As parents we spend a lot of time trying to protect our kids. We protect them from their own curiosity: “Please do not climb any higher.” Or from their own ignorance: “Never put anything in a light socket.” Or from the dangers in life, from “Don’t run by the pool” to “Never talk to strangers.” I remember a week when we made three emergency room visits in a week, the thought of trying to protect them through to adulthood sounded daunting!
Whether the hurts are physical or emotional, we take the safety of our children seriously and work diligently to protect those entrusted to our care. But we recognize that we cannot protect them from all injuries and that perhaps some of those hurts are actually beneficial to our children. Through whatever our children face they are not alone, our God, who loves them best, walks with them and is ultimately their protector.
So what can we do as parents to protect our children?
The best protection we can offer our children is a life covered in prayer. Pray daily for your children and strive to trust that God will hold them close and guard their hearts, and minds, and bodies. Prayer unites us with God and his purpose for our life. Prayer models for our children the only real way to face life’s challenges. We are strongest when we are on our knees and allowing God to have control. Prayer is an acknowledgment that we need God’s help too and we are powerless to manage life without him.
These children may have been entrusted to our care, but they really belong to God. He loves them unconditionally and watches over their every breath. He loved them before we knew them and he promises us that nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ Jesus. Since he loves them best shouldn’t we trust him to have their best interests at heart?
Recognize that God allows some pain for his purpose. God will not keep all harm from befalling those we love; sometimes we will walk through pain in our families. Troubles are not a punishment from God or a sign of God’s abandonment of us, they are merely the reality of living in an extremely broken world. When the blind man was brought to Jesus the disciples wanted to know who had sinned that this man should be born blind. Jesus denied the validity of the question by pointing not to anyone’s fault but to a higher purpose. The blindness was present so that God’s glory might be revealed in his life (John 9). We do not always know God’s purpose, but we can be assured that God is working out his purposes even when it is difficult for us to clearly understand.
It is important to recognize that overprotecting is crippling. As parents we want to protect our little one from conception to grave. We love them and want what is best for them, but the reality is that our children cannot live in a bubble. Eventually they must face the challenges of life and it is better for them to do that with the experience of having been successful at facing challenges along the way. There will be people and situations that will hurt our children physically and emotionally. That is the ugly truth. Trying to protect our children from all pain will only cripple them from dealing with the harsh realities of life. A healthy level of frustration challenges us and stretches us to achieve more. Our kids need to experience some pain in life to have the empathy to function well in relationships.
Children learn from experiencing the consequences of their actions. A skinned knee teaches about running by the pool, and a timeout helps to remind that hitting is a bad choice. When we experience the natural consequences of our reckless behavior it motivates us to correct our actions. Going hungry one afternoon will teach about remembering a lunchbox better than many lectures. Running forgotten items to school will not teach your child responsibility. When parents swoop in to rescue their children from experiencing the natural consequences, they rob children of a learning experience that would benefit them down the road. Pain can be a teacher reminding us to change our behavior.
It is amazing to see how pain grows our character and sculpts us to be the people that God calls us to be. Scripture tells us that we can even be thankful amid our struggles.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
God cultivated gifts in my kids through pain I wish they did not experience. A bullying situation taught one child tremendous gifts of empathy. A compassion grew up out of that situation that blessed many others. Dealing with a situation of attempted abuse showed another child the power of saying no and standing up for what was right. Would I have chosen for my kids to go through these situations? Not in a million years! As a mom I wish they never had to experience those hurts, but I trust that God knows best. God did not ask me what I wanted, but rather he chose to make something good come out of it. God knew the experiences that my children would need to become the people that he called them to be.
Joseph in the Bible suffered a lot by the hands of others, but he kept a very healthy perspective. In Genesis 50:20, he says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good...” God is forever showing us that he can redeem pain. Others may intend to harm us, but God can turn it into something good. He can turn mourning into dancing and our tears into laughter. It is impressive that God wastes nothing in his economy, every heartache is transformed into a blessing. God does not want suffering to be in vain, but desires that all these things might ultimately be for his glory.
Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17 saying, “I am not asking you to take them out of this world, but to protect them from the power of the evil one.” Jesus did not want to shield us from the hurts of this world, but he did want to pray spiritual protection over our lives. It is a tremendous parenting example for us to follow. May we care more about our children being protected spiritually than we are about protecting them from potential physical and emotional harm. Jesus understood what was the most important. We can learn and grow from physical and emotional challenges, but spiritual attacks come with much higher stakes.
It is unrealistic for parents to expect that they can protect their children from all of life’s heartaches. Pain is inevitable this side of heaven, but we can have assurance in the midst of it. All heartache can be redeemed for God’s glory and he promises to walk with us and our children through whatever challenges we face. We also have the assurance that a day is coming when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and sorrow will be no more!
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster