One of my favorite story books as a child was The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper which was based on an American folktale. The little blue engine felt she was not as important as the big engines that carried people and freight. But then the train that carried goodies and toys for the children on the other side of the mountain had a broken down engine. It needed another engine to pull it. All the other engines felt they were too important to carry that cargo. So the blue engine stepped up. She set aside her “I cannot” mantra for “I think I can; I think I can” which she chanted as she chugged slowly up the mountain, reaching her destination and delivering the contents to the waiting children.
That positive attitude was just the cure needed for the engine to get the job done and fill her with confidence that she could do anything. This message is the foundation of our North American culture—work hard, think positive, and achieve the elusive “American Dream.”
Though there is nothing inherently wrong with this message that we can do anything we think we can do, we need to be careful of its subtle temptations. If we believe it wholeheartedly we can fool ourselves into thinking that we have the power to control our lives and to control the people around us. As a mother I often fall in this trap of believing that if I just try really hard to do the right thing in raising my children then they will turn out all right. Even my prayers for them become a magic formula for making them what I think they should be. “I think I can, I think I can.”
The reality is that I can’t make my kids turn out a certain way, but God can. He will work in the lives of my children in His time and His way, but I need to get out of the way sometimes and let Him do that work.
I think every mother has a tendency to always want to fix things for her children. I’m no different. I want to ease their discomfort, to carry their burdens for them. That’s not a bad desire in and of itself, but there comes a time when I have to realize that I can’t shield them from everything or they won’t grow.
This was brought to the front not long ago for me. My daughters were both experiencing some challenges that I wanted to swoop in and fix, but nothing that I did was making any difference. Instead, we were exasperating one another to the point that my husband had to gently admonish me to step away. He basically said, “They have to own this. It’s their battle, their challenge.”
Ouch! But it’s so hard for a mother to let go, isn’t it? When I was rocking in my living room chair, my belly swollen with my first child, I knew I needed to offer her up to God as my most precious gift. Did I really know what it was going to mean to leave her in His hands? Did I know how many times I’d have to keep giving her over to the Lord? Definitely not.
But it truly is the only way to live when raising any kids, the PKs in particular. People are looking at us as examples, and I’ve had to learn over the years to think about what kind of example that I want to set.
My daughter struggles with severe anxieties that sometimes keep her from doing as much as other kids. That means that she sometimes misses church or youth events, and it’s easy for me to struggle with how that looks to others. Shouldn’t we be setting an example of faithful attendance and commitment?
When she has to leave the service because she isn’t feeling well and needs to rest in her Dad’s office, it’s easy for me to feel embarrassed or to feel the need to explain to others. Yet I know that too many won’t understand, and it is sometimes better to just leave people wondering.
Raising kids is as complicated as their wonderfully complex bodies and souls. The God of all these intricacies knows my children inside and out, better than I know them. He knows what plans He has for them, and they may not look one thing like what I have in mind!
The question is, will I trust Him to do that work? Will I leave them in His hand or will I keep chugging away like that little blue engine saying, “I think I can, I think I can?” Or will I instead step out of the engineer’s seat and let Him be the one to drive the train?
Certainly, I have a responsibility to teach my children and train them, based on their unique personalities, weaknesses, and interests. However, I need to let God be God and remember that ultimately, they must choose whom and what they will serve. That is not in my control.
It’s no wonder that when my husband and I were engaged and began dreaming about our future together that we jokingly acknowledged that maybe we wouldn’t have children at all! Then we wouldn’t have to worry about them not following God. Of course, we didn’t want to lose the opportunity of loving and raising children just because we were afraid that they might not meet our hopes and expectations.
Yet…what do we see from the beginning of time? We see a God who created creatures with the free will to reject Him. And we have. Repeatedly. Even in a perfect world, we humans still chose to disobey. We still would were it not for His grace. Ever since Adam and Eve chose their own ways rather than His, He has kept on loving us, wooing us, and drawing us to Himself.
God knows more than any parent what it means to let go of one’s children and let them come to Him of their own free wills. It cost Him His life. How can I expect any less when raising my own children?
I take the risk of loving them. I take the risk that I will raise them to worship God and love others only to have them reject Him or even reject me.
This calls to mind what Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32).
My daughters are still young; I don’t know what the future holds for them. Will they reject God; will they reject me? I hope not. I pray not. But will my love for them be any different if they do? The true test of my love for them and my God is to love no matter what. No amount of saying “I think I can, I think I can” will change things that are not in my power to change. Even God lays aside that power for the sake of having unforced love from his beloved creatures. How can I do any less with my own children?
I might think I can make my children live and act and be a certain way. I can’t; but God can. The sooner I learn to entrust them to Him, the greater will be my peace. The likelihood is also greater that they will choose to trust in Him for themselves instead of doing things merely to please me.
God, make me a parent like You who loves unconditionally with open hands and heart. Regardless. Amen.
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