Some time back, I met a mother and daughter at a conference where I was speaking. Unlike the energized people around us, they were quiet and downcast. It turns out, a debilitating injury had just ended all of the daughter’s opportunities to play volleyball in college. They were devastated. The mother said they were trying to trust God in their disappointment—but she was at a loss for how to encourage her child.
Oh, how we’ve all been there, right? We can be heartbroken over the heartbreak of our children. We want to cheer them up. To raise their spirits. To lift them out of the valley. But instead, consider walking through the valley with them for a time, sharing your own heartbreak, and describing how God worked in it. That can be far more powerful for their faith (and yours!) than encouraging them to quickly climb out of that valley.
Recognizing the need for this is particularly important now that our kids are back in school and navigating not only the normal anxieties—trying out for sports teams, taking tests, joining clubs, trying to make friends, applying to colleges—but are also dealing with the very real impacts of the COVID pandemic on their academics, social life, and mental health. So I wanted to share an excerpt from my devotional, Find Peace . . . about what I shared with that devastated daughter and mother whose college athletics dreams had just been shattered.
[As I listened,] my eyes filled with tears as a memory came to mind. “This is not nearly as hard as what you are going through, but would you mind if I told you a story?” I asked the mother and daughter.
Twenty years before, as a new follower of Christ, I had started grad school at Harvard and made it through three layers of auditions for the famed Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium, the university’s demanding traveling choir. I had long planned to do just two things in grad school: study for my master’s degree and be a part of this choir. I wouldn’t have time for other friendships or be able to attend Christian fellowship meetings, but I had sung competitively my whole life; it was a huge part of my identity.
Moments before I was called into the final audition (which was mostly to make sure I gelled with existing choir members) I realized, Huh, I haven’t prayed about this. I quickly prayed, “Lord, I’m sorry I didn’t think to ask. If you want me in the Collegium, let this go well. If not, let Your will be done.” As I walked in, I felt a warm glow as the other choir members said, “We’ve heard a lot about you. It’ll be nice to have a grad student in the group!”
The warm glow didn’t last long.
I literally couldn’t sing any of the right notes. The director laughed and said, “You must just be nervous. Start again from the ‘A.’” But I couldn’t sing an A . . . or anything else, really. Finally, mercifully, the director cut the audition short. Mortified, I escaped the room and dissolved into tears as my plans crumbled around me.
Two weeks later, I went to a Christian Fellowship meeting and then joined their a cappella group. One of the tenors was a cute law student named Jeff Feldhahn. I would never have met him if God had spared me that time of anguish and allowed my plan to become reality.
As I recounted the story to that devastated mom and daughter twenty years later, I could see their recognition that, as the daughter said, “I know His plans are always better. But it just hurts.”
As parents, we hurt when our children do. It hurts to watch our normally confident boy walk in the door with his head hanging low after football tryouts. Or our enthusiastic daughter sobbing when the debate team emails the final roster, and her name isn’t on it. In a way, we can be even more devastated than they are.
But what if we step back and review the times in life we’ve been disappointed? What lessons did we learn? How did God use that experience for His glory and His plan for our lives?
Kids love hearing vulnerable stories from their parents, and as we describe what God did in those moments, we remind both our kids and ourselves of God’s faithfulness. Yes, when we don’t get something our heart was set on, we want to crawl into a hole and stay there. But it is our plans that have been disappointed, not God’s. He is directing our steps to beautiful places our hearts could never have imagined on our own.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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