My prayer for all of my children is that they will not be the most popular or attractive ones in their class.”
That’s not your typical statement from a parent—or your typical prayer. But this mother went on to say that she wanted her children to be grounded: to somehow avoid the race for popularity, to value kindness over acceptance, and to place their confidence in who they are over how they look or perform. Not a bad idea.
We All Want the Same Thing
What comes most naturally for us as parents is sometimes different. I see parents every day in my counseling office who are worried about their kids. These parents are worried their kids don’t have enough friends. Their kids don’t get invited to spend the night. They sit at home on weekends. They don’t seem as happy as the other children. They don’t win the student offices they run for or get chosen for the teams they work so hard to make. I don’t think there is anything harder for parents than to watch their children struggle.
Every one of these parents wants the same thing for their child: to be happy. They want them to feel confident and loved and accepted and free. They want the road to be easy, with lots of bright, cheery colors and happy songs paving the way.
Trials Produce Character
As believers, we know the opposite will be true. It sure was for me. Think back on your own childhood. What experiences shaped you the most? What molded your character? What made you strong or helped you develop compassion? Most importantly, what made you aware of your need for Jesus?
Paul reminds us of the most powerful influences in our life in Romans 5:3–5:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
It’s easy, or maybe a little easier, to believe these truths for yourself, but not when your daughter doesn’t get invited to the birthday party or when your son doesn’t get accepted to the college he most wants. When you hear their hurt and see their tears, that truth seems like a lie.
As a counselor of children and families for more than 22 years, I can tell you that God does use those very things. He redeems every one of them. He uses them to make your children stronger, kinder, and more sensitive to God’s voice.
The mom who was praying for no popularity or attractiveness for her kids was on to something. She knew that those things often bring their own set of troubles—and pressure. She wanted something deeper for her children. However, often our prayers about popularity and success have to do with our own insecurities, not those of our children.
Clouding Our Judgment
Several years ago, a mother was upset with me about her high school daughter’s experience in group counseling. She said that the other girls in the group had come to be safe confidants of her daughter. She trusted them. She felt connected to them. But this mother watched with sadness as her daughter walked outside after the group meeting the week before. “She walked to my car and waved to the other girls,” she said. “They hugged each other goodbye. But she just waved.”
The next week, I had a conversation with the daughter. “Tell me how you’re feeling about the group,” I said.
“I love it,” she responded. “I really like all of the girls and feel like they’ve become my friends.”
Hearing no hint that she felt left out, I decided to tell her the concerns her mom had expressed to me.
“My mom just doesn’t understand how different we are. She would want to hug everyone on her way to the car. I don’t,” the daughter admitted. “That kind of thing makes me feel nervous. We’re just different, and sometimes that’s confusing to her.”
Have you ever found yourself more disappointed by a situation involving your child than they were themselves? If so, that probably indicates more about your needs and even your own growing-up experiences. Sometimes our prayers for our children have more to do with what we think they want than what they truly do.
Trusting God with Your Children
God provides for our children’s needs just as he does our own. If your son doesn’t have all the friends you wish he did, if your daughter isn’t being pursued by boys, if he’s not elected or she’s not chosen, God is still sovereign. And he still loves them deeply.
Larry Crabb, in his book 66 Love Letters, says, “Love seeks the deepest well-being of another.” That’s the kind of love God has for your son or for your daughter. He seeks and will achieve their deepest well-being. It may be through their happiness . . . or it may not. It may be through lots of friends . . . or struggles with friends. It may be through success . . . or failure.
Romans 5:3–5 in The Message paraphrases our verse another way:
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
You are not being shortchanged—and neither is your child. God is using all things for his glory and their good. He redeems all things. He is forging virtue, character, perseverance, and hope in your son’s or daughter’s life right this minute.
Changing Our Prayers
So maybe our prayers can look a little different.
Instead of praying for happiness, pray for the joy that comes in knowing your children are loved deeply by their heavenly Father.
Instead of praying for success, pray they will know, in the midst of the failures everyone experiences, that Jesus meets them and strengthens them in their weakness.
Instead of praying they will never face pain, pray that whatever pain they experience will drive them into a deeper knowledge of our God, who will never leave them or forsake them.
Instead of praying they’ll never experience worry, pray that they’ll see past their worry to trust in a Father who knows them better than they know themselves and has plans for a great hope and future.
Instead of praying they won’t face temptation, pray that they’ll be made stronger in it, will develop wisdom and discernment, and will lean into Jesus who gives them strength to stand firm.
Instead of praying for confidence in how they look, pray for contentment in who they are.
Instead of praying for popularity, pray for purpose so that your children will know that God can use them and every hurt, pain, and struggle for their good and for his glory.
Your children’s voice will be stronger because of the struggle. Their impact will be deeper. And their hope will be much richer for having been hemmed in by the difficulties they experience today. Trust God. He holds your children in his huge heart.