This week I started re-reading The Coddling of The American Mind with our CPYU Reading/Discussion Group (consider joining us. . . it’s not too late). The book posits that one of the lies we and our kids have been nurtured into believing is that “what doesn’t kill you will make you weaker.” Nothing could be further from the truth. And, nothing could be further from Gospel truth. Suffering is the fertile ground for great growth in character, wisdom, and virtue. Suffering grows our dependence on God while undermining our dependence on ourselves.
I fear we are embracing this lie in our parenting and even in our youth ministries. I believe we actually need to pray that our kids will experience the refiner’s fire of suffering in order to take them to the end of themselves, thereby leaving them grasping for God.
To do this is not an easy thing. I know. There’s an early parenting memory that makes my heart ache whenever it pops into my head. We were new to the neighborhood and all my 5-year-old son wanted to do was hop into the game of backyard football that was happening next door. But the 6 and 7-year-olds who had organized the game didn’t let him play. So there he sat. . . cross-legged. . . watching, wishing, and defeated from our side of the property line.
That was only one of an immeasurable multitude of parenting moments I would encounter where I wondered whether or not it was best to intervene on behalf of my kids in order to make things easier on them by eliminating a difficulty. Nobody wants to see their kids suffer and hurt.
I let him sit.
In today’s world, parental intervention and running interference for our kids has become standard practice. We hover at the ready in order to protect kids from the difficulties of life’s responsibilities, and it’s called “helicopter parenting.” We push forward on behalf of our kids in order to keep them ahead of their peers, and it’s called “snowplow parenting.” And, when we remove obstacles in their path to make life easier it’s called “lawnmower parenting.”
But are these practices what make for good parenting? And, are we preparing our kids to handle the inevitable difficulties of life in ways that bring honor and glory to God, while showing respect, responsibility, and maturity? Research is consistently pointing to the fact that in our effort to make life easier for our kids we actually leave them ill-prepared for adult life. We make life more difficult for them as we steal away the opportunities provided by childhood and adolescence to mature and grow emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
Before Jesus launched into his adult ministry he was led by the Spirit into a time of fasting and preparation. When we take time to read the Gospel accounts of what is known as “The Temptation of Jesus” (Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4), we see him experiencing what Elisabeth Elliot refers to as the “three elements essential to spiritual growth”: stress, discipline, and choice.
In the wilderness Jesus was shaped and prepared for life through the stress of physical hardships and loneliness. While in the wilderness, he engaged for forty days in the difficult discipline of fasting. And in the midst of these difficulties, he was confronted by Satan and tempted three times to compromise, which necessitated making difficult choices.
Parents and youth workers, there is a powerful parenting lesson we can learn from the perfect Father who struck the perfect balance between doing too much and doing too little for His Son. We must allow our kids to encounter and navigate the normal stresses of life. We must look for ways to encourage them to develop disciplined habits that will prepare them for the responsibilities of adult life. And, while we must teach them to make wise choices, we must also allow them to make those choices and then learn from whatever may come. . . both good or bad consequences. . . in the wake of those choices.
Do your kids a favor and allow them to experience and navigate the inevitable hardships of life as you walk beside them to support and encourage, rather than in front of or over them in ways that steal these valuable opportunities for growth.
Remember the words of the Psalmist: “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees” (119:71).