“The things I do for my kids,” I thought with a half-eaten Big Mac in one gloved hand and piece of wilted lettuce in the other. “But this tops them all.” I stood on a stool leaning into a food court’s garbage bin. I wasn’t happy.
Somewhere in either my bin or the one into which my husband bent, my adolescent daughter’s napkin-wrapped retainer got tossed along with enough food to feed hungry children in at least two of the countries their cuisine represented.
I wiggled my nose and tried to satisfy an itch by rubbing it against my raised shoulder. Elbow deep, hanging over a metal container big enough for my entire body to tumble into, I searched. Grosser even than the stomach flu that once hit all four of the kids at the same time was this mission I was on. I grabbed another handful of mall garbage. Mixed in the wrappers and cardboard boxes, half eaten Chinese, chicken drumsticks and pizza crusts, I gingerly unwrapped wads of paper napkins.
Oh yes, this topped them all. Anger simmered like the noodle dropping off my latex covered hand.
“Happens all the time,” a worker said with a smile. She leaned against a dirty wall, her arms crossed, surveying. Was that a grin on her face? I didn’t smile back.
Of course, the truth underlying our hunt really was much deeper than the wells of tears that spilled over my daughter’s cheeks and dripped off her chin. It centered on our bottom dollar. The dental charge of a newly fitted retainer was clearly visible in our minds. We could see the zeroes like circles around our pupils; we could hear the numbers shout in our ears. Oh yes, there was no doubt the retainer pursuit through the yuck had a lot to do with our own happiness.
Still, I hear it so often:
“I just want my child to be happy.”
Parents, our mission is not to make happy children.
Of course, we desperately want them to be happy. It’s an ache in our soul when they aren’t. But sometimes procuring our children’s contentment is a shortsighted route to making us as parents happy.
Rummaging in the garbage for happiness rarely produces it.
My husband and I are now parents of adult children. But it still applies.
Parents are called to disciple their children to Christ and, granted, when they are adults it will look different than when they were children under our care.
However, “whatever makes them happy” may attempt grace but abdicate what is a difficult and uncomfortable God-given role of parenting.
Joy is the byproduct of a Spirit-filled life, in the mix with words like long-suffering, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
After all, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
Our children’s joy is forged by persevering through life’s difficulties in God’s strength. Parental encouragement toward that accomplishment continues. Its process, although full of love and grace, may include pain.
Someone recently said, “One of Satan’s greatest lies is ‘a selfish life is a happy life.’”
Joy is short-circuited by happiness when it outweighs desiring godliness. When sight wavers from the value of eternity, it lands smack dab in the temporal, a false veneer instead of a solid foundation.
Sometimes the task gets messy.
When we yield our children to God, we also give Him the right to etch our hearts with their tears. This is the kind of love that loves without reservation or condition yet grieves over what grieves the Father.
It does not happen once during a baby dedication or by the foot of a hospital bed or with the pledge of “I do.” It happens daily as we trust Him with their happiness whether babies or adults. His love far surpasses our own, and his wisdom knows how to accomplish what we cannot.
And if you were wondering—nope, we never found the retainer. And we weren’t happy.
cover photo courtesy of Sheri Hooley, Unsplash