Earlier this year, my older daughter was working on a submission for a PTA Reflections Contest at her school. Each year, the PTA holds a contest for different grade levels and encourages students to submit artwork, photography, and writing. My daughter, a budding artist at age 9, gets excited each year about the new piece she will submit.
This year, she came up with a cat reaching for balloons concept to meet the requirements of the “Aim Upward” theme. And, just as happened last year, we got into a tussle about her submission.
“Oh sweetie,” I said coming up behind her as she sketched out her cat and balloons, “make the cat bigger.”
I watched her face crumple as she erased and changed her picture to incorporate my suggestion. I left and came back to check on her progress. I could see that she wasn’t happy by the frown on her face.
“I just don’t like the cat that big,” she complained, putting her pencil down in frustration.
I could see where this was going. I leaned in and said, “Draw it like you want then. It’s your project.”
She happily got to work on a fresh sheet of paper and began filling her paper with not only a miniscule cat but miniscule balloons. Each night before bed, she colored a few more balloons, and I caught her humming happily in the midst of her work.
Though I had serious doubts about the winnability of her picture because of the too-small (in my estimation) proportions of her cat and balloons, I chose to hold my tongue because it was her project. When she submitted her piece, she waited an agonizing two months to hear back on the winning submissions. Unfortunately, her piece wasn’t selected as a winner, and I watched her face fall during the ceremony when another girl from her class won the art division prize. Would she have won had she changed up her picture? Possibly. But the more important lesson I felt was that she learn to make her own decisions and be allowed to express her vision in her picture.
Allowing Our Children to Be Who God Made Them to Be
The situation was just one of several I’ve struggled with over the years (in varying forms with all of my children): relinquishing my tendency to form them into the people I think they should be and letting them be who they are.
Because though my daughter grew in my womb and has been entrusted to me as a daughter — she belongs to God and needs to flourish into what He always intended her to be. Because that person, frankly, is going to be far better and do far more than what either of us could imagine.
Jeremiah 1:5 tells us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” God spoke those words to Jeremiah about the ministry he would have as a prophet, telling him that he had selected him for this task before he even created him. Just as God knew Jeremiah before He made him, God knew our children before they were even on our radar.
David says a similar idea in Psalm 139:13-16:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
When David speaks of being “woven together,” the words are translated from the Hebrew word “raquam,” which means “weaver” or “embroiderer.” David identifies God as the ultimate Weaver — One who bent lovingly over the work of forming him. In the same way, God knit together our children in the secret places of the womb with careful care as to the length of their days, what they will accomplish on earth, and their temperament and gifts (which, by the way, are the perfect ones needed to carry out His call on their lives).
When I approach parenting with the knowledge that my children were intimately formed and loved by God before I knew and loved them, I realize I am, in the words of Matthew Henry, an “instrument” — an instrument in the hands of God to raise this oh-so-valuable little person to both know God (Psalm 78:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:9) and fulfill the plans of God (Philippians 2:13, Romans 8:28). In response to this knowledge, I have to let go of some of my own plans for my children and my desire for control.
I’m not saying we as parents don’t provide structure for our kids or make choices for them at times that go against what they want. Today, kids’ rebellion against the Word of God is often seen as merely letting them be who they are — when their choices are far from what God desires for them (Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 29:15). As Christian parents, we must train them to adhere to God’s ways and walk in right paths, as part of knowing Him (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:6; Psalm 119:1). But what I am saying is that we attempt to consider our children’s preferences and interests along the way, rather than stunt their growth with our own often stifling expectations and demands (Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:4).
This may sound like a relatively easy task, but it’s not so easy when our kids express ideas that veer from our own, show interest in activities we have no interest in, or perhaps want to follow a track that is different than we envisioned for them.
A former pastor of mine shared in a service about the time when he had to let go of the baseball dream he had for his son. As an avid baseball fan and high school athlete, the pastor hoped his son would follow suit. But to his dismay, his son told him one day during a baseball game, “I hate this.” Though his grown-up son enjoys watching baseball, he never “took” to playing the game. It was a moment where his pastor-father had to evaluate and asses that as a father he could try and force his son to live out the dream he had for him, or he could instead look for ways to bring out the son’s God-given talents and abilities. As you can guess, he did the latter.
Awe for Our Kids as God’s Creation Helps Us Be the Parents We Should Be
I don’t believe any of us as Christian parents enter into the parenting journey hoping to be rigid narrow-minded tyrants that get into constant conflict with our children. However, we can’t always foresee how our children will affect us with their distinct personalities and differences, and frankly, we don’t always best know when to assert our authority or when to let our children have their way.
While we won’t always get it right, if we attempt to remember that our children were uniquely made by a creative God, as told of in Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139, we can better evaluate situations and let some minor things go when it comes to our kids’ ideas about how they want to draw a picture for a project — or perhaps spend their free time or style their hair — and we can save our energy for drawing the line on the issues that really matter.
In addition, it’s when we acknowledge that we don’t have all the wisdom and we’re in a position of humility and dependence on God and His Word to best learn how to instruct our children that He can speak to us and help us navigate the issues that arise between us and our children.
Dependence on God and knowledge of the value our kids have will help us approach even our most challenging days as an opportunity to be ever aware of the awesome task we’ve been given as parents: to help raise God’s kids!
For a more in-depth look at Psalm 139 and the value each of us have in the eyes of God, check out my previous article on being known and loved by God.
Don’t have time to read? Listen to the corresponding podcast episode where I talk with co-host Suzy Lolley and blog member Rachel Howard about the idea of being intimately known by God.