and the oncoming forces of life. I wanted so badly to shield my dear ones from injury, illness, insult, and pain. However, these are inevitable ingredients of human existence, and cannot be avoided.
• I attempted to rewrite the script, trying to create a less painful experience than the one they were facing. Hello! You can’t rewrite the script. Life is consistently punctuated by disappointment, hurt, and heartache. Right? Editing and re-editing these realities do not make them go away.
Here is what I would do differently:
• The adjustment would start with me. I would release an impossible goal. I would stop pouring my energy into to trying to erase their pain. Pain is very real. I do not possess the power to erase it. A mother can comfort, a mother can come alongside; a mother cannot erase pain.
• I would release the futile attempt to rewrite the script that edits out the pain. This promotes an unrealistic view of life.
• I would pray for wisdom, and strive to find that blessed sweet place where reality and comfort, walking hand in hand, gently lead to God and to growth.
And this is the key:
• I would spend more time teaching my children life skills of walking with suffering, not seeking to eliminate suffering. A child needs inspiring interpretation skills to prepare them for facing difficulty. A godly interpretation, not an elimination tactic, is a life skill that will serve a child well.
Life skills training would look like this:
- Acknowledge their pain; it is real
- Acknowledge what is true, both for them and for you
- Smother them with authentic, heartfelt comfort
- Guide them through the situation with an invaluable, supernatural set of lenses. Help them navigate the situation at hand while preparing them for life’s obstacle course ahead. Such life skills will provide bedrock stability when the waves of suffering threaten to destroy.
I invite you to listen and learn from Jody, another young woman in my life. I have known her since she was a little girl. Now she is Mom to a suffering little boy, and her heart and words reveal wisdom beyond her years. With Jody's permission, I share her recent letter to her son, whose name has been changed.
It’s another big day for you.
Another big month.
No sugar coating necessary, we all know there is nothing fun about this.
We know you are scared.
In an instant, your Dad and I would take your place.
To our great heartbreak, we cannot take this from you.
To our great frustration, way too often the only answer we can give is “I don’t know.”
We can’t take this from you. We can’t create an alternate, less-painful route for you. We can’t answer why.
But here’s what we can do. We can promise you this:
You will not be alone.
We will climb this mountain, we will fight this battle, we will hold your hand for as long as this takes. For the duration of our lives if you need us that long.
We are so, so proud of you. You are stronger than you know.
Let’s make this count, shall we?
Every ounce of our love,
Mom and Dad
Thank you Jody; thank you for guiding us down a better path.
Back to the phone conversation at my kitchen sink…
As I reflect, I realize something: Fear of suffering prevents us from being prepared for suffering. I still have much to learn. Looking back sometimes helps in looking ahead.
Question: What about you? How have you as a parent prepared your children for the inevitability of suffering?