“I just don’t think people get married anymore.”
My friend was smiling, but her eyes were sad. She’d just told me that her 32-year-old daughter had moved in with a boyfriend. As I listened to her story, I could sympathize with her. We are both mothers of grown children, and we have both had to learn that our adult kids often make big life choices that are different than what we’ve done, or they’ve acted in ways that are not in their own best interest. And when things don’t turn out as we’ve hoped — either because of a poor choice a child makes or because some difficult circumstance arose — we find ourselves fearful about what the future might hold for our kids. Does God really does have this under control?
With my four adult children, I have found myself in those tough emotional places, watching my kids navigate iffy dating relationships, discouraging job hunts, health problems and many other challenges. There have been many times in which trusting God hasn’t been easy, times when I’m sure His handiwork is unraveling. God, I know You’ve said that we can be confident that You’ll complete the good work You’ve started, but sometimes it’s so hard to see how that could happen.
If you’ve found yourself in that same place, you can find hope by leaning into God, even when you don’t see His hand at work. Here’s how I’ve learned to trust God with my adult children:
Love is the only way
Throughout the years of child-rearing, Christian moms learn that their best defense is to pray. But perhaps, for our grown children, we need to have a different focus to our prayer. One mom I talked to was used to praying for God to convict her daughter about a particular sexual sin when she felt God interrupting:
Your daughter knows that what she is doing is wrong, she sensed the Lord whisper. You’ve told her plenty of times. Instead, pray that she will experience My love.
Recognizing that it is God’s love and kindness that lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4), this mother changed her approach. She began to pray out of love, rather than worry or fear or judgment of her daughter’s behavior. Eventually, her daughter did experience both conviction and repentance, but God also changed the mom’s heart, helping her recognize she couldn’t control her daughter’s decisions in life and that only God’s love could change the young woman’s heart. “God’s ways are always better than mine,” this mom told me.
God’s ways are better. Isaiah 55:9 calls them “higher.” He does want to transform our lives and change our hearts. But God doesn’t always work in ways that we recognize, and the transformations can be hard to endure. This seems particularly true when outcomes for our children are uncertain — when a job search turns up empty, a health concern stretches into years or a beloved prodigal shows no sign that he is ready to turn his life around and come home. When those times come, remember that your prayers and interactions with your child are to motivated by a desire to have your child fully experience God’s love — and your love.
Embrace God’s Word for your kids
God knows our adult children in ways that we don’t, and He loves them far beyond what we can see, so we can trust that He is at work in their lives. Not that this trust ever comes easily. The best way I’ve found to anchor this trust — and let that mooring give shape to my prayers for my children — is through the promises in Scripture. “If you abide in me,” Jesus promised in John 15:7, “and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Ask whatever you wish? Really? No, this isn’t some sort guarantee that just because we can slap a Bible verse on a request, God has to do it for us or for our kids. Rather, it is an invitation to dig into God’s Word, allowing His principles and promises to shape our parenting perspective and our prayers. When God’s Word truly lives within us, we will pray in accordance with those principles. Again, we must leave room for a God whose ways really are higher than ours.
Remember God will accomplish His purposes
I don’t know what the future holds for my children. But as I look down the road, wondering who they might marry, where they will live, and — most significantly — how and when they will draw close to God and glorify Him, I hang on to verses like Philippians 2:13: “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That’s one of my favorite parenting anchors.
But it is a promise that comes with a catch. God shapes our attitudes and our behavior, but He does so with an eye toward accomplishing His purposes, which may or may not line up with our ambitions. Sometimes God gives our kids the very thing we’ve asked Him to provide. The spouse. The healing. The job. But sometimes God gives grace instead — the kind of grace Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 12, when he said he asked God three times to get rid of a “thorn” in his life, but God allowed it to remain, teaching Paul that His grace was sufficient.
This is the grace that can equip our kids to tap into God’s strength and endure those challenging times when they don’t get what they want. And it’s the kind of grace that equips us to keep praying — and trusting — as we wait for God’s higher, and better, plan to unfold for their lives.
Jodie Berndt is the author of Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children.