John 10:11 (ESV)- "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."
Psalm 23:3-4 (ESV)- “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Taken from the book Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas
Chapter 3: The Hardest Hurt of All
For more, read Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas
Abigail Adams was the mother of John Quincy. When John was a nine-year-old, he was to meet his father overseas for a diplomatic mission. During that time period, allowing children to travel overseas required sacrifice. John Quincy joining his father meant he would be apart from his mother for years. This meant Abigail Adams would be apart from her young child for a very long time. Young Quincy was having second thoughts on leaving.
In a heart-wrenching farewell, Abigail chose to leave her son with wisdom rather than sentiment. Instead of urging John Quincy to stay and live the comfortable life, Abigail told her oldest son, that while he would be dearly missed, it was important for him to have courage and face the suffering ahead. Not letting her son go to grow would stifle the gifting of virtue developed only through pain, challenge, and sacrifice. John Quincy was not called to live a “pain-free life” protected from necessary hardships. This would not have ultimately grown him into the man God called him to be. Instead, this journey was a vital part of the soul-forming process God would have for John Quincy. Abigail wrote this to her oldest son John:
“It is not in the still calm of life… that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”
John Quincy grew up to be perhaps one of the most creative, competent, and effective secretaries of state our nation has ever had. After which, he then ascended to becoming the sixth President of the United States. He served as a congressman who worked diligently to end slavery. We must ask, what mother wouldn’t be proud to see her son become a man to influence and impact the nation? Conflict is inevitable. The sacrifice of allowing children to experience adversity creates character. In a world full of conflict that rouses and invites stress and pain, children must be prepared. What will be the child’s answer when suffering arrives in their lap?
Adversity...adversity is the word that is one of the hardest of all. We avoid this for our families at all costs. But children will experience pain. It is our job as parents, pastors, and leaders not to shield children and youth from suffering, but rather to walk through this with them. This is the process of discipleship.
The two questions of all questions to ask when parenting…
1. What is the most important thing for my child(ren)?
2. What is the thing I ultimately value most in my life?
This understanding that adversity builds character is echoed by Gary Thomas in his book “Sacred Parenting.” It is also one the Lord seeks to establish, not just in parents, but also in the “raising” of this generation.
“What will be our attitude when conflict inevitably happens to you, me, our loved ones? Who will we turn to when all other lights go out? Will you trust the One who has brought you to the valley of the shadow of death….or will you cower and confide in your ability, self-seeking value system, where insecurity refreshers are great instant gratifiers?”
Why does Jesus call himself a Shepherd? The shepherd title is one our society can learn from and the world wars against. If the Shepherd truly knows the sheep's voice and the sheep the Shepherd’s voice, will He not also raise, protect, guide, give pasture, rest, equip, teach, provide, instill, intercede, cast out, empower, strengthen, weep- with, rejoice-with, instruct, renew, restore, reassure, listen, impart, walk-side-by-side, discipline, unconditionally love, and lay down His life for the sheep? Do we believe Him? Truly?
We are all called to adversity. We can run from it. We can hide from it. We can build walls all around ourselves and the ones we love, but eventually the world will catch up. It will consume us if we are not abiding in our great Vine, Jesus (John 15:1-8). However, we must seek refuge in Jesus (Psalm 46:1-3) because all our endeavors fall short before the cross (Romans 3:10; 23; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Jesus’ life breathes renewal and salvation by calling families to come back to His Kingship and reign. The joy of the Lord brings strength through the creation of parental guidance, instruction, wisdom, and love. May we not forget as a church family the richness all our Lord provides through “the valley of the shadow of death.” For within Him is sufficiency, captivating the heart despite adversity, creating moments of character-refining to bring out the spiritual warrior in your daughters and sons that only God is able to do for their ultimate good.