The task of raising children from infancy to adulthood is arguably one of the highest and hardest callings in life. It brings with it enormous responsibility and huge challenges. Parenthood can offer rich pleasure and joy as we build relationship with children and see them grow into responsible and wonderful people.
However there is another side to parenthood. It is one that I have not experienced personally as yet, so I do not profess to fully understand, but it is one I have witnessed so often in the lives, tears and pained faces of people I have spent time with over the years. The path of disappointed parenthood and pain is very real for many, many parents, even within the Christian church.
When that little bundle of joy is first placed in our arms as new mothers and fathers we could not imagine anything more perfect (after we’ve recovered from the birth, that is!). As our child grows and learns to communicate, love and develop skills in life, we imagine a world of possibilities for this new person. We pour our love into them, and we delight in the love returned. Despite the difficulties of raising our child, we still often dream of great things to come. As we teach them about our own faith and the God who means so much to us, we pray and hope that they will grow into fruitful Christians for God’s Kingdom.
For many Christian parents, however, somewhere along the way those dreams are shattered temporarily or permanently as children make their own choices in life. It may be the choice of drugs, alcohol or promiscuity. Perhaps it is the choice of an unwise marriage partner, infidelity, or the decision to leave a marriage. Maybe it is a choice not to marry but to live with a partner out of wedlock, or even in a homosexual relationship? There may be a child conceived outside of marriage and the issues and decisions surrounding that situation. An adult child may turn their back completely on their parents and cut contact for many years. Or they may reject the Christian faith completely and follow the path of the world?
There are many choices our children can make that cause enormous grief and agony to parents. Often this pain can be accompanied by guilt on the part of the parent, ‘Where did I go wrong?’, ‘Maybe I didn’t pray enough for them?’, ‘I’ve failed as a parent’, ‘Everyone else’s kids have turned out ok except mine’, ‘what will people think of me at church?’.
I’m not writing this to offer any answers or to give another cliché to those perhaps already overloaded with well meaning advice. I write simply to acknowledge the pain and the reality of the situation, and to remind us all that God, the perfect Father shares our pain. I was reflecting this morning on the words of Matthew 23:37 where Jesus laments over His people in Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” These words reminded me of God’s Father-heart, and how often He must weep over His wayward children. Surely if anyone understands the pain of disappointed parenthood, God does? And yet He continues to love us and our children far more than we will ever know, with an unconditional and relentless love.
As we go down the path of parenthood, with its joys and sorrows, let us therefore take comfort in His love and understanding. Let us take to heart and practice the words of Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you.”