What is your greatest desire for your children? What is the most important thing? If you were to describe your aims and your goals as a parent, what would they be? What kind of adult do you want them to become? How would you define ‘success’ or ‘failure’? Are these terms that we should use at all? What legacy would you like to leave your child with?
If I had been asked this question many years ago, I would have said that I wanted my child to be a ‘good all-rounder’, or maybe that I wanted them ‘to reach their full potential’. I would have wanted them to do well academically, to be good at a sport or two and to be able to play a musical instrument. I would have wanted them to have one or two close friends, and generally to be likeable and popular. I would have wanted them to have a healthy self-confidence, and not to be hindered by insecurity. In summary, I would have wanted them to be good at everything, but possibly not exceptional (that might lead to its own problems...). I think many parents would say something similar, but really are these the most important things?
I know of parents who invest huge amounts of time and effort to get their children into the ‘right school’ to give them the best chance, to really ‘achieve their potential’. I hear of ‘tiger parents’ who aggressively make sure their child studies, practices and trains until they achieve excellence. Or ‘helicopter parents’ who hover around, supervising and micro-managing every aspect of their childs’ development until they reach adulthood. I know of others who have moved location, remortgaged properties and otherwise made huge financial sacrifices to ensure their child has ‘the best possible education’. I have friends I rarely see, since they spend most of their time ferrying one child or another to endless extra-curricular activities, whilst the child themselves often seems bored and exhausted. What is the highest goal? What truly matters?
Four years ago last week, my husband stood up at the funeral of our 15 week old daughter and spoke about her life. A comment that caused quite a bit of discussion (and indeed, some offence and controversy!) was that her death was not a tragedy, but that rather a true tragedy would have been for her to reach adulthood having ‘achieved’ much in terms of this world, but to have rejected the truth about God. I have certainty that my daughter is now perfectly restored in heaven, rejoicing eternally in our Lord, and that one day we shall be re-united. This matters more to me than any worldly human achievement would have done.
‘For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’ Matthew 16:26
I had known these truths in theory, and through my daughter’s life I came to understand them more fully. As Christians, we often ‘know’ the correct answers, but do we really believe them? We might quote verses from the Bible, or talk about how our child’s eternal future is our greatest concern, but do we truly live as though that is true? Do the choices we make regarding the upbringing of our children (as well as all other aspects of our lives) truly reflect that we are ‘not of the world’ (John 17:14, John 15:19)? Or do we blend in? Is our faith something which we keep for Sundays and mid-week meetings, or is it something which permeates every aspect of our being?
During my first pregnancy, I reflected on Psalm 139: ‘For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skilfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.’ Psalm 139:13-16. I prayed that my child would grow up to serve and honour God. My prayer was answered, and every single worldly hope I had for her was shattered! Through her life, every friend, colleague and relative of ours heard the truth about Jesus Christ, heard it clearly, and many were deeply challenged. Through a life of 15 weeks, our daughter achieved more eternally than many who live far longer. And in that I rejoice.
Four years later, I am blessed with three lively, healthy boys. What are my hopes for them? For what do I pray? For what do I invest my time, energy, prayers, tears, and every other resource I have available? I pray that they may grow up to love and to serve God. I pray that their lives will be shaped by a desire to serve Him and honour Him. Do I want them to be ‘happy’? ‘Successful’? ‘Good all-rounders?’ Inasmuch as these things will enable them to bear fruit for God, then yes I do. But these cannot, and must not, be our highest goals.
Take courage from the words of our Saviour: ‘If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated You. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.’ (John 15:18-19) People will consider us mad. People will criticise us, and not understand our goals. At times, that can shake our confidence. Jesus knew we would feel that way. He reassures us, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome to world.’ (John 16:33)
It is my hope and prayer that as you read this reflection, you consider what truly matters for your children. I pray that you have strength to make the right decisions even in the face of hostility and criticism from those who may be close to you, from whom you may crave approval. There will be days when you need the confidence of the Apostle Paul: ‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing (the days when we are exhausted, feel misunderstood, perhaps even question why we are doing what we are, whether it truly is worth the sacrifices, commitment and misunderstanding), yet the inward man is being renewed day by day (as we receive strength from God). For our light affliction which is but for a moment (perhaps fatigue, misunderstanding, perhaps more overt opposition and criticism, perhaps financial sacrifice, perhaps loneliness), is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (to know that our childs’ eternal future is secure or that we are at least giving them every opportunity to hear the truth), while we do not look at the things which are seen (do not focus on the trial, resisting the temptation of despair or self-pity), but at the things which are not seen (the eternal hope of our children). For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)