This came in tonight and ties into what we are studying tonight. It is long but read down to the message about the Vine Dresser.
I remember when my grown daughter, Jamie, went into the hospital for surgery (nothing life-threatening, but painful and laborious just the same). As I leaned over her bed in the recovery room and discussed the surgical procedures that had just taken place with her, I began to grow faint. My face became pale and dizziness overcame me. As I quickly took a seat (before the nurse had to place me on a stretcher) I thought about this letter . . . and you . . . when, like me, you grow weary, dizzy and faint inside over the many mental, physical and emotional surgical procedures your children face in their perilous growing up years.
It hurts to be a parent.
Going through pain in our own childhood is one thing, but hurting with our kids is an entirely different (and usually more difficult) experience, indeed!
With today as reference "Point A" and the fine young adults they will be when they have their own kids as reference "Point "B", we as caring parents, often believe that the shortest (and best) route between "Point A" and "Point B" (as we have always been taught) is a straight line.
We naively ponder, "My child is not going to have to experience the kind of pain and difficulty I did to arrive there."
As we change those diapers and parent through those precious toddler years, we think, "If I - as a parent - can be careful enough and build a home safe enough and protect them enough and love them enough and put enough wisdom into their heads and send them to kamp and keep them in a youth group, etc., etc., they will travel between "Point A" and "Point B" without many detours. Life for our kids will be practically problem-free."
Sounds great on paper!
Unfortunately, (or maybe, not so unfortunately) that naive scenario and God's plan for His kids are usually miles apart.
As I have shared before in these emails, my wife and I raised two boys (Brady and Cooper) and two girls (Jamie and Courtney). All four are now in their 20's and 30's. All four (by the grace of God) are still alive! (Albeit, just barely due to a couple of instances) All four now love their mom and dad. All four are now following Christ. But . . . all four suffered through childhood and adolescence. There were detours and difficulties and derailments and devastations and disputes and disappointments - too many to number. I don't know how it is going for you, but in my home, we cried rivers of tears through those turbulent growing up years. After gripping tightly to a thread of hope until my knuckles turned white, during those crisis-filled days from age 8 to 18, the only two things I am sure of is that a. - boys are less expensive than girls, and b. - God is faithful to use perils in kids' lives to make them the caring, compassionate, persevering young adults that He wants them to become.
Hebrews 5:8 gives me great comfort as I beat myself up for not being a better dad. I often times thought I could have done a lot better job and painted a whole lot prettier picture of their growing up years. "Even though He (Jesus) was the son, yet learned He from the things He suffered."
From all the emails and conversations I have with kamp parents I think Debbie Jo and I are not alone in our confession that growing up is really, really hard, and kids are bound to suffer. Here're just a couple of lines from stories parents have shared through their emails recently. Maybe you can relate.
"The past two years have been brutally difficult for our 13 year old. Multiple moves, intense bullying, total academic breakdown, depression, thoughts of suicide, and running away. We've watched him get closer and closer to the edge of despair and destruction."
"Our 14 year old daughter has struggled with depression for two years and we have seen psychiatrists, counselors, tried 3 different anti-depressants and increased the doses many times, and nothing has helped."
"Throughout much of his life, our son has struggled with anger, low esteem and a self-defeatist attitude."
And from a teen recently, "I struggled with every drug you can name and drinks off the wall. I struggled with sex and heartbreaks weekly - it seemed. [But God has] turned me into a beautiful Christian who knows and loves the Lord more than anyone in her entire life!"
If these emails remind you of one or more of your "most prized possessions," I hope the next few lines will bring you peace and wisdom to help you get through and come out stronger on the other side.
First, God didn't stutter when He told a suffering Apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient to you, and my power is made perfect in your weakness." This same truth then is true to your suffering child today. When leukemia struck my bone marrow this verse jumped off the pages to me. I've seen thousands of kids suffer through their growing up years, and they, too, in their suffering were endowed with God's sufficient grace. I've seen kids in bed with cancer, rejected by friends, sidelined by injuries in sports, emotionally damaged and with countless other afflictions, and in every case God never withdrew His grace. His grace was never partial. His kids ALWAYS had sufficient grace to weather any kind of storm. Count on it! He'll be there for them!
So, don't carry their load on your shoulders. (Oh, that's hard!) Give them to Jesus daily. Your kids are HIS. He promises to be there.
Second, James 1 and Romans 5 tell us to exult in our tribulations because tribulations develop character. There is no shortcut to strength of character. Easy roads produce weak, insensitive and insipid soldiers. James proceeds further to say, "So don't squirm out of your problems because when the way is rough your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow!" (paraphrased)
Parents, don't rush to your kid's rescue (unless they're in obvious danger, of course). Don't find fault with life's circumstances that surround them. It's not about their coaches or their teacher or their kamp counselor or their classmate! Difficult circumstances are not necessarily wrong because your child is struggling or hurt. Parents who rush to their kid's side to place blame, criticize and find fault are creating emotionally disadvantaged children! Difficult circumstances are like sandpaper. Just as the sculptor puts his hand on the mallet and chisel to build his great marble art, struggles and difficulties are God's tools to create human masterpieces in your children. Their Christian character is built through their suffering. Their compassion comes from their pain. Their faith comes from their being stretched. Their wisdom comes as they face their problems and stand on their own two feet.
If you have been prone to over protect, justify and place blame, - the next time you are tempted to remove the chisel from the Master Craftsman's hand take the same time and effort you took to place the blame and spend it praying for your child's character. As the years go by, you will literally be amazed at the difference it will make in the finished product!
Finally, (only because we are running out of paper) God "prunes" His kids like a good farmer prunes his grapevines, because God has '"fruit of worthwhile production" in mind when He created and gave salvation to your kids.
John 15 describes God as a vinedresser. Every branch that is pruned produces four branches - each stronger and more productive than the original. If your child is hardheaded or independent, pray for the Vine Dresser to come. If your child is bored or purposeless . . . if Play Station, MTV and music are absorbing his life, pray for the Vine Dresser. When the Vine Dresser arrives, even if you don't see the need at that time, thank Him for caring enough to stop by.
At age 20, 21, 22 and 23, you will stand in happy amazement as the fruitfulness and purposefulness and humility He has carefully structured in your children comes into full bloom.
Hebrews 12:5-11 assures us that God chastens the sons He loves.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the process, stick to the basics. Lavish them with encouragement. Stay in charge. Insist on discipline and respect. Pray together daily. Read and memorize scripture together. And support each other.
Live your life as a parent one day at a time, and be sure that every day, no matter how severely the minefields are exploding all around you, you find at least one positive thing to encourage them with. Find at least one way to help them pursue a dream. Pray and dig into the Word together at least one time that day. When the smoke is cleared, the view of the finished product will be magnificent!
If this email connects, be blessed by it and pass it on to others. If it doesn't, print it and file it. Before long you will need it.
A Fellow Soldier,