Seeing your kids in pain is hard; knowing you caused their pain is harder still.
Not being able to fix it is almost unbearable.
I’ve been dealing with that feeling a lot lately.
We’re a big, busy family. Until recently, we were able to manage that just fine. But since our fourth was born, all of the commitments we’ve taken on have felt like too much. We started losing who we were as a family, and that was the last thing we wanted.
Then God intervened and asked me to make a dramatic change.
He laid it on my heart that we needed to give up almost everything. Every single commitment and activity our kids were involved in and everything except the most essential for my husband and I. He was asking us to basically take a Sabbath year and reconnect with Him and with each other.
I didn’t think it would be possible, but He assured me it was necessary. He was right, of course, but I hadn’t wanted to see it because I knew it would break my children’s hearts to give up so many things they love.
And I was not wrong about that.
They were devastated. The next few weeks were a mess. It was an emotional roller coaster. They pleaded with us to “change our minds.” But it wasn’t our place to change our minds, because our minds were not responsible for the decision.
We had a clear request from God for our lives that we needed to obey.
And so we found ourselves in this uncharted territory of having to disappoint our children by being obedient to our Father. It’s been a stormy time for all of us, but I’ve learned a few things from walking through the disappointment God’s call on our lives has caused our children.
1. Let them witness your own struggle
Sometimes we try to hold everything together in front of our kids and convince them we’ve got everything under control, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
If our kids don’t see us struggle, how will they know how to handle their own struggles that will inevitably arise? If they don’t know it was challenging for us to obey God’s requests, how will they feel when He calls them to do something they don’t believe they’re capable of doing?
We are our children’s role models, but that doesn’t mean always having it altogether or seeming perfect. We need to be honest with them that it is really hard for us as well and show them how we are handling that challenge.
2. Grieve with them for what they feel they’re giving up
As Moses led Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land, the people grumbled. God had brought them out of Egypt because He loved them and wanted to bless them and increase their numbers. He promised to bless their crops and their herds, and to protect them from horrible diseases. (Deut. 7:8,13-15). But the journey was long and arduous; the people—though they knew they were being led into something wonderful—began to focus on what they’d left behind.
“They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’” (Num. 21:5).
When God calls us into something, it can feel the same way. We see the barriers while the reality of the promise is yet to come. This leads us to focus on what we’re being asked to give up—that safe, known place He is asking us to leave.
Since we struggle with this as adults, how much more will our children—who have not yet experienced this cycle of stepping out in faith to obey God and being rewarded with His grace—struggle with it?
Talk to them about their fears and what they’re giving up. Perhaps not all of their fears are even grounded in truth. But even if you are asking them to make a sacrifice, allow them to grieve that loss and be there with them while they do.
Grief is a process that requires time, but with time will come healing. They will be okay, and more than that, they will have gained experience dealing with one of life’s hardest emotions.
3. Help them to see potential blessings from your obedience
Even when the task ahead of you seems insurmountable, God has probably given you a glimpse of some of the blessings that may follow from your obedience.
Share these with your kids, not to imply the expected blessings will take the place of what they’re giving up, but to show them there will be light where only darkness is now evident to them. Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
Name some of the positive aspects of the calling. In our case, we talked about how we would have more time together and save money, and how my husband and I would be less stressed. With fewer commitments, we’d even have the freedom to take a vacation.
Hearing these things didn’t take away from the pain of their loss, but it did give them other things to look forward to.
4. Pray with them
Finally, as in any situation, frequent prayer is required. With our kids, we pray that God will reveal to them the gift of this situation, that He will comfort them as they mourn, and that this will be the year they experience His presence intimately for themselves.
When He calls us into new things, He never abandons us. He is right there with us, and with our children. He knows their hearts even better than we do and He knows what is best for them. By praying these prayers aloud with them, we’re reinforcing that He is with us always and He uses our obedience for good.
And that’s a lesson we all need reminding of once in a while.