Moms and Dads, you’re going to know what I’m talking about when I say this:
Parenting is painful.
Oh, that’s not to say it’s not full of joy. It certainly is, and there’s nothing quite like that joy. But perhaps that’s also why the pain is so great. It’s because these children, these gifts and treasures, are such a blessing from the Lord. You throw everything you have into them and you love them with every part of your heart. Because you do, there is nothing nearly so painful as the things that have to do with your children.
It’s painful when they physically hurt themselves when they are playing outside. It’s painful when they don’t get the part they wanted in the play. It’s painful the day they come home and tell you that so-and-so is making fun of them. And in all these cases, you feel it. You feel it deeply. Maybe even more deeply than they do.
Perhaps because it is so painful, all us parents have the tendency to want to insulate our children. We want to help them avoid pain, not only for their sakes, but also for ours if we’re honest with ourselves. But in that tendency we should also see the reminder that just as the highest aim of our own lives is not to live a pain-free existence, neither should that be our highest aim for our children.
Psalm 127:3-5 captures it well:
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
At first that passage seems pretty straightforward, acknowledging the great truth that children really are an amazing blessing, a heritage, and a reward from the Lord. But just when you expect the Psalm to turn a little sloppy with hugs and kisses all around, we come to some war imagery. Battle imagery. Pictures of war and engagement.
The children aren’t only pictured as a reward; they are seen as the psalmist as a weapon. As arrows in the hands of a warrior.
I am coming to the realization that as much as I want for my kids to be good citizens, responsible members of society, safe, and happy, there is something else I need to pray for and move toward. I need to move toward parenting arrows. The higher aim is for these children to be shot into the world for the glory of God and ambassadors for the gospel. And when that happens, there will be pain.
Jesus once taught about commitment to Him above anything else. He said:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
I have up to this point in my life only considered myself as the one following Jesus in these verses. That I am the one who must regard Him as being sweeter and of greater value than even my closest of relationships. But now? As a parent? I’m on the other side. That I must raise a child in such a way that, by God’s grace, my own child hates me and my wife when compared to their love for Jesus.
Oh, the pain of that. But oh, the sweet, beautiful, glorious pain of seeing your child run hard after Jesus in all things. The thought of it makes me remember a letter that Jim Elliott, who would later be martyred for Christ in Ecuador, wrote to his parents:
I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America. This is nothing else than what the Lord Jesus warned us of when He told the disciples that they must become so infatuated with the kingdom and following Him that all other allegiances must become as though they were not. And he never excluded the family tie. In fact, those loves which we regard as closest, He told us must become as hate in comparison with our desires to uphold His cause. Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly–all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.
“Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious, Give of they wealth to speed them on their way, Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious, And all thou spendest Jesus will repay.”
Lord, bless our family wit this kind of pain. And Lord, please give us the grace as parents to count this pain as joy.