As a mom, one of the most painful things in life is to see my kids struggle through something that is humiliating. I alternate between wanting to fix my child and eradicate the struggle, and wanting to pummel anyone who would dare to snicker or poke fun at him.
That’s why this little paragraph of John Piper’s book gave me such hope. He’s not writing to moms, and he doesn’t give the perspective of his mom as he writes, but I couldn’t help but read this story with a mom’s heart. I wondered what I would have done, if I had been John Piper’s mom.
“When I was in junior and senior high school, I could not speak in front of a group. I became so nervous that my voice would completely choke up. It was not the common butterflies that most people deal with. It was a horrible and humiliating disability. I could only give short–several word–answers to the questions teachers would ask in school. In algebra class, I was ashamed of how my hands shook when doing a problem on the blackboard. I couldn’t lead out on the Sundays when our church gave the service over to the youth.
“There were many tears. My mother struggled with me through it all, encouraging and supporting me. We were sustained by God’s grace, even though the ‘thorn’ in my flesh was not removed.
Piper goes on to describe a small breakthrough while giving a little speech in Spanish class at Wheaton college, and then the decisive turning point when he accepted an invitation to lead in prayer at chapel. But his current perspective on those years is what interested me most:
“I would not want to relive my high-school years. The anxiety, the humiliation and shame, were so common, as to cast a pall over all those years. Hundreds of prayers went up and what came down was not what I wanted at the time–the grace to endure. My interpretation now, thirty years later, is that God was keeping me back from excessive vanity and wordliness. He was causing me to ponder weighty things in solitude, while many others were breezily slipping into superficial patterns of life.” (Future Grace, pp. 52-53)
When I read this, I tilted my head back and said, “Thank you, God!” In God’s wisdom, he set this boy aside, keeping him from becoming entangled in patterns of living independently from God. And I’m thankful that John was willing to endure the struggle, emerging from adolescence with deep faith in God, rather than confidence in himself.
But, I’m also thankful for John’s mom. She could have become fretful, herself, as she projected into John’s future. She could have frantically tried to ‘fix’ him by providing tutors or counselors or experiences. She could have attempted to offset his struggle by giving him a sense of superiority over his obvious intellect. But she did none of these. John’s mom just suffered through it with him, and taught him to put his hope in God.
John Piper has influenced my faith as profoundly as any other writer or preacher of our day. But I’ll bet if I had met him as a child, I might have forecast something different for his life. The young boys that I think of as would-be preachers have obvious gifts. They aren’t the ones struggling to speak more than three words in class.
All of this gives me hope as I turn to my own children, and their unique struggles. Sometimes I’m tempted to fret about the future. But what if these struggles were a good thing? What if a little boy who suffers and sends up hundreds of prayers is being given the gift of dependence on God?
There is much I can do to foster this process in my kids’ hearts. I can encourage and support them with truth, and I can help them see their God correctly–as one who intends good for them, not harm.
Is your little boy struggling? Or your little girl? As their mom, you are positioned to help your children place their hope securely in God. Cast any worry or dread over the future from your mom-heart. Let your eyes be bright with hope; your heart filled with wonder.
God is at work, even now! Let’s see what he will do.