For many years my husband and I have diligently (and now I understand, somewhat naively) prayed that our girls would “shine like the stars in the universe” to those around them* – to not only be different, but to make a difference. We desired they become godly young women whose strength and beauty comes not only from their outer looks, but from the loveliness of faith, fortitude, integrity and commitment radiating from the depths of their inner character.
Why, you might ask, would I ever use the word “naively” in relation to such a prayer? Because in order to shine, we must all first be refined – and that includes our children. And while it has taken me many years to begin to gradually appreciate the difficult things in my life that have served to slough off my rough edges and begin to burn away my selfish, sinful, self-righteous self, I have not wanted my daughters to go through difficult circumstances, hurtful relationships and times of pain or loneliness.
Yet, in order for them to begin to forge the paths of life that get them to the best place for them to sparkle and shine as they seek and follow God’s plan and purposes for their lives, they too must be “refined to shine” – to be scrubbed, polished and burnished to allow their inner luster to gleam forth. And scrubbing, polishing and burnishing are usually not painless or care-free. The process takes time and effort and discomfort. There is generally a cost to achieve the shine – and I don’t mean something that can easily be paid in dollars and cents.
As a mom I’d love to be in the position to always protect my girls from anything and everything that would be “less than perfect.” However, that is not reality and that is not what would, in the grand scheme of life, be best for them. Now that they have reached young adulthood, married life and one, motherhood, I am not in the daily grind of actually “raising” them. Yet, I know what they’ve been through and know there will be challenges ahead as they journey through life. My intense days of mothering may be behind me – – – but I’m still ready, willing and available to love, support and encourage them along the way.
I have not wanted them to be disappointed or disillusioned, rejected or lonely, ridiculed, ostracized, hurt, sorrowed or face any kind of despair. I would not have liked for them to have experienced anything that could be harmful or detrimental; I wanted to be in a position to protect them from anything that would cause pain – be it emotional, physical, circumstantial or relational. One of my favorite “parenting” stories is to make fun of my husband who, upon our oldest daughter’s birth, said (again, VERY naively): “I never want to be in the position to tell her ‘no’.” (eye-roll please :0) I’m sure you can all recount a similar desire.
And what if I had been successful in protecting them so overwhelmingly, meticulously and rigorously? What if he had succeeded in never having to say “no?”
They may not have had to dig deep and determine who they truly are; why they believe as they believe. They may not be content with themselves – – happy, healthy and secure that their identity and self-assuredness come not from themselves or from others, but from their heavenly Father. They may not have begun to navigate the difficulties in life that will ultimately polish them so they will truly “come forth as gold.” **
The refining process, whether it’s for me or my children, takes a life-time. Sometimes the harder the outer shell or more tarnished the covering, the more ardent the Refiner must work to get the optimum luster and glimmer, shimmer, sparkle and unwavering shine.
So what can we, as moms, do to help our children negotiate the difficult experiences and tough challenges that will unquestionably assault them during not only their young years, but all of those along life’s way? If I was able to present “life” to my girls on a silver platter, with a silver spoon or in a silver cup, I’m afraid those silver pieces would be the only thing left shining as they traverse along life’s winding path. Their character, heart, fortitude, faith, their inner and outer beauty, would become tarnished, dull and lackluster. Any possible inner shine would be left undiscovered and unrevealed – – utterly unrefined.
Instead of silver spoons or silver platters (or paying extreme amounts of money to get them into the college of YOUR choice), here are a few suggestions (we’ve learned the hard way – we are still learning) toward helping our children live through the refining processes of life to allow them to reach their ultimate God-given purposes and places in life: – –
- Pray for them – first and foremost! Continually! Pray for them, with them and about them; then pray for and about their friends, choices, purpose, walk with the Lord, relationships (including their relationship with you). Pray for you both to have wisdom, fortitude and unconditional love and forgiveness. Don’t ever give up, get tired, frustrated, disappointed or disillusioned – keep praying!
- Encourage them – even when it is rebuffed! Even if they keep walking out of the room, don’t text back or tell you you’re just being silly and everything is “fine.” They, just like us, need encouragement more than they know!
- Teach them – every hard thing is a teachable moment! But in order to teach them you have to be aware of things, have open lines of communication and have earned their trust by your continual presence, attentiveness, interest and accessibility. And even if they don’t want to hear it, don’t seem to be listening, don’t appear to be “getting it” – they are! Be attentive and responsive!
- Lead and guide them – through the process! You are the parent and you get to set the boundaries, make the rules and then regulate and enforce them. Yes, they will probably consider it the supreme imposition and most unfair situation on the planet – but GENTLY and KINDLY do it anyway! Lead by example, guide by prayer and instruction, and be consistent, persistent, patient and perseverant (yes, that is a word).
- Allow the circumstance to continue – unless it is truly harmful! Don’t intervene to “fix” the situation – that cuts short all of the other points that will ultimately help them grow, blossom and truly shine.
- Explain things to them – they are young and haven’t experienced most things! Though our kids have been exposed and have seen and heard more than we had at their young ages; that doesn’t mean they have necessarily traversed the same roads, mountains and valleys we have. They may think they “know” and understand – and to some extent they may – but we still need to talk about situations, put them in perspective, share our past experiences (good and bad) and talk about how these things affect us, change us, grow and mature us and help make us into the people God wants us to become. They aren’t experiencing something unique to them or something that has to shape them for the rest of their lives.
- Be aware – and to be aware you have to be in their lives, day in and day out! You have to be in their face and ask question after question! I’ll let you decide how often you will actually get answers – – they just need to know you are there, interested and will ask!
- Don’t belittle – big or little, real or perceived, whatever is going on in their lives is something your children are experiencing and we need to be their paramount “go-to,” support, encouragement, sounding board and chief cheerleader. It is real to them, even if minor or a little blown out of proportion. Acknowledge it and then proceed to explain, teach, pray, whatever you think warranted – just don’t belittle them for worrying about it.
- Don’t excuse, don’t ignore, don’t enable – no more words are necessary!
- Don’t supplant or supplement – it is what it is! We don’t need to make things worse or bigger than they really are. We don’t need to intercede with things in our lives that are also difficult or disappointing. This is their journey, their lessons, their refinement. Unless it is warranted and helpful, don’t add to the discouragement, confusion or struggle. Focus on the issue or situation at hand – – use your life-lessons and experiences only to encourage, teach or show empathy. It isn’t your journey
- Don’t forget it – help your children position it in their life’s journey! Remind them they survived, succeeded, persevered, learned, gained perspective, forged their character, were strengthened and all the while their faith was being tested and fortified.
- Relate it to God’s Word – for it is the true source of all learning, wisdom, insight and perspective! If our children are to reflect God’s character, they must know God’s character. If they are to trust His plan for their lives, they must trust His sovereignty. If they are to stalwartly endure the rough patches and tough situations of life, our sons and daughters must understand the hard things are truly for their ultimate “good.” Maybe not their present fun, happiness, ease or pleasure – but their ultimate, God-purposed, Christ-reflecting lives. And that means we must filter and funnel everything (the positive and negative alike) in both our lives and their lives through the truth of scripture. ***
None of us want to endure hard things. And certainly we don’t want difficult circumstances and trials to come into the lives of our children. Yet, it is those very difficulties that will bring out the clearest, brightest sheen from the depths of our hearts and souls. It isn’t just a dose of elbow grease that will help rub off a smudge or tarnished spot on our outer shells; it is the doses of hard, difficult, challenging, sometimes confusing, and often heart-wrenching circumstances and occurrences in our lives that serve to deliver the finest shine. We are refined by fire, not by comfortable ease. We are scrubbed and scraped with sandpaper-like situations, not simple luxuries. Our children are no different.
For my girls to shine, they must first be refined. I can’t protect them from the storms and difficulties life will throw their way – – – but I can try to walk with them through them so we may all come out a little more sparkly and “golden” than we would have without the refining rains.
Thought to Ponder: Am I helping my children go through the tough things of life by undertaking a few, if not all, of the above suggestions? Am I reminding and encouraging them that the goal in life is to “come forth as gold” as they seek God’s plan and purposes for their lives – – not to simply live a life of ease and comfort. And always remind them that character, integrity, strength, perseverance and faith are forged through difficulties not in a life delivered on a silver platter. Am I determined to do so even though it is usually not easy, takes time, effort and commitment?
*”Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like start in the universe as you hold out the word of life in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” Philippians 2:14-16
**”But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
***“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” Malachi 3:3a
“This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9