Guest post by Janel Breitenstein
I didn’t know what a turquoise-painted pumpkin was—until my nephew, the one with the chocolatey eyes and the wide grin, was allergic to peanuts. Now I know that a teal pumpkin outside a house on Halloween means they have non-food treats for kids with food allergies. When I was a young youth intern, it felt extreme of one mom to walk through the mission-trip bus and ask all the kids to surrender snacks with peanuts. Now, having known at least three moms who grappled with this life-or-death allergy on a daily basis—I get it.
My sister-in-law have had some heart-rending conversations over the last year about the fear she deals with around this allergy—which could take her son in ten minutes’ time. One wrong snack, one EpiPen too far away.
But my heart balled up with a single text last week from the same sister-in-law: Her daughter, who’s not yet one, had an anaphylactic reaction. …To eggs.
Author Elizabeth Stone has written, “Making the decision to have a child–it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” And nearly every parent who reads this will get that. Parenting, from the minute a woman has to urinate on that stick (not really your finest moment of dignity) and wait for two pink lines, flays us open to vulnerability. To love deeper and wider than we’d thought possible—and with that love, to couple ourselves to risk and loss.
For me, this currently embodies itself in a child of mine who lacks basic obedience, love of truth, and self-control. This kid has the power of personality to either be, like, president someday…or leading all the other inmates in prison. Good grief. That my kids would love God with their lives is my deepest joy. But that they’d fail to choose that would also be my greatest heartbreak. My prayers bubble with concern for that boy.
Do I think it’s wrong, to fear for my children? It’s not the emotion that’s wrong. I think my desire to protect my kids from pain is in an expression of God’s fierce protection of us.
I just have to choose what I’ll do with that fear.
Like anything precious, fear can inflate to a disproportionate size. We might become overprotective. Overindulgent. Hypercontrolling. Reactive. Nagged and consumed by subtle worry. Angry at anyone who would threaten that promise we made to ourselves: that our kids wouldn’t see unnecessary pain (see helpful posts here on shielding our kids, and why they need to struggle). Oddly, I think of Tolkien’s Gollum when I imagine these things that have power over us: They disfigure us, supercharge our reactions toward threats, and even isolate us as we cherish “My Precious.” They can make us parents driven tirelessly by fear rather than trust.
But those fears can also ratchet us to a new level of being able to turn back to God with our deep-seated cares brimming from our arms. We can commit them to him afresh when people more precious than our own lives are out there on what we see as a battlefield, vulnerable and underequipped.
We can teach our kids trust and worship in their own suffering. We can sculpt a sinewy, beautiful theology in their own danger, or like my son, their own weakness (him, this morning: “I’m sorry for overreacting. Will you forgive me?”). We can learn alongside them that strong kids emerge not from a world free of danger or temptation, but a world where a loving, all-powerful God stands tenderly at the helm.
They will be fighters. And as we collide with these fears together—we just might encounter our own healing, too.
My mom told me once that when one of her greatest nightmares for her kids became reality, she witnessed unmistakably that God still faithfully carried her through it with every bit of grace required.
God demonstrates sweeping purposes even through our searing fears–not making the bad good (pastor Tim Keller points to Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, just before He raises him: He is angry, and weeping. The bad is still bad, and that is why God must overcome it). But, as is the theme of the entire Bible,
The biblical view of things is resurrection–not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.*
This was true, even in the present life, for my mom. The nightmare now has no hold on her. Her galvanized soul has seen that yes, God’s worthy of what’s most valuable to us. And what’s most painful.
My sister-in-law texted me this morning how much she’s praising God. Know why? She thinks her son’s peanut allergy may have saved her daughter’s life. Because of his allergy, she had an EpiPen close by while they waited 15 minutes for an ambulance.
No, that doesn’t answer the question of her daughter’s allergies, or even tie a neat bow on her son’s. But it does remind us that the stories God’s writing for our kids inevitably have the same ending: Their good. His honor.