As parents, deeply ingrained with the need to protect our children at all costs, it can feel impossible at times to take a step back and allow them to struggle through difficult situations on their own. Even more so, when it feels like God is not stepping up to help them the way we want Him to. In this article, Jenna Marie Masters gently reminds us of the importance of stepping back in faith and trusting God with our children, no matter how strong the desire is to jump in and save them.
When I was a kid, some lady bundled me in winter clothes and threw me into a swimming pool. I think she was my swim teacher—at least, I hope she was. Either way, the struggle was real.
I don’t recall having any legal representation or signing a waiver. Instead I just heard the zip of a puffy jacket, felt my feet lift off, and everything went silent as my head slowly sunk underwater. I tried to kick, but the snow boots were serious.
My muscles burned, but I heard my mom cheering from the side of the pool as I struggled.
Wait. Why wasn’t she jumping in to save me?!
I remember popping up out of the water after each arduous stroke, not too concerned with getting air but rather with making sure my mom was still there. She was, and her voice launched like a rope, pulling me closer.
I’ve never been able to shake the memory of this day.
How many times has it felt like God has thrown you into a cold pool with a Patagonia jacket and a pair of UGGS?
How often has it felt as if He is standing on the side watching you struggle for air?
It can feel cruel. And now that I’m a mama, it feels even crueler when it appears that God is allowing my kiddos to gasp in this way.
STAYING IN DEEP WATERS
Yet, feelings lie.
God sees the strength in us that we forget to claim—both in us, as parents, and in our children. He sees His Spirit in us, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:10-11). He wants us to know this truth, too!
And like our heavenly Father’s desire for us to recognize our strength, we must ask Him to help us help our children recognize theirs. But it’s so hard to stand on the side of a pool, resisting the urge to jump in, while our babies struggle.
But let’s not confuse standing on the edge of the pool with leaving the edge of the pool.
Looking back at my traumatic experience, do you know what I remember most? My mom’s face coming into focus every time I blinked the water away. My mom’s voice rising above my panic, shouting, “You can do this, Jenna! You can do this!”
My mom didn’t save, she stayed.
And there are times when staying with our children through a struggle is more impactful than saving them from it.
Here is a friendly reminder that God is the perfect Father, and yet He watched as:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown in a fire (Daniel 3),
Daniel was thrown in a lion’s den (Daniel 6),
Joseph was thrown in a well (Genesis 37),
Paul was thrown in jail (Acts 16:16-40).
Oh, and Jenna was thrown in a pool.
God didn’t save them from the struggle; He stayed with them in the struggle. And there is a difference. Yes, there will be fires, pits, honors math, snarky friend groups, hurtful social media posts, and that one time your son wasn’t put in the same cabin as his friends at camp (that literally happened as I sat down to write this!), but we can trust that Jesus will show up in every circumstance to protect us as we persevere.
TRAINING IN THE SHALLOWS
But what is our job as parents? How do we know when to save or just stay?
I wish there was a blanket answer for this, but there isn’t. Every child, parent, and situation is different, but our God is not. And one thing He tells us to do is train.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
I think back to my mama, and I think this is key: My mom knew that I could swim because she started off in the pool with me months before. She didn’t just throw me in and expect me to swim! She did her job as a mom and ‘trained’ me in the shallows, swam next to me as I got stronger, encouraged me to tread water longer each time, and hired a swim teacher to equip me in the areas where she didn’t have expertise. My mom prepared me for the cold-water toss, and that process prepared her to restrain. She knew I had the ability, even though I didn’t believe it—yet. If she would’ve jumped in, it would’ve been for her, not me.
Sometimes we want to keep our children from strife because we think it makes us a bad parent if we don’t. But, unfortunately, it’s more about self-preservation than our children’s sanctification. If we consider the eternal perspective, which is more important?
I may never have trusted that I could swim if my mom had jumped in that day. And there’s another thing—aside from remembering my mom’s face and voice that day, the last thing I remember was that I prayed. If my mom had reached out for my hand and pulled me out, I wouldn’t have reached out for God’s.
What a thought.
TRUSTING IN THE PROCESS
Another thing God asks us to do is trust.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).
If we trust God and train our children up in the way they should go, we’ll know when to get out of the pool and watch God work in our children’s lives. Because we know Him. He promises to make our paths straight. We don’t need to fear stepping back because we can trust that we have a God who steps in where needed. God has entrusted us with a job, and we must trust Him to do His.
How will our children ever experience Jesus as Comforter, if they have no sorrow? Healer, without wounds? Wonderful counselor, without problems? Prince of Peace, with no worries?
Jesus has many names, and there is a reason!
If I want what is best for my children, I want them to know all of Jesus’ names because I want them to know all of Him. So, when it’s time for me to refrain, I can trust that the Everlasting Father will dive into deep waters with my children. This is one way, as a mama, I’ll learn to experience the names of Jesus, too.
BELIEVING HIS PROMISES
These trials and hardships are coming for our children. And when they do, we declare, “Even though you come for my children, you can’t have them. They belong to Jesus.” Then we step back and believe it.
As we do this, both us mamas and our kiddos will begin to trust that we can survive deeper waters, swim a little farther, and stay in the fight a bit longer. We begin to believe that God keeps His promise never to leave us nor forsake us. He will consistently deliver us to His perfect will—even if it takes wearing soggy snow boots to get us there.
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I appreciate this very much, but I cannot help but hope that the mother had previous knowledge that this was going to happen to her child as part of the swim training…otherwise it seems disturbingly dismissive of abuse at the hands of the instructor….
My momma heart cannot help but think of this.
Hi Mina! Oh yes, I’m sure my mom was aware. I was probably prepared to, but I was little; I don’t remember:) My mom would never let the instructor do anything to me without her knowledge or anything dangerous. She’s the best mama bear ever!! I pray you are well!
In His love,
Thank you for this timely reminder and encouragement. My mama heart has felt heavy of late (not so much for my grown kids, but for my teenager with special needs) – particularly regarding her future and feeling I’ve not done nearly enough to this point. Your words have encouraged me today. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this! It was so encouraging to read because my mama bear instincts so often want to step in & save.
God’s plans to develop character, resilience, trust, & faith are always good & always better!
Hugs to you, sweet mama!