My oldest daughter, Serena, sniffled, "I thought you and Dad would stay together forever. How come Jesus didn't answer my prayers?" She sat on the edge of the bed, tears rolling down her face. I felt helpless. Not only was this a family crisis, for Serena, it had become a crisis of faith as well. She needed to know that Jesus was still with her. She needed Jesus to be real.
Most families will experience emotionally painful situations or difficult transitions at some point. Our challenge as parents is to help our children manage these hard times while at the same time showing them that the Lord is trustworthy.
It's not easy to allow our children to have their doubts. But there are steps we can take to get more comfortable with their search for the Jesus who will be real in their lives.
First, be vulnerable with God. We each must be willing, like King David, to say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139: 23-24). Confess your sins but, as author Corrie Ten Boom wrote, "Put up a sign [in your heart] saying no fishing allowed." In other words, don't dig up all your wrongful ways. Our Lord truly chooses not to remember.
Second, remember that little eyes never stop watching us! Our children intuitively know when we're phony or incongruous in what we say and do. If we say we trust God, we must reflect that in our willingness to accept the path God sends us down. When we make mistakes, our children need to see us repent and apologize, especially when we've hurt them.
Third, avoid using false guilt to draw your children to Jesus. Telling our children that God is angry with them only produces shame and tempts them to hide their true feelings. They need to know they can bring anything to God and that he is full of grace and love for them.
Finally, don't be afraid to answer questions with "I don't know." This lack of knowledge on our part helps our children see that life is sometimes very difficult and confusing, even for adults. When they see that you don't have all the answers but trust in God anyway, they will be more likely to do the same.
As Serena and I talked that day, I remembered a wall hanging I had cross-stitched. "Serena," I said as we walked to the living room. "When nothing makes sense and there appears to be no answer, I come here and read this out loud as a reminder of who is in control. It says, 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight' (Proverbs 3:5-6). Sweetheart, I'm in shock that your dad and I are getting a divorce, too. But I know that we can ask Jesus to, little by little, help us trust him with the future."
Years later, when Serena was in college, she called me. She was struggling, feeling overwhelmed and lonely. "Mom," she said. "Could you read to me those verses from that wall hanging? I need Jesus to be real." So much time had gone by since those verses were first read to her, but my daughter still remembered the power of the promise they made. Our children deeply desire for God to be real. Dare to show them he is.
Barbara Schiller is the executive director of Single Parent Family Resources.
Copyright © by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.