One Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago, I sat on the back porch of the lake house, watching the boat zigzag back and forth across our quiet little cove. I could see Abby on board, bundled up in a life jacket like a little pig-in-a-blanket, the wind whipping her fine blonde hair all around her face. She was squeezed between cousins, and although I was too far away for it to be true, I was sure I could hear her delighted shriek when the water sprayed her face on a turn or when the rough water bounced them up and down in their seats.
The moment was perfect; I felt one of those rare moments of contentment where my expectations and reality were in perfect alignment: THIS is the childhood I want Abby to have- boating, family, sunshine, laughter. I found myself wishing I could copy/paste this day into the next five thousand–making sure that her early years are nothing but sweetness and joy.
But as I reflect on the fun memories of that week (which did, alas, come to an end), I acknowledge that it’s not that simple. Abby is bold, fearless, independent, willful. I love those things about her, and I consider it my great challenge and responsibility to help shape those attributes into virtues instead of vices. I hope that she grows up to be sure of herself, outspoken, strong in her character and convictions: “a tree firmly planted,” not a hothouse rose.
So while I’m so thankful for Abby’s safe, happy, and protected childhood (and while I’ll continue my efforts to keep it that way), I also realize that strong character and deep roots are not developed in a lifetime of sunny days and laughter.
Real strength is forged by adversity, by struggle and conflict, by battling giants. But it feels impossible to wish these things for my little golden-haired girl. I want her to be a warrior without ever getting too close to violence. I want her to triumph over obstacles, but with a stunt double to take the most dangerous blows. But that only happens in movies, right? In real life, Abby will fight her own battles.
Of course, it’s some consolation that I don’t have to be the one to decide how and when and to what degree Abby will experience suffering. I can try to prepare her with right beliefs and techniques beforehand, and encourage her to rejoice and persevere in its midst, but ultimately her life is not mine to manage or control. (Yes, Self, this IS consolation.) Her story is already written, and I was not the author, even though I do get to be an important supporting character. It’s my job to fulfill that role as faithfully as I can, and ultimately to entrust her days to our good and sovereign God.
As I’ve tried to pray thoughtfully for Abby’s future (and for Tres’s, too), I’ve been challenged and encouraged by “Praying Past our Preferred Outcomes” by Nancy Guthrie. Here are some of her thoughts:
“What if we expanded our prayers from praying solely for healing and deliverance and success to praying that God would use the suffering and disappointment and dead ends in our lives to accomplish the purposes he has set forth in Scripture? Scripture provides us with a vocabulary for expanding our prayers for hurting people far beyond our predetermined positive outcomes. Instead of praying only for relief, we begin to pray that the glory of God’s character would be on display in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are praying. We pray for the joy of discovering that the faith we have given lip service to over a lifetime is the real deal. We ask God to use the difficulty to make us less self-reliant and more God-reliant. Rather than only begging him to remove the suffering in our loved ones’ lives, we ask him to make them spiritually fruitful in the midst of suffering he chooses not to remove.”
“Are we praying for things God has promised to give—like his presence with us, his Word guiding us, his power working in us, his purpose accomplished through us? Or are we limited to praying only for what he has not promised to give—complete physical healing and wholeness in the here and now?”
“I could be confident that God would accomplish the purpose he had for [my daughter] Hope’s life in the number of days that he gave to her. So in my prayers I began to welcome him to accomplish that purpose. I prayed that my own sin and selfishness and small agendas would not hinder his purpose. I prayed that that his purpose for Hope’s life would be enough for me, even a joy to me.”