In a discussion based on her recent book The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces, Dannah Gresh offers encouragement and biblically-based wisdom to moms who are facing uncertainty and anxiety as they wrestle with difficult questions including: "Am I messing up my kids?" "How do I keep my kids from walking away from the faith?" "Should I work or stay at home?" (Part 1 of 2)
Mrs. Dannah Gresh: The quietest member of the team said, “Hey, I’m reading this great book and I’m always wondering, who do I think I am to write songs about Jesus, ‘cause I’ve messed up my life so much in so many ways.” And this author says that she started to reframe the question. Instead of who she is, she talks about whose she is. What a healing balm that was to my heart, ‘cause I thought, I don’t have to have lived my whole life right to be a great parent. I’m a daughter of the King and as such, I have the right to help God unfold the lives of these three that He’s assigned to me.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Dannah Gresh joins us on “Focus on the Family” and we thank you for listening in. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I love it when Dannah is here in the studio with us. She always brings such heart to the table, no matter what the topic is. And today she’s gonna walk you, mom, through struggles you may be facing from the light-hearted to the soul-breaking and I think today’s program is gonna really touch you.
Here at Focus on the Family, we consider it our mission and really a privilege, our calling to bring you biblically based parenting resources and tools to help you as you raise up that next generation of godly children.
We’re here to help you launch ‘em well and we’re in it, too. John and I are both still in it, along with many others here in the studio. So, I’m looking forward to learning what moms go through as we talk with Dannah today.
John: Yeah and she doesn’t bring cookie-cutter solutions. She always has a biblical perspective. Dannah’s a very popular speaker and author and has written a number of books and the one that’ll form the basis for a lot of our conversation today is called The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces.
Jim: Dannah, welcome back.
Dannah: Oh, it’s my privilege. Thank you for having me.
Jim: All right, one thing I think would be fun to do right from the git-go is for the listeners to go to our Facebook and maybe post the hardest question they’ve ever had from their kids and then we can share that with you for your revision down the line, right?
Dannah: Yeah, part two, right?
Jim: Part two when you update the book, but why don’t you do that? As you’re thinking today and listening to the program, what’s one of the hardest questions you’ve faced as a mom and post it on the Focus on the Family Facebook page.
John: That’s a great idea. Yeah, we’ve got millions of people following that page and I’d love to see the interaction.
Jim: Okay, good. Dannah, let’s get to it. When you look at the toughest questions that moms have, what’s that most common question? What do you hear that really comes at you all the time from moms?
Dannah: I think the question that moms said most commonly haunted them is, am I messing up my kids? (Laughter)
Jim: I think dads have that mostly the same question.
Dannah: Right and my answer isn’t very consoling, ‘cause I said, “Yes, we are.” We’re messing them all up. Um …
John: Yeah, that doesn’t bring a lot of encouragement. (Laughter)
Jim: Thank you for listening to “Focus on the Family.”
John: And that’s our program. Thanks a lot. (Laughter)
Jim: Now what you’re really saying if I can interpret this—
Jim: --is that imperfect people are given the wonderful task of raising imperfect people.
Jim: Is that kinda it?
Dannah: Exactly, that is the kind way of saying what I want to get to. You know, the thing is, that we are so haunted by this question and I really spent a lot of time in this chapter because of the pain that moms feel in regards to it. I so wanted to say, “No, no, nobody’s messing up anybody,” but that’s not true and if we don’t find truth, we don’t find peace.
What I found was a story in the Bible of a mom who lost her child for three days and when she found her child, he was only 12-years-old at the time, she did not say, “Oh, son, we found you. It’s wonderful,” but it was like she scolded him. “Don’t you know that your father and I have been looking for you for three days? We’ve been so full of anxiety and fear.” And of course, that mother was—
Dannah: --Mary, the mother of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, if Mary had some bad moments, I think we are going to, too.
Jim: Do you think that was a bad moment?
Dannah: I think it was a bad moment.
Jim: I think she was upset. That was a normal moment.
Dannah: I think she was upset, too. I did some research on what happens when we leave our children, when we lose our children and one of the most long-term impacts [is] fear and anxiety in a child being left behind. We’re not talking being left behind like in the Christmas movie, okay, for however long that was or being left behind for three days. We’re talking about behind left behind for an hour at a grocery store that, that really does have long-term impact on a child. And the advice from all the mommy blogs and different psychologists is, when you do find your child, make sure you make them feel safe and welcomed.
That’s not really what Mary did. I wouldn’t say it was one of her best moments. But I wouldn’t say she messed up her Son either. I would say that’s probably that God, the Father knew was gonna happen. It didn’t take Him by surprise and so, what I want moms to hear is that, yeah, we are gonna not do everything perfectly, but we can’t be governed by the fear of that.
The Bible verse in that chapter that I want moms to cling to is 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a mind of peace.” We are imperfect. We are gonna mess things up as moms, but we cannot be governed by the fear of that.
Jim: Dannah, that’s so important. I mean, you gotta hit that again, because I think that’s where so many moms live.
Jim: And I know it’s true in our family. I mean, Jean is very concerned about things and that fear can harm that relationship, as well, can’t it?
Dannah: Absolutely, you can live the relationship out of fear, than rather the power and the peace and the love that God means for us.
Jim: But it’s normal for moms to feel that anxiety that they’re not doing things perfectly.
Dannah: It is normal, uh-hm.
Jim: But how a mom get through that fear and actually settle down and trust God with their parenting and with their children, even in bad moments?
Dannah: I think there [are] two really important things. One is, as a mom or a dad, it’s okay to apologize to your children. It’s okay to say, “I’m sorry; mommy didn’t do that very well at all. I was afraid. I couldn’t find you. You are so important to me. I really overreacted when I did find you. Will you forgive me for the way I responded?” It’s okay to just say, “Hey, I was afraid and I need you to forgive me.
And the other thing I think that’s really important to get over that overwhelming fear of am I messing up my kids, to where you’re thinking about it all the time, is to pour your heart out to the Lord and to just say, “God, I am overwhelmed by this. I am stressed out. I think about it too much.” What do I do with this? Bring to God what is in us.
The model for this book, The 20 Hardest Questions is Hannah, who we find in the Old Testament and she pours her heart out to God. She is praying so hard that Eli thinks she’s a drunk woman. This is not your pretty prayer. This is not your prayer list prayer. This is, you know, red nose, mascara running down the sides of your face, snotty nose prayer, really messy stuff. It’s not cute.
And yet, she doesn’t care what Eli thinks or any other passerby, because she is pouring her soul out to the Lord. And many times as moms, we think our prayers about our children should be neat and tidy and there should be a list and we should be able to cross it off with a date that, that prayer was answered.
Instead, let’s just be messy. C.S. Lewis says, “Bring to God what is in you, not what should be.” And as moms, God knows what’s in there. He knows how ugly and fearful and full of anxiety and vexation inside of us can be. Bring it to Him.
Jim: That’s a good word. You had this situation with your daughter, Lexi, I think a pottery class you talked about in the book.
Dannah: Oh, yeah.
Jim: What did you learn through that? What was the circumstance?
Dannah: Well, the circumstance of that was, I dropped her off as a 12-year-old to a pottery class and every week there was an art gallery, an entryway. And this particular week, the art gallery was very demonic. There’s no way to say it other than that. There were pottery displays of like Adam and Eve doing horrible things in the Garden of Eden. A pottery, a life-size skeleton where the flesh had been burned out and it said something horrible about the purpose.
Jim: So, it was dark.
Dannah:purpose. Yes, the back of the pottery display was a beautiful antique Bible, huge Bible and a Sharpie marker had been taken and every word in the Bible had been marked out except three on a page that was open to the book of Revelation, “God is dead.” So, this was really dark stuff.
And my mama bear came alive and well and I started clacking my heels across the concrete floor to go get my sweet baby girl from her pottery wheel. I was not gonna let her here in this place. And God’s Spirit just kindly said, “Did you check in with Me about this decision? Did you ask Me about this decision,” ‘cause it was at a time when I was practicing giving my children back to the Lord. (Laughter)
And (Laughter) that’s what Hannah did. You know, she gave her baby before he was even born, Samuel, back to God. And our prayers and petitions for our children are really self-centered if we don’t say, okay, but ultimately God, they’re Yours. What do You want?
And I felt like God would have me let her stay that day. And so, I did. I let her stay and when I got her back in the minivan an hour later, she had a tale to tell about how that dark pottery display brought up a discussion about heaven and hell. She was the only Christian in the bunch. Her teacher was an agnostic. There was a high school girl in the class that was an atheist and then a little girl younger than Lexi that was scared to death of the whole conversation.
But Lexi brought comfort to that little girl’s heart and she told them. She said, you know, I don’t know if this is the most mature way to say this, but Lexi gets her sense of humor from her father. (Laughter)
Jim: Blame it on him.
John: He’s not here to defend himself.
Jim: There we go. (Laughter)
Dannah: And in the end she said, “You know, I finally got tired of the conversation and trying to just say that heaven and hell are real places. And I finally said, ‘Well, you know, the bottom line is this. If hell is real, I have fire insurance and it sounds like maybe you don’t.’” (Laughter)
Jim: There you go. That should catch somebody’s attention.
Dannah: And you know, she was 12, so it wasn’t maybe the most tender or sensitive way to communicate, but she was firm about what she believes. And what I know to be true is this; that if we are paranoid legalistic moms who do not take our fears to God in prayer, we don’t allow our children to face the Goliaths that God has determined that they will slay. And that day I think Lexi slayed one of hers.
Jim: Wow and that’s so hard to do as a mom and as a dad, but moms particularly, to lay back and let that slaying take place to put your child in a risky venue.
Dannah: Oh, yeah.
Jim: And most moms are saying, I can hear it through the microphones I think, most moms are saying, “How could you do that? I would’ve taken her right out.” But you never know what God’s gonna do with that, especially if your child is in tune with the Spirit of God.
Dannah: Right and you know what? One of the points of the book is that there is no one right answer for every child. When Lexi was just a few years older, there was a popular book floating around that I didn’t feel was appropriate for her to read. And then it became a movie and I didn’t think it was appropriate. And I eventually allowed Lexi to go to the movie, so that she and I could discuss it.
I said, “Okay, you really want to see this ‘cause all your friends are seeing it? We’re gonna go, but there’s gonna be ice cream after and we’re gonna have a mom-daughter conversation.” I didn’t make that same decision for my other daughter because she wasn’t in the same place with her faith.
Jim: Now I think that is wise. I really do. I think so often we shut them down so that when they launch, they’re in trouble.
Jim: They’re not capable of discernment because we’ve blunted their development in the area of discernment, so that is great.
I want you to finish that four-step process that you found in 1 Samuel related to Hannah, ‘cause you … there are four key elements there. They really are the core of the book, so hit those again as we continue through the questions.
Jim: ‘Cause I think it’s great wisdom that you’ve pulled out of Scripture.
Dannah: Well, the very first one that Hannah did was, she poured out her insecurities and complaints to the Lord and she did that; it wasn’t cute. I mean, she just said, “Lord, this is what I fear. This is what I feel.” And the second thing is, she gave her children to the Lord. She gave Samuel to the Lord and we need to give our kids to God. It is an incomplete act to ask God for something as a mother without also surrendering those children to Him, because they are first and foremost His.
Jim: And you gave an illustration of that, but I would say probably 50 percent or more of moms really struggle in this area. They’ll verbalize it. Oh, certainly, yes, I give my kids over to the Lord, but then they’re jumping in constantly saving them.
Dannah: There has to be action.
Jim: So, for that mom, how does she self-identify that I may be doing too much to save my child from things that the Lord may want to use in their lives? When do you know you’re a helicopter mom?
Dannah: Yeah, I think the first thing you do is, you start the practice of asking God, just like I did that day in the pottery class. I mean, the Holy Spirit really helped me, ‘cause I didn’t have any intention of asking God if He wanted to have an opinion on this. (Laughter) I really felt His Spirit say to me, “I want to talk to you about this,” because I realized that I was, I’m gonna say it, a “controlling mom” and I was the kind of mom who wanted to fix every situation.
My kid doesn’t have to feel lonely. My kid doesn’t have to feel left out. My kid doesn’t have to not have cute clothes. All this stuff, I wanted to control that so they didn’t feel the pain of it. And so, I had been practicing saying, “Lord, what do You want, when it comes to Robbie’s being on the traveling soccer team or not? Lord, What do You want?” And so, that gave the Holy Spirit the geography in my heart in that moment to say, “Hey, I think you forgot something here. Did you ask Me?”
Jim: So, it was a lesson for you.
Dannah: Oh, yeah. I still think I’d probably struggle with it, even as an empty-nesting mom. One of my daughters is living away from home recently and was lonely. And I thought, well, I can write books from anywhere. I’ll just go there. I’ll fix the loneliness, right?
And the Lord just said, “Did you ask Me?” And as I spend time with God, He said, “Really, what I want you to pray is not that her loneliness would be erased, but that she would find friendship with God in the loneliness.”
Jim: Wow and that is the goal.
Dannah: Oh, my, it was a really hard tearful prayer for me to pray that.
Jim: Okay, so we got two of the four. I keep cuttin’ you off, ‘cause it’s so good.
Jim: The third one.
Dannah: The third one is tell someone. You need to tell someone and Hannah is at the temple. Her husband, of course, Elkanah has come to this communal gathering of prayer. And what the Lord spoke to me is, this was a kind of a hard time in their life. They’re going through the trial and the pain of, we can’t have a baby. This is really important to us, much more important even than it would be today in that society, where the only value a woman had was to give birth.
And so, she was in tremendous pain, but does she stay home? You know, I think that’s what we do sometimes as moms. We’re going through a hard trial we’re in pain, so let’s not go to church this week, ‘cause I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to deal with people. I want to be alone.
Well, okay, so here’s the thing about prayer. [The] majority of the teaching in Scripture is on corporate prayer. For example, Jesus said, “This is how you should pray, Our Father.” Not My Father, our Father. It’s a corporate act.
Jesus said,” When two or three are gathered, there I am.” And so, moms, we have to stop getting so consumed by our holy prayer closet, not that those aren’t good places, but we’ve gotta come out of them. That means that when your child isn’t performing academically, you gotta have another mom that you say, “Yeah, my kid is failing math and it’s so embarrassing for me and I haven’t been able to fix it.”
Because listen to me; if we can’t do the little things, then when our kid is a prodigal, you’re gonna run to your prayer closet and not tell anyone? And I know this about the enemy. He walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
Dannah: And he doesn’t go after the herd. He goes after the lone deer, the lone impala. And so, if you are hiding alone in your prayers for your children, you’re making them more vulnerable.
Dannah: You have got to tell someone.
Jim: Yeah and then the fourth one.
Jim: What does that mean?
Dannah: Period. Wait, period. Oh, I really wish that, that wasn’t in this book and I wish it wasn’t in the Bible, but Hannah conceived in due time.
Jim: So, patience.
Dannah: She was patient and I wish we didn’t have to wait for the Lord to heal our child’s learning disability or their physical weaknesses and sicknesses or to find them a friend when they’re lonely. I wish we didn’t have to wait for God to fix our family, but we do.
And the lesson that really is not in this book, but it’s so beautiful. My friend, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shared it with me when I was speaking on Hannah a few months ago. She said, it was in that waiting time that Hannah’s prayers for her children came into alignment with God’s will, because Hannah wanted a baby, but God needed a prophet. Hannah saw her empty arms and felt her empty womb, but God saw that there was a nation that had not heard the voice of God for over 100 years and in that time of waiting and pain, Hannah’s heart came into alignment with truly giving her son to God, so that he could be that prophet, that first one to hear God’s voice.
John: Dannah Gresh on “Focus on the Family” and you can find out more about those hard questions and the four steps Dannah has shared about at www.focusonthefamilycom/radio or give us a call and we can tell you more about her book, The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY.
End of Program Note
Jim: All right, Dannah, let’s skip to some of those questions. One of the ones that caught my attention and I think a lot of young women particularly in their 20’s and 30’s, you know, maybe two years into their marriage, how many kids should I have? I know Jean and I talked about that and you probably talk about it before you get married. You know, how many kids would you like to have, when would you want to start tryin’ to get pregnant, that kind of thing.
Jim: That’s a common question, isn’t it?
Dannah: It is a common question and it’s becoming one that’s being discussed I guess a lot more theologically than it once way. Protestants are starting to even rethink birth control. I’m not gonna take a side on whether we should or shouldn’t, but what I will say is, that what’s valid about the conversation is, is God in control of how many children we should have?
I mean, we ask God where should I live? What job should I take? Should I marry this guy? But when it comes to how many kids we have, we have our plans. (Laughter) Well, I would like the perfect, what is it, the average American, 2.6 or—
Jim: Two point three.
Dannah: --yeah, three, (Laughter) three children because that’s what I can manage financially and I can still have my career and I think at the heart of it, what I’m hearing in the conversation that’s so valid is, that as women and as men, we need to come to God and say, “Hey, You’re in charge of our fertility, too. You’re in charge of how many children we should have, ‘cause we don’t know what the will of God is, what the will of God is for how many kids we should have.”
Maybe that third child, ‘cause you only got the 2.3, is the one that is gonna be God’s prophet and he has a really big plan, because that child has to be crafted and formed under the hands of this mom and this dad with these character traits and this access to this ministry or that opportunity. And so, I just think what’s valid is, that we need to be asking God, “Lord, what do You say?”
Jim: You know, I’m mindful, you know, with Focus and the listener audience, there are women that can’t conceive and so, they feel that pain, as well, even cringe perhaps when we talk about what number should we have, when they can’t have any. It brings up a hollow place, a deeply hollow place in their heart. Speak to her.
Dannah: Yeah, I have walked closely with a friend who has known that deep pain. She is an author—Donna VanLiere. She is one of my dearest friends in the whole world. Many women have probably read her Christmas Shoes books, but she’s also read a book called Finding Grace. Grace is the name of her first daughter who she found through the very painful pathway of infertility.
And I would say that every mom who is struggling with that should read that book, because Donna went through the same process I did, pouring her soul out to God and then saying, “Okay, God, I give this to you.” And God turned her heart towards adoption. She saw all for how empty her arms were, she saw that there were so many babies who didn’t have arms to be in.
And so, she and Troy have adopted three beautiful children--Grace, Kate and David, beautiful children. And she wouldn’t change a thing. Now did she feel that when she was waiting painfully for God to answer that? Probably not, but I think you’d be encouraged by her story.
Jim: Well, I love that. [At] Focus, we’ve embarked on that Wait No More program to get families to consider foster adoption and foster family activity, respite care.
Dannah: Well, exactly, that’s how our family expanded.
Dannah: You know, we had our two children. We were finished. Everything was nice and neat and then God said, “Hey, I have a child for you to adopt and she’s 13.” (Laughter) And we’re like, “Wow! That’s kinda not how adoption usually works, but we brought Autumn Chilean [sp?] Gresh into our family when she was 13-years-old from China and oh, if I had followed my plan, I would have missed so much blessing and so much joy and it’s so exciting to see God’s purpose unfold in this sweet young woman’s life.
Jim: Let’s hit one more before we end for today. We’ll come back next time and hit some of these questions, some more of these questions. One is really personal. These are all personal actually when you think of the number of children you’re supposed to have. We probably have just awakened a lot of emotions for some and believe me, if you need to talk to us, call us. We’re here for you. We’ve got a counseling department. We have people who will care about you, who will love on you and will share the Scripture with you and so, that’s true of any of these questions.
This next one, having teenagers right now, this is really close to my heart and it’s, is my child ready to make a decision to follow Christ? Talk about tender spots, I mean this is another one.
Jim: So, what’s the perfect age? (Laughing)
Dannah: You know, I don’t know that there’s a perfect age. I think there’s a perfect readiness and you can see the readiness. When they begin to be aware of their sinfulness, that’s a sign of readiness. When they begin to say, “I understand that Jesus died on the cross for me,” that’s a sign of readiness.
And many times we have families who are saying, “Well, you know, I just think we need to wait, because I don’t think they understand the full theology of the gospel.” Really, did you when you accepted Christ, understand the full theology of the gospel? Did you understand sanctification, progressive sanctification, instant sanctification? Your child doesn’t have to understand it all. Jesus said come to Me with a child-like faith. But if their heart is demonstrating a readiness, I think as parents, we have to honor that readiness and then nurture it as best we can.
Jim: This is good. Man, I can’t wait to get back to it tomorrow, Dannah. We’ve covered a handful of those questions, but maybe three out of the 20. We’re not gonna get to all of them next time either, but let’s come back next time and talk more about The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces and again, go to our Facebook page and post your own question. I will read them honestly. I’ll take a look at ‘em and just see what they are and I’ll pass ‘em on to Dannah for her own research so she can find the needle in the haystack, maybe the one we haven’t thought about. So do that.
And if you would like a copy of Dannah’s wonderful book, The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces, get in contact with us. We also have a wonderful parenting assessment tool. It’s fairly new. We’ve had about 250,000 people take that assessment. It’s able to give you seven traits of effective parenting. It’s biblically based and backed by research. Discover your parenting strengths and areas for growth and identify the skills you need to raise healthy, mature and responsible children.
Now it never guarantees that. This just identifies your strengths and those other areas that you need to work on, but it’s an effective tool and I think you’ll find it helpful.
John: And I’ve taken that little assessment, Jim and it was very enlightening. It takes about six minutes at the most, so stop by the website to do that and order your copy of The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces, as well as a CD or a download of this program, www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or if you’d like, call us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: And in fact, when you donate today, we will send you a complimentary copy of Dannah’s book, The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces as our way of saying thank you.
Jim: Dannah, as we get the final word in here, that issue of insecurity and fear keeps coming up, so a mom that’s saying, yes, this is a realization point for her. She’s identifying it for the first time today, that she’s had those fears. She’s doing too much to mother her children. What do you want to say to her?
Dannah: I immediately go to God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a mind of peace. There have been times in my life that I had to quote that Bible verse over and over and over again until the fear was gone. There’s a fear that’s kind of like, oh, I’m afraid and my child is not gonna get on the soccer team. You know, that’s normal.
But if you’re living in chronic fear, it’s all the time, that’s what I think the Bible calls a spirit of fear. And that Bible verse says it’s not from God. It’s not from Him and so, that means part of your heart is yielded to something that’s not full of God.
So, I would go to someone older and wiser, someone ahead of the years in mothering and say, I realize that I am just constantly fearful. Will you pray with me? How do I overcome this?
Jim: That is good, because that’s wisdom. It’s been great. Let’s come back next time and pick it up.
Dannah: Let’s do it.
John: And once again, our thanks to Dannah Gresh for joining us. Thank you for listening to “Focus on the Family.” On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, join us again tomorrow for more, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Dannah GreshView Bio
Dannah Gresh is a best-selling author of numerous books and a popular public speaker who is especially passionate about helping parents build strong relationships with their children and encouraging tweens and teens to pursue sexual purity. Dannah's recent books include It's Great to Be a Girl, Raising Body-Confident Daughters and A Girl's Guide to Understanding Boys. Dannah and her husband, Bob, reside in State College, Pa., and have three grown children. Learn more about Dannah and her work by visiting the website for her organization, Pure Freedom.