Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Raising kids in a Suffering-Avoidant Culture

Raise your hand if you have ever had a problem in your life. All of us. No one escapes problems. Not if you have a masters degree, live in a gated neighborhood, live in the slums of Africa, have a great family, etc, problems and suffering are unavoidable. Yet, culture points us to avoid it at all cost and keep it at arms length from ever touching our children.
As I have journeyed through parenting, even when we just had 2 young toddlers several years back, I thought, we have it all wrong. You look at your wide-eyed baby and toddlers and think "I want to protect you from ever being hurt". Yes, that is the goodness in our nature as parents, but we go about it all wrong sometimes. We coddle our kids, we cushion their lives from pain, we fight their battles, we handle the issues with friends, parents or teachers or coaches, we make sure everyone gets a trophy, we pull them out of environments that get too hard on them. Some of these are helpful and appropriate at times, but so often, this mentality protects our children so much so from suffering that when they experience it as adults it breaks them and they have no idea how to endure. 

Entering into adoption, that very first day in Congo meeting our kids, I knew we were welcoming suffering into the forefront our family. Those long days in Congo, holding a raging child, reminding a child they didn't have to steal food from my bag, rubbing a back every 20 minutes all night long from night terrors, it was suffering, for us and for the kids. A family, an adoption, love even, doesn't magically make that go away. Love and time do heal some but it doesn't leave you with the absence of suffering. 

This is why, early on in parenting, we decided we would go overseas to "hard places" with our kids. We wouldn't shield them from poverty, we would immerse them in it. We wouldn't hide their face from a bedridden mother, we would encourage her to go in and hold her hand. We wouldn't avert their gaze from the naked child on the side of the road digging through the trash, we would tell them to go to them and offer a hug and a snack. Africa, every time, changes our kids, deep in their being, to run to the hurting, pray for the outcast, and sacrifice what we have for the sick and people impoverished by hard circumstances. 

As we walk our kids through hard situations, grieving, trauma, and tough situations at school, my aim has changed from protecting them at all costs, to teaching them how to endure well. Suffering comes and it cannot be avoided. The more I act like it can, I do so at the expense of my children. So I don't let everyone get the trophy, I talk the disappointed child through what it feels like to lose but how to lose well, how to encourage the one who won when you want to get angry and storm off. I don't go in and talk to the teacher about a problem with my kid and their friend right away, I coach the child into how to handle the problem with the friend first and then how to approach the teacher about it and follow through and forgive and draw healthy boundaries with the friend. I don't look at my grieving child and say "it'll be ok, no need to cry, lets go play", I tell her being sad is an appropriate response to her story, and life is hard and sad sometimes, but look for God in it, trust he is working your pain for your good and his glory, keep fighting for truth when lies feel like they're flooding your thoughts. 

I listened to a powerful message from Jay and Katherine Wolf the other day and it has left me sitting in so many thoughts. I scribbled down these notes as fast as I could...
Do you want the gifts or the giver? Do you want deliverance from suffering and discomfort or do you want the deliverer himself? We believe the lie that if you follow and obey God into discomfort and out of what is "safe" then there will be blessings and reward for you and things will go well...but instead you've entered into discomfort and you're finding its your new normal. How do suffering and joy coexist? In suffering there is a death to life resurrection we get to witness. A picture of new life. In the suffering we anchor ourselves in the assurance of hope and joy in Jesus not in our circumstances. In American Christianity we have bought into the lie that if it is goo then it cannot be hard. That goodness must exclude suffering. This is not true. In Jesus' upside down gospel good and hard totally coexist and weave together for our goodness and his glory. The message we need to tell our kids is God enables to do hard things, don't protect them from the hard things. Teach them to endure well and to depend fully.

I had tears pouring down my face in the carpool line at school as I listened to this message and the Lord poured affirmation and truth over me. Our family has been in a season of suffering and grieving with one of our kids. It has been hard. It has been hours of exhausting conversation, heart level work, holding them while they grieve. Life is not roses and our kids know it. But in the midst of this tough place we are trying to affirm that life is hard not discount it because it is an uncomfortable conversation to sit in. We are trying to teach all of our kids how to depend on God more fully in the midst of hardship. We are trying to teach our kids how to fight lies with truth. How to comfort each other when someone is grieving. How to be sensitive that each of us have a story and maybe when we hurt each other it is because we are hurting inside too. 

I say all this as I am about to leave to pick up a child and take them to the children's hospital to receive a potential diagnosis of a problem we have seen 6 doctors for over the last 4 years. As I think on it today, I know it is more about how I think about my circumstance rather than what it is. How I frame it affects my own emotions as well as my kids. I could think that this diagnosis will be a toll on our family, our budget, and so difficult for a child to manage. Yet, I am choosing to put this in God's hands not my own or the doctors. I am choosing to trust God will not be surprised or challenged by whatever we hear from this doctor. I am choosing to believe, even if it is the worst case scenario, that God will use it to refine us and bring him glory. He will use it to put us around people we wouldn't have had the opportunity to cheer on or comfort if not for this. So with that in mind, I walk thankfully into that hospital knowing I trust the God who is before all things, in all things, and holds all things together.