We had almost arrived. After a lovely morning of warm lattes, mini pumpkins and a calm subway ride, I saw her flying over the scooter handlebar. As she rose to face me I heard the screams and noticed the blood dripping from her hidden face. Raising her chin I saw two front teeth all but blowing in the wind. I pushed her teeth back into place and reached for the coffee shop napkins I shoved into my purse earlier that morning. As I covered her mouth with the napkins that quickly became blood-soaked, I began trying to figure out how to undo this situation . . . but it had already happened.
This scene continues to play over and over in my head. And honestly every time I relive it, it doesn’t get better. Instead I feel a knife turn over in my heart with every memory of her flying through the air.
I haven’t wanted to face the painful process of why it cut me open so deeply. After all, it could have been (and could be) a lot worse. “Kids get hurt all the time, it’s what they do” has been repeated to me by those trying to be helpful over and over. But the acute experience that I could not protect her, stop the pain or fix the problem for her is all too real. I know my children are not my own and I’m certain I’ve counseled in that direction. So why would a seemingly small event feel like such a heart-wrenching tragedy to me?
The Longing of My Heart
My heart believes some things that just aren't true in regard to my children. We spend our pregnancies declining lunch meat and refusing to sit directly on toilet seats. Strangers hold doors for us, offer seats and gently take our hands as we take even the least perilous steps through the world. Then babies are born and we create plush, pastel, no-toxins-allowed worlds where we cradle our babies to our breasts, not even allowing the sun to touch their faces for too long. The message is clear: this child is precious. This child must not hurt or suffer.
The problem is, these deepest desires of our hearts as parents are not in line with the reality of life God’s Word tells us about . . . that in this fallen world this child will hurt; this child will suffer; this child will eventually die.
The Reality of Life
I replay my child’s seemingly small accident because it is the realization of a big fear: I am not in control of the life of one I love so deeply. This fact will never change. As someone who works with college students every day, I frequently think of how difficult it must be to let children become adults as they go off into potentially harmful environments. So how do I parent and love my children well in light of reality rather than at the mercy of my selfish desires? I must remember some basic truths.
Children belong to God.
Have you ever heard a parent look at a new baby and exclaim to their spouse, “We made this!” I’d love to know what the parent was focusing on in particular when the child's inner ear was forming. Psalm 139:13 says, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” Now, I do understand what the parent means. Threaten my child and I will show up with all kinds of creator-like wrath because my child is absolutely mine. However, my child doesn’t belong to me. What I mean is, I’m not the one who formed his actual being. The miracle of life belongs to God and the Creator has the rights to the created. My son is an individual person God created for his own good pleasure from the physical bodies of other created beings. My son has been entrusted to us to steward on this earth, to shepherd faithfully, but not to have for our own purposes.
Protection is a goal, but trusting the Lord should be the goal.
Because we don’t create our children, we don’t get to set the ultimate purpose for their lives. God does. This is helpful to us because things will happen to our children that we don't like, but we can trust that God (their true Creator) is in control of those things. If we trust God, we fear less. If we fear less, we shepherd more faithfully. “But now, this is what the Lord says – He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isa 43:1). I have to trust that the Lord loves my child more than I ever could.
God uses children to get our attention, for our good and his glory.
The pains of raising children, and even the flip-side of not being able to bear and raise children, are points of suffering God specifically intends to use for redemption. “Yet she [the woman] will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim 2:15). This passage is often thought to reference the birth of Christ, and that may be so. But I recently read a post suggesting that based on the possible ways to understand the word “through” in this passage, Paul might mean here that women will be saved through the pains of bearing children as one would be saved through a fire. It is possible that Paul is using the experience of bearing children under the curse as the central illustration point from which to offer gospel hope because we suffer greatly in it. This suffering is not to kill us, but to help save us and grow us in faith.
Teaching moments for my children are really teaching moments for me.
I am called to protect my children and parent well, in as much as I am able. However, if children are ultimately not ours and we can’t ultimately protect them – or ourselves – from the tangled web of sin and suffering, then what is the point of this? It is to love like our Father and to shepherd faithfully like our Father. It is to trust our Father in bigger and deeper ways as we endeavor to love our children as He loves us. As Stuart Scott says, we should treat our children like people, not products. We respect them, we listen to them, and we treat them with the dignity God has given them as image bearers, broken though we all may be. As a parent, my sin is ever before me. As a child of God, his tender, patient care is always given to me.
And while ministering to our children through the beautiful reality of God’s redemptive grace, we too are protected in the midst of suffering by the One who is thankfully much greater than ourselves.
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.