Finding Joy When Our Kids Struggle

woman with childWhen those we love hurt, often our first response is to try to fix things. Or, if we anticipate a potential threat, we may attempt to orchestrate things so that those we care about somehow remain pain-free. At least, that’s how I’m tempted to respond. Until I take a step back and consider life through a more grace-filled lens and remember, God always has a hope-filled plan, one intended to bring healing and growth.

I’ve always hated to see our daughter struggle emotionally, spiritually, or physically. As a result, at times, my parenting became entangled with my heart’s desire to make my daughter happy. Many times, watching tears pour from her big green eyes, I forgot God’s primary focus was on her growth, not her momentary comfort or pleasure.

Unfortunately, sometimes, many times, growth involves pain.

When our daughter was young, we home-schooled, and after an expensive and unproductive first semester, I started adapting my lessons to her learning style. I realized rather quickly, textbooks and paperwork didn’t work for her, so I tossed out over a thousand dollars’ worth of curriculum and began planning my own.

I found a way to teach everything through dialogue, stories, or hands-on activities. She excelled and quickly developed a love for learning punctuated by questions and personal exploration. In fact, many times I felt as if I was simply trying to keep up!

Everything changed once she entered institutionalized school. To paraphrase her next eight-and-a-half years of learning, she struggled. A lot. Though I saw her angst, I largely didn’t understand what was really going on. Initially, I assumed she was simply having a difficult time adjusting and that I’d left some holes in her educational journey. When she reached high school, I figured her challenges came from taking a demanding course load, from not having developed proper time management and study skills, and from not clicking with teachers.

I didn’t realize how hard she was working nor how many adaptations she’d made in order to be successful.

Then came college when everything moved much more quickly, was much more challenging, and where her adaptations proved insufficient.

She called me often, in tears, saying, “Mom, this just isn’t working for me. No matter how hard I try or how much I study.” She would routinely stay up until one or two in the morning, doing all she knew to do in order to prepare for a test or master an assignment, only to fail. She became so sleep deprived, her vision blurred, and she had migraines more often than not. She also developed severe testing anxiety to the point she’d vomit every morning before class.

Her stress level became so high, she acquired her second and third bout of shingles her freshman and sophomore years, consecutively. Well-intentioned friends suggested perhaps she needed to change majors, and though I never voiced this to her, I wondered the same. Yet, she’d felt called into engineering since a missions trip to El Salvador in middle school and was determined to persevere, pushing herself deeper and deeper into exhaustion.

Luckily, an insightful professor noticed some concerns with her writing and suggested she get tested for dyslexia. She did in December of her sophomore year, and as I read the results a week later, I cried as so many of her childhood struggles and behaviors suddenly made sense.

How could I not have known? Why hadn’t God told me? I’d prayed, almost daily, that He would grant me wisdom and help me parent to her heart. He’d done that in so many areas; why not in this one? Had we known, we could’ve gotten her help and resources that would’ve helped her succeed and avoid so much pain.

But as I was praying, struggling with my guilt and frustration at God for what felt like His lack of direction, I sensed Him whispering to my spirit, “She needed to struggle.”

I thought about that statement for some time after and have come to realize how true that was. Had I known about her dyslexia and other challenges, likely in empathy, I would’ve limited her. I might have encouraged her to take easier classes. But more than that, she wouldn’t have developed the grit that has enabled her to press through and view difficulties as challenges to overcome rather than dead ends.

Let’s talk about this! What resonated with you most when you read today’s post? When has someone else’s pain sent you into “fix it” mode, and how might pointing them to Jesus and growth in Him help them more instead?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

And speaking on the courage to surrender–whether ourselves or someone we love–make to keep an eye out for my upcoming Faith Over Fear podcast, releasing at the end of this month by Salem Web Communications. We’ll be talking about, among other things, finding the courage to surrender.

I’ll also be  releasing, through the YouVersion app, and will launch a Faith Over Fear challenge on social media on February 6th. Find out more HERE. And make sure to watch out for Wholly Loved’s next Bible study, Unshakable, Unbreakable Joy, releasing in 2020, with relationship building resources and more!

 

Strength in the Struggle

I’ve been called, by those who know me best and care for me most:

pitbullA pit bull (“but in a good way”)

A tornado (Um… thanks???)

Stubborn, determined… bull-headed

A bull in a china cabinet

(Okay, so maybe hubby wasn’t complimenting me on this one. In fact, I think he was a bit irritated. Ok, a lot irritated.)

And  yes, there are times when my bull-headed, get-‘er-done attitude creates havoc, but there are other times when I’m thankful. Because there are numerous things in life that require a fair amount of bull-headedness.

Would it surprise you to hear my bullheadedness isn’t new? That hints of it (and at times, explosions of it), can be seen throughout my history?

Where did it come from?

Because I believe God is my sovereign Creator, I also believe a chunk of this was crafted in me when He “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139). But another chunk, that ever-growing chunk, is the product of struggling. Of encountering an obstacle, choosing to face it head on, and choosing to stay in the fight until the fight is over.

That is a choice each one of us have, each and every day.

When our job becomes stressful, our boss demanding, we have the choice to stay engaged and proactive and to rise above… Or to withdraw, either through a written resignation or an emotional one.

When our marriage feels hopeless, we have the choice to stay in the fight–not with our emotional retreatspouse, but in the fight for our spouse… Or resign, either through divorce or emotional retreat.

Every time we choose to fight, a part of us and that for which we are fighting for grows stronger.

Similarly, every time we choose to cave, a part of us and that for which we are fighting for grows weaker. And it becomes easier to disengage, to walk away… to quit.

I have a friend whose daughter has been battling an insanely difficult and often debilitating illness for a long time. This fall, she went to college. Away from home and the safety of her parents’ house and the close proximity of her primary care physician.

And she struggled. With illness that bombarded her weakened immune system. With discouragement that tore at her very core. With homesickness and frustration and the ever-pressing decision: Should I press on, even if I never make it or fail in the end; or should I retreat emotionally, mentally, and physically?

Her parents watched her struggle with this decision, prayed for God’s clear guidance, and I’m pretty sure, had it been their choice, they would’ve whisked her home, safe and sound.

But this young woman persevered, and this December, she successfully completed her first semester of college.

And yet, this completion was much more than a task checked off, for so much more happened in the journey.

A part of her was strengthened.

And regardless of what career she chooses, or even if she signs up for another semester, that strength will remain, equipping her for her next struggle.

Please hear me, I am not saying everyone with illness should always push through. Sometimes, we must drop a few balls and slow things down, to give ourselves time to rest, heal, and manage effectively those things that remain. (You can read my thoughts on that here.)

What I’m saying is, we should be quick to pray, quick to persevere, and slow to quit. And victoryfor those of us who are parents with breaking hearts as we watch our kids struggle this Christmas… hold on, because the triumph is coming! And when God carries your kiddo over the finish line, they’ll be stronger for it!

Additional posts and resources you might find helpful:

Are We Overstressing Our Teens?

Are You Stuck in Haran

Knowing When to Quit

How Big is Your God

Pummeled by the Waves

Stronger Still by Edna Ellison

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Think back to some of your greatest struggles.

What did God teach you through those?

How are you stronger today because of those struggles?

What are you facing now?

How might your attitude during the struggle affect your inner-growth after ? And what specifically might God be wanting to strengthen in you?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.