4 Ways to Know When God is Resetting Your Parental Narrative: A guest post by Tom Goodman
When your adult child breaks your heart, it exposes the glory story you've been living in. Thankfully, it can also be a time that God resets that story.
You live within a narrative that defines your worth in a certain way: I call that the "glory story." For Christian parents, this includes seeing adult children living wise and godly lives. It's what gives you hope as you look forward and a sense of worth as your look back.
But life doesn't always cooperate within our desired narrative.
My youngest has been diagnosed with a thought disorder. Think A Beautiful Mind. Like diabetes, the disease can be managed by medication, lifestyle adjustments, and the guidance of knowledgeable people. Getting a young adult to accept this route to stability? Ah, now there's the rub.
Typically symptoms begin right about when adulthood begins. That's just about the time you expected your parental narrative to end with, "And because I've been such a good parent my children went off to live happily ever after."
A Lesson from David
A narrative that doesn't ground your worth in what you mean to God needs to be reset. We need to say with King David, "But you, O Lord are my glory, and the lifter of my head" (Psalm 3:3, ESV). David was saying, "God is the source of my worth, and God takes my chin in his hand and says, 'Get your head up, David! We're in this together!'"
David was fleeing an uprising in Jerusalem when he wrote that—an uprising instigated by his own son. At that point in his life, any glory he may have based in his piety, parenting, or power was gone. If his self-image had been based in his piety, well, that was over with the whole Bathsheba scandal. If it had been based in his parenting, he only had to think of rebellious Absalom. And if his self-worth had centered on his power, fleeing from his throne in Jerusalem put an end to that.
"But you, O Lord, are my glory," he declared, "and the lifter of my head."
What David ultimately valued was his relationship with God. The Creator was fond of him, and that was enough.
It's in parental heartbreak that God starts resetting your narrative so that your worth is found in him. How can you tell that process is underway? Here are four proofs:
Exhibit A: You Can Rejoice with Other Parents
In her novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson has the old pastor, John Ames, say, "'Rejoice with those who rejoice.' I have found that difficult too often. I was much better and weeping with those who weep."
As long as our self-worth is rattled by our grown kids' lack of success, we'll be eaten up with resentment over the reports of other parents whose kids are progressing. We may even be tempted to "temper" their joy with a curt reminder of our own pain, or a warning of how vulnerable their own happiness is to life's surprises. As we find our value in God, however, we're free to join in the joy of other parents.
Exhibit B: You Can React to Ignorance with Patience
Our culture is terribly ignorant about manic-depression, schizophrenia, and other thought disorders. Whenever the subject comes up on Facebook, idle chatter, prayer circles, or media reports, we're bound to hear misinformed statements. These opinions are mostly at the expense of the sufferer, but are sometimes presented as an indictment of the parents.
If your sense of worth is built upon how people regard you as a parent in light of your adult child's behavior, what happens? You crumble under their judgment, or lash out in defense. But if God is our glory and the lifter of our head, we have a greater capacity for patience with people who simply don't know what they're talking about.
Exhibit C: You Can Decide When You've Done Enough
Some of us continue to prop up and to rescue our children longer than we should. That's because, too often, our glory is in being able to present the world with a well-adjusted young adult who makes godly and wise decisions. Since that hasn't happened yet, we continue to make heavy investments of our emotional and financial resources in hopes that we can still achieve that glory. Ultimately, though, this is healthy neither for the parent nor for the adult child. By finding sufficient glory in God's gracious relationship with us, we are in a better position to judge when we've provided enough help, advice, and intervention.
Exhibit D: You Can Take Pressure Off the Other Children
If we believe that the actions of one child invalidate our success as parents, we may be tempted to depend on the success of our other children to prove to the world that we weren't such failures after all. These children begin to feel the pressure to report visible achievements and, in the process, to hide their own problems. On the other hand, when our worth no longer collapses amid the challenges one child brings, we'll better focus on each of the other children as individuals with their own hopes, fears, mistakes, and growth. They no longer feel themselves as objects we use to validate our parenting.
Let God Reset Your Story
As King David fled Jerusalem ahead of his son's rebellion, he could no longer point to his piety, his power, or his parenting as the source of his worth. "But you, O Lord, are my glory," he confessed.
It's time we parents find our worth in the majesty of our God and not the lives of our children.