When your adult child breaks your heart, it exposes the glory story you’ve been living in. Thankfully, it can also be a time that God resets that story.
You live within a narrative that defines your worth in a certain way: I call that the “glory story.” For Christian parents, this includes seeing adult children living wise and godly lives. It’s what gives you hope as you look forward and a sense of worth as your look back.
But life doesn’t always cooperate within our desired narrative.
My youngest has been diagnosed with a thought disorder. Think A Beautiful Mind. Like diabetes, the disease can be managed by medication, lifestyle adjustments and the guidance of knowledgeable people. Getting a young adult to accept this route to stability? Ah, now there’s the rub.
Typically, symptoms begin right about when adulthood begins. That’s just about the time you expected your parental narrative to end with, “And because I’ve been such a good parent, my children went off to live happily ever after.”
A Lesson From David
A narrative that doesn’t ground your worth in what you mean to God needs to be reset. We need to say with King David, “But you, O Lord, are my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3, ESV). David was saying, “God is the source of my worth, and God takes my chin in his hand and says, ‘Get your head up, David! We’re in this together!'”
David was fleeing an uprising in Jerusalem when he wrote that—an uprising instigated by his own son. At that point in his life, any glory he may have based in his piety, parenting or power was gone. If his self-image had been based in his piety, well, that was over with the whole Bathsheba scandal. If it had been based in his parenting, he only had to think of rebellious Absalom. And if his self-worth had centered on his power, fleeing from his throne in Jerusalem put an end to that.
“But you, O Lord, are my glory,” he declared, “and the lifter of my head.”
What David ultimately valued was his relationship with God. The Creator was fond of him, and that was enough.
It’s in parental heartbreak that God starts resetting your narrative so that your worth is found in him. How can you tell that process is underway? Here are four proofs:
Exhibit A: You Can Rejoice With Other Parents
In her novel Gilead, Marilynne Robinson has the old pastor, John Ames, say, “‘Rejoice with those who rejoice.’ I have found that difficult too often. I was much better and weeping with those who weep.”
As long as our self-worth is rattled by our grown kids’ lack of success, we’ll be eaten up with resentment over the reports of other parents whose kids are progressing. We may even be tempted to “temper” their joy with a curt reminder of our own pain or a warning of how vulnerable their own happiness is to life’s surprises. As we find our value in God, however, we’re free to join in the joy of other parents.
Exhibit B: You Can React to Ignorance With Patience
Our culture is terribly ignorant about manic-depression, schizophrenia and other thought disorders. Whenever the subject comes up on Facebook, idle chatter, prayer circles or media reports, we’re bound to hear misinformed statements. These opinions are mostly at the expense of the sufferer, but are sometimes presented as an indictment of the parents.