As parents, we have a mission that unfolds over decades. Child rearing is not for cowards:it is accompanied by difficulties, temptations, and fears that can sap our hope, faith, and energy for doing good to our children. Sometimes the children bring us trials, and sometimes we are bearing with our children as the circumstances of a broken world press both them and us. And sometimes the problem is the sin that is resident within us. Where can we turn for hope in times like these?
Do you remember a parenting season when things were tough…and you thought that they would never change… and that you’d never make it through?
It might have been a baby with colic who cried and screamed for what seems like 24 hours a day for weeks on end. Or maybe it took forever to get your little one to stop sucking her thumb. Or how about the toilet training season? How many of us have cleaned one too many pair of poopy pants and sworn to our child that he was going to end up walking down the aisle in Pull-Ups? Maybe you have battled with a strong-willed toddler, or one that went through a season of hitting other children so regularly that no other moms wanted to see your child coming. Or perhaps you’ve had a scare: a pregnancy that held a promise of deformity or death for your unborn little one? Or, maybe, you did lose a child, and thought the grieving would never end.
Pick the hardest season that you’ve gotten all the way through.
Now, pause to relive that season, with journalling pen in hand if possible, for a few moments before reading on. (This is not an exercise in masochism–I have a good purpose, I promise!)
Really stop reading this; sit and try to remember how you felt/thought/reacted to circumstances at the start of that season, in the middle of it, and then after it passed. The longer you take to do this, the more it will help with what I’m about to say next. So, go ahead now and journal.
What We Can Learn From the Past
All such tough parenting seasons as the one you’ve just revisited have at least two things in common:
1) They are trials. As such, they are tough when you are in them.
2) In the end, one way or another, they pass. You and your child have made it through that tough season you just thought about, and though it has shaped both of you, it is no longer the central issue.
Here’s something to ponder: in God’s kindness, we have trouble truly reliving the actual pain of most trials. Take childbirth, for instance. Think about it: can you feel the pain of the contractions you experienced, now that it is over? What about the strength-and-sanity-sapping weariness of the nights that you walked the floor with that colicky baby? Or the utter frustration of yet another set of poopy underwear when toilet training?
You can remember that there was suffering, and that you were weary, and that you really never, ever want to go through that again, but you don’t feel it again in memory as you felt it then. It has passed. It has shaped your soul, tried your faith, and made you wiser, but after it ends, you move on. The trial is over and, if you are open to God’s grace in our lives, you start to heal.
Here’s An Analogy
If you are a student of physical fitness, you are aware that adult skeletal muscles (the ones that help you lift and move, as opposed to hard or I muscles) grow stronger only through tearing and then healing. When you lift weights or engage in taxing physical activity, you actually tear strong small muscle fibers.
After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth). Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaption, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest” (How Do Muscles Grow?).
Similarly, the Bible tells us that God develops both our faith and our character through trials. While we could wish for sunshine and easy travels all the days of our lives, God has determined that this is not the way that we grow to become all that he has planned for us to be. Being all-loving, all-wise, and all-good, He chooses for each of us the most benign possible trials for the individual growth path that He has ordained for our good and His glory.
Trials Are Tough!
I am not saying that “benign” means “easy.” Most trials don’t seem pleasant while they unfold. Like that muscle-tearing workout, they seem hard: sometimes gruelingly hard. Often, they also seem nonsensical, even to the point of appearing to be at odds with what we know of God’s character. We can be led to the brink of death, of faithlessness, and of giving up.
The trial that Father sends us often will break or tear up more than our muscles! They will tear us up mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, until we’re pretty sure we just can’t take anymore. But then, miraculously, as the trial eases and then passes, we grow stronger as we heal. Sometimes, and additional moments of surrender and breaking are needed before the healing starts.
But if you look back on the trial that you identified earlier, I’m pretty sure that you can also identify how you grew stronger through it.
Revealed Truth Is Important to Remember!
Generally, I have found the trials are hardest when I don’t remember the simple truth that God has revealed: they are trials. In the pages of the Bible, God has revealed much to us about the purposeful, strengthening aspect of the deep and sometimes dangerous waters that He draws His people through. It has strengthened me, time and again, to remember three fundamental things when I find myself unable to cope with life. In summary, here they are:
- God has not changed, or left me. Contrary to the evidence of my senses or logic, He is still ordering my universe, and the circumstances that I’m in are of his ordering.
- Though I can’t see it, this trial is ordained (chosen and permitted purposefully) for my good and God’s glory. Because He has all authority, I cannot ultimately be destroyed by this trial.
- This trial shall pass–even if it overshadows the remainder of my time on earth. And when it does, I want to ask now in such a way that I will look back and praise God for the sustaining grace that he gave me to honor him while still in the midst of it.
Let me unpack each of summaries a bit for you.
When the going gets tough, my tendency is to rebel against the sovereign, benign, loving will of Almighty God (because my pain blinds me to Him), or blame others, or otherwise respond sinfully. When I realize that I’m sinning in response to the challenges of my life, the first thing I need to do is to “go vertical”: to tell myself basic truths about God.
First on the list: Reminding myself that God is in control of everything. Nothing that has befallen me is out of His order, nor does it take Him by surprise. If you need a go-to place on this one, I can recommend Psalm 139. It’s all good, but the centerpiece of this psalm for this purpose are verses 5-14 (ESV):
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Now, these truths can be challenging to grasp when in trials! So many times, trials involve circumstances that we can’t control (tempting us to believe that no one can). And, because elements of a trial make no sense to my limited intellect, I must literally remind myself that God is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Hebrews 1:12 and 3:8). I must review, reassert, and remember that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”― Abraham Kuyper
Second on the above list is this truth: Because God is all loving, always, and all-powerful, I can trust that all will turn out well in the ultimate (if not the temporal) future. He who did not spare his own son, but delivered him up for me on the cross, will not fail to do good to me (Romans 8:32). He has chosen me, and redeemed me at the greatest possible cost: the crushing of His Son. Our Heavenly Father knows what trials are like! Jesus was tested in all things as are we, but did not sin. God has suffered, both in the flesh and as the High Priest who ordained and carried through the sacrifice of His only Son (Matthew 26:39). He who made the eye can see me; He who created the ear hears my cries; He who died for me loves me eternally, and will not abandon me.
What I must cling to is the truth that God’s glory is paramount (see Ephesians 1). Because of He has chosen to make me promises, His goodness to me displays his glory. So, as long as I can remember these revealed truths, no matter how senseless and painful the trial becomes, I can rest in the certainty that God is working purposefully and perfectly in every situation of my life. This is the real Christian life, when verses come alive in our lives. A good one for moments like this is Philipians 4:6-7, which says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (NKJV, emphasis added).
Third: Because God is in control and acting for my good, I want to respond now with trust and faithfulness. While in the midst of my trial, I want to honor God now for the grace that he’s giving me–sometimes moment by moment–to withstand temptation to despair and sin. I most probably will be weak, and foolish, and sinful. But, as much as I can, I choose to look forward to the day when this trial passes and I find that God has, once again, proven His care, His wisdom, His steadfast love, and His power in, through, and after the trial. I sum all this up with the phrase, “this too shall pass”. Or, to use the words from an old Carly Simon song, “I’m looking forward to looking back from further on down the track” (“Forever My Love”).
Personal Application Suggestions
Let’s bring this back around to your life, today. You are reading this chapter because you are struggling with discouragement in the realm of homeschooling or parenting trials. As with that season you relived in your journal a while ago, you are hurting. You feel pain, despair, hopelessness, and have a sneaking suspicion that you’ve lost your way, or God has failed you, or that this will never end. Possibly you’ve already responded badly, so we can add anger, guilt, and broken relationships to the witch’s brew of emotions that swirl around your heart. You add up your circumstances and feel tempted to throw in the towel because you don’t see any hope, any future, or any way out of what is now.
The message of this post to you in response is this:
- You are in a trial. Call it what it is biblically so that you can receive the hope and promise that God has provided for such a time as this in His infallible Word.
- God is in the midst of this trial with you, and controls its every aspect. You can therefore know with certainty that all will be well with your soul, and the souls of all involved who call God Father through Jesus Christ. Satan wants you to forget this in order that he may destroy you and those you love, so work hard to remember it!
- This trial will pass, and you will be stronger and better for it. And many times, so with those who watch you, especially if you manage to cling to God in the midst of your pain!
P.S. The American culture opposes the central ideas that make trials a worthy part of our earthly walks. Generally speaking, the ideas of living for Another’s glory, laying down one’s life for Another’s agenda, and loving expecting nothing in return are not valued. We must therefore cling to the revealed truths that God has given us in the Bible, and not on our senses, the advice of well-meaning friends or family, or our own flawed intellects, when battling through trials. In God’s truths alone lie hope, promise, and sanity as we seek to endure sinning and being sinned against in a broken world faithfully.
For further, more in-depth study by which to align your paradigm for suffering with God’s, I offer the following starter list of passages. Bible writers acknowledge and extol the existence and values of trials throughout the pages of Scripture. Look at these passages, and be encouraged:
Deuteronomy 4:33-35 (ESV)
Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him.
1 Peter 4:12-16 (ESV)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
1 Peter 1:3-7 (ESV)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 12:5-13 (ESV)
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
James 1:2-4 (ESV)
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
In summary, dear friend, whatever difficulties and discouragement you’re struggling with as a parent and homeschooler, this trial is not meaningless, and it will not last forever. Say to yourself, “This too shall pass.” Someday, when God has brought you through it (and He most certainly will do so!), you’re going to forget most of the daily grind that now clouds your mind and weighs on your heart. How do I no? Because I know him. As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken; and when you cannot trace his hand, you can trust his heart.”
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Marcia Somerville, author of Tapestry of Grace, is now blogging about her life, hobbies, and encouragement to parents. You can read all her posts at www.marciasomerville.com