My wife and I are both mild-mannered people. Our marriage was peaceful before we had a child. In our minds, we could not have been more equipped, organzied, and prepared to usher the life of another human being into our lives. We both had thoughts and visions about what parenting would look like. And as hopeful and beautiful as those visions were, at the same time, they were hysterically naïve.
Our first child entered our house, not gracefully, but more like a flaming baseball flying through a window. (Enter broken glass, loud noises, and everything on fire.) It was intense. It still is. But as I reflect on the difficulty and ugliness of raising her, I can’t help but notice how God has used her to sharpen me in the process. God is notorious for using ill-circumstances to create life and beauty out of them.
I believe God does this in our experience of difficult children. Difficult children can help us grow if we allow them.
1. They expose our flaws.
Difficult children can bring out our worst character qualities because they push us far beyond what we’re used to. How is this a good thing? It’s good because they expose who we really are, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we’re sinful people in need of grace and forgiveness. It’s important to understand our sinfulness so that we don’t deceive ourselves into thinking we’re good people who don’t need forgiveness or grace from God. Our flaws need to be exposed so God can heal them.
2. They point us to our need for grace.
We can’t raise children in our own strength. We need God’s power and grace to change our hearts so we can influence our children in wise and godly ways. We need grace. We need it every moment. Difficult children remind us that we can’t do this alone and that we need God’s intimate involvement in every step of the process.
3. They strengthen our prayer life.
Difficult children drive us to pray more often. This isn’t a bad thing. Hopefully, it means we’ll pray more often and for longer periods. God takes our hard and dark times, and he sanctifies us through them by making us more mature in Christ, and he can use prayer as the means to this end. We can all agree that our prayer lives can be better. We may not realize it, but our difficult children help cultivate this discipline into our lives.
4. They remind us who is NOT in control.
As parents, we love fooling ourselves into thinking that we’re in control of our children. To some degree, we must be in control to raise them in godliness, maturity, and wisdom. But at the end of the day, there are many areas that we must hand over to God. We can’t totally control their behavior, but we can respond to it in wisdom and godliness. Only God can give us the wisdom we need to raise our children, and He will provide us with that wisdom if we ask for it in sincere faith and without doubting (James 1:5-6).
5. They crack us up.
Difficult children can give us more joy than anyone else. With bold personalities, strong mental capacities, and larger-than-life imaginations, they bring us so much light and life. It’s important to laugh and have fun with them when we can. Laughter is healing. And our children need to experience us laughing with them often. Although my difficult child brings many challenges, she also brings so many smiles, so much laughter, and a huge amount of joy.
In the end, I’m so thankful for the challenges my wife and I have gone through. This process (so far) has brought us together in ways that never would have happened otherwise. We’ve met tirelessly through prayer and have learned a more profound dependence on God that only occurred because of our trials.
It’s in and through our trials that God cultivates maturity in us. Our children can serve as the vehicle by which he accomplishes this through His Spirit: If we tune into, and respond, to how God is working in our lives.
In moments of difficulty, it’s hard to see how God is working. But, if we reflect on his involvement, and we truly submit to the Lord in our adverse times, then he will surely be faithful to bring life out of death, beauty out of ashes, and joy out of sorrow.