Six Truths for Parenting In No Man’s Land

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Tennis players learn to either to stand up at the net, ready to attack, or play from the base line so they can have full view of and access to the whole court. “No man’s land” is the dreaded space between. If your opponent can keep you playing there, you can neither attack nor strategize. You’re stuck playing defense against whatever shot your opponent sends your way.

In August of 2020, we parents – and our kids – are officially living in no man’s land.

Parents are frantically playing defense against an ever-shifting set of rules and realities. It’s tough to develop a game-plan for our kids’ education and our own jobs when advice from the experts and plans from the authorities change on a daily basis. The strain of long months of uncertainty, along with anxieties about our health, the economy, and grief for our fractured nation, has us all exhausted and with no end in sight.

Here are six biblical truths to help parents find rest in this uncertain time:

1. You only have to live in today. The Message Bible translates Matthew 6:34 like this: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” We do not have to anxiously anticipate the next email from the school board or virus update from the governor; life is lived one day at a time.

I learned this lesson when my husband died. I was only forty-two, and the idea of living long years of unbearable sadness and grief was overwhelming. I survived in part by focusing on the task at hand: get out of bed. Make breakfast. Switch the laundry to the dryer. Drive carpool. I trusted God could give me the strength to do one day at a time (even one hour at a time), but I simply could not imagine how He would sustain me in this husbandless life for years.

That was ten years ago. Somehow, one day at a time, every tomorrow has become today and God has met my family in the present. We live by accepting what He has for us in the moment and doing the next right thing in the strength we’ve received.

If this pandemic has taught us anything at all, surely we have learned that we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow you may have to pivot to a different childcare plan, or retool the family budget, or cancel a long-scheduled family gathering. But today God has given you your daily bread, your new mercy, your sufficient grace. You don’t need tomorrow’s portion today. You can trust it will be there when you wake.

2. Events which shock and dismay us do not surprise God. 2020 is not God’s plan B. We are not off-roading through life, madly searching for an onramp back to the highway of business-as-usual. God knew, before my son was ever born, that his long-awaited, eagerly anticipated first day of college would be conducted online at home, with no clear path to attending college in person. We may feel like we’re wandering in a wilderness, but God is actively leading us through that wilderness. His plans for us and for our children, written before the foundation of the world, have not been derailed by anything that has happened. He who began a good work in your child will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

In the words of Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

3. The battle is the Lord’s. There’s a reason the phrase “Mama Bear” has entered our vernacular. Mothers have aggressively defended their children from attacks, real or perceived, since Rebecca helped Jacob dupe Esau and Isaac. Dads are known for letting their own son play shortstop and putting the fear of God into their daughter’s prom dates. On offense and defense, for good and for evil, parents protect and even promote their own children.

Stranded in no man’s land, not knowing if school will be cancelled tomorrow or if there will even be basketball tryouts this year, parents are at the mercy of rising or falling COVID statistics and the public policies that go with them. Certainly, one of the primary God-ordained impulses of a parent is to protect their child, and yet this mysterious virus makes protection so much harder to define. We fear for their health; we fear for their emotional, mental, and social well-being; we fear they will fall behind—and there’s only so much we can do about any of it.

Even in normal times, the enemies that threaten our children are too big for us to handle. The pandemic has stripped us of typical school and extra activities we have relied on to feel good about how we provide for our children. In His mercy, God is allowing us to see that the battle for our children’s hearts, their futures, and their thriving – this battle is His, and it always has been. We have a crucial role in their lives, but they are His responsibility.

Hard as it is to imagine, He loves them far more deeply and capably than we do. “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you [and your children] today…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

4. Our God remains steadfast. “I, the Lord, do not change…” (Malachi 3:6). Two hundred and forty-six times in the Old Testament the word hesed describes “the gracious and enduring nature of [His] commitment”[1] to us. Usually translated, “steadfast love,” hesed refers to the relentless, never-give-up kindness of God, and it’s one of the primary ways God describes not only His feelings about us, but also His active engagement with us (Exodus 34:6-7). Hesed means that no matter what threatens the stability we’ve come to depend on, God’s commitment to his children never wavers for a second. That steadfast love envelops us like the air we breathe: “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord,” even in the middle of a pandemic (Psalm 33:6).

5. God does not waste the sufferings of his people. (Psalm 56:8) He bottles your tears; He keeps record of your unrest in His book. We do not serve an indifferent God.

It’s hard to watch your child struggle with online learning. It’s painful to see your daughter come home from school feeling out-of-sorts because masks make school so weird. It’s stressful when your child may not get his senior football season, which may mean he also doesn’t get the athletic scholarship he was counting on. It’s disappointing when your child’s freshman orientation is conducted entirely in their dorm room. Their suffering is real and yours is too.

But even as we lament, we can rejoice because we know God uses our suffering to build the character of Jesus in us and in our children (Romans 5:3-5). Bible teacher Joni Eareckson Tada is fond of saying, “God will permit what He hates, to accomplish that which He loves.” As a woman who has lived as a quadriplegic for over fifty years, battling chronic pain and breast cancer, Tada does not say this lightly. But she does see that God has transformed her:

“… for me in this wheelchair, I know that suffering has made my faith more muscular. I know that suffering has deepened my prayer life, made me more interested in the Bible, and it’s really done a job on my character (helped me learn patience and endurance). I know that my suffering has made heaven come alive for me; it has jerked my thoughts right side up. And it certainly made me more sensitive to others who hurt. Most of all, it has helped me to identify with Jesus in His suffering; it has helped me grasp a tiny little inkling of all the awful things Jesus went through to secure my salvation.”[1]

Suffering is inevitable in our fallen world; the fact that He works even our pain for our good gives us strength and endurance for the steepest paths (Romans 8:28).

6. God is making all things new. (Rev. 21:5) As incredible as it may seem from where we sit, surveying a world that seems destined for turmoil, decay, and even collapse, God assures us that anything He dismantles will be remade. If He is upending our plans, it is because He has better ones. If He is tearing idols out of our grasping hands, it is because He wants to fill our hearts with Himself. If He is opening our eyes to painful truths, He is expanding our vision to catch glimpses of His coming kingdom.

Knowing that our good God is making all things new means we can rest, freed from the need to know what’s coming next. Let’s see how God redeems this stressful, uneasy season. Life in “no man’s land” just might be filled with the glory of God.

 

[1] Will Kynes, God’s Grace in the Old Testament: Considering the Hesed of the Lord, C.S. Lewis Institute, Summer 2010.

[2] http://t.joniandfriends.org/radio/4-minute/god-permits-what-he-hates1/

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