Recently, I was picking up the neighborhood boys to drive them to school along with our kids as is part of our Thursday morning liturgy. But on this particular day, things were a bit different: our little buddy TJ had declared war on kindergarten and was standing his ground with every bit of strength he could muster.
TJ was a wreck. My initial assessment would’ve been that he was having a seizure. But a quick glance at the look of exasperation and fatigue, rather than fear, on his mom’s face showed me we were dealing with something different. He was laid out the on the concrete slab below the front door, hitting his head, screaming and declaring again and again, “I am not going to school!”
If you’re a parent of young kids, you know this story or some version of it, as you’ve lived it time and time again. Your kid has dug in his proverbial heels and there is no budging. As with every intimate place in our lives, there is simply no way to adequately give visibility to the hidden cost and the hidden battles (and joys) of parenting.
To be honest, I had no idea what to do.
Part of me wanted to offer compassion and let the screaming little guy stay home with his mom as he was demanding. The other part of me was digging down deep, longing to draw strength from the counsel of a parenting mentor, Dan Allender, who reminds me of the two core questions that God is always exposing through our parenting, both in our kids and in our own hearts.
Beginning with the first day of life outside the womb, every child is asking two core questions: “Am I loved?” and “Can I get my own way?” These two questions mark us throughout life, and the answer we receive sets the course for how we live. As a parent I am called to answer both of these questions not only accurately and continuously, but also simultaneously.
Parenting is not difficult; it is impossible…
Every child, by asking the two core questions, is offering an astounding invitation: ‘Will you love me and be strong? Will you provide a world where for a few brief years I can experiment with passion and play and know that I can fail without losing your delight and joy?’
If we learn to listen to our children, we will find a precious truth: what they deeply crave is the same core desire we find in our own hearts. As we listen, we will learn to ask the same questions of the God who has made us and called us to be parents. We will ask him if he will still delight in us if we take great risks, discard some venerated rules, and sometimes fail miserably in our efforts to raise our children well. And we’ll learn to listen to his answer to us; ‘Yes, you are loved more than you can ever fathom and, you can’t have your own way. But as you pursue my way, you will find the deepest satisfaction your heart can ever know.” Dan Allender, How Children Raise Parents
I stood a few feet away from TJ and his mom under the canopy of an ash tree dressed in autumn gold. Praying in my spirit, I still could not discern what to do. So I did what mentor Walt Harrington has taught me time and time again—I rolled the dice.
Grasping for tenderness and firmness, I reached down and picked up the raging, tear-filled boy and wrangled him into the seat of my truck. My hope was to somehow say to him through action, “TJ, I love and delight in you even when you are raging and resistant and, precious little buddy, I love you too much to let you have your way.”
I tried all the techniques in my bag of parenting tricks to engage his heart and come into the center of how he was feeling. I tried to empathize, offer humor, tell a ridiculous story and distract; none of it worked.
None of it.
I guess rolling the dice only works every time for the house.
So we just dove into our daily prayer. In the prayer we come into agreement with Jesus and we ask that He would make the impossible possible. It’s a bold prayer. It’s a risky one.
And it’s a life-giving prayer to watch—better said, to behold in awe—how it works! Our family has started with bringing the smallest of impossibilities before God. Our belief is that if we practice our faith with the small things, it’ll grow bigger and stronger and before long we’ll be storming the gates of Heaven with audacious and shameless requests that are beyond our wildest dreams.
So I paused our prayer at that point,
“Jesus, we ask that you make the impossible possible.”
I looked in my rearview mirror and caught TJ’s eyes. “TJ, you know what impossible means?”
“Yes,” he answered, and went on to explain (first time I could get a word out of his boiling-red-silent-treatment face).
“Do you believe that Jesus can make the impossible possible?”
“Well, you know what seems impossible to me? You having a great day at school seems impossible.
But guess what, Jesus is so crazy about you that there is nothing He is more excited about in the world today than making your impossible possible. But here’s the deal, you’ve got to want it, you’ve got to believe it. You’ve got to ask for it.
TJ, all I’m asking of you this morning is that you’d take a risk and find out if God is who He says He is. Would you ask Him to make your impossible possible?”
Rolling the dice, particularly in the context of parenting, is crazy. No it’s more. As Allender says, it is “not difficult, but impossible.” But whatever is done in love seems to constantly guide us again along the narrow road.
I felt some anticipation but mostly fear. What if his day falls apart? What if it only gets worse and God is dethroned in His heart?
But the Spirit beckoned me out of my waning and tepid faith, “Victory is in the choosing, not the outcome. You’re going after his heart. Something in him knows that, and that’s all that matters. Outcomes are God’s business.”
As we neared the school, I asked TJ if he’d like to choose a song for the final portion of our drive, offering him a country favorite, some rock-n-roll, or Jared Anderson’s Impossible Possible.
TJ smiled a shy smile and chose Impossible Possible.
All day at work I was distracted with wondering how TJ’s day would go. I’ll be honest, most of my prayers around it that day were out of striving and not union with God. But it didn’t get in God’s way; you give the Father an inch and He puts on your favorite playlist, fires up the smoker, taps the keg, and starts bringing it!
By day’s end, TJ came out of school all smiles. His words: “I had a great day!”
Of course he did.
The Kingdom of God is the invasion of possibility.
It’s the disruption of all that is impossible on our plate and in our world that He wants to make possible.
It’s what He’s always been up to. And He did as much in my heart as He did in TJ’s… exposing the pockets upon pockets of hidden unbelief in me that simply don’t believe that Jesus has within Him the life I’ve been looking for all of my days.
I don’t find myself much different from the “rich young ruler” who Jesus so kindly exposed. As you recall, he was a good man, a rule-follower, doing all that he could to walk with God. And Jesus goes after his heart. “Yep, looks like you are following all the rules. Well done…. Oh, just one other thing,” Jesus says over his shoulder in passing, as if a seeming afterthought, “sell everything you have and give it to the poor and follow me….”
Jesus pantsed the guy. Exposure extraordinaire.
The young man’s deepest security wasn’t in the living God. It was in his bank account. (Sound familiar? Sure is for me right now.) That was his one thing, the one thing that was impossible in his life: to believe that God would provide for security beyond what finances could do for him.
Jesus comes right out and names even the impossibility of relinquishing our “one thing” without God’s intervention. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom” (Matthew 19:24, The Message).
The disciples are aghast and dismayed. “Then who has any chance at all? Who then can be saved?”
And in their dismay, Jesus has the rich man and all His disciples right where He wants them.
At the precipice of impossible.
Then He names the audacious:
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Luke 19:26).
He leads us each to the precipice of the impossible. In our marriages, our finances, our parenting, our relationships, our health, our dreams, and simply in our hourly choices of how we spend our lives and make our decisions.
He waits to be asked,“Jesus, would you make the impossible possible?”
This decade is the decade to roll the dice. Find out if He really is who He says He is. What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain? These are sincere questions. Consider them. You’re worth it. So is He.
What’s impossible for you? Start with the smallest impossibilities today. Those hard conversations on your calendar coming up, that issue with your kids, that chronic struggle with addiction, passivity or unbelief. That strained relationship that seems beyond repair. Engaging that conveniently-avoided-conversation with your wife and listening to her heart, coming to the center of her being rather than “making your case” and strategically defending your position (my default tactic). Or the seemingly impossible task of giving Jesus access to a deep cavern of pain, wounding, or disappointment within you.
‘Jesus, would you make the the impossible possible? Right here, in this place?”
Ask for it.
There’s nothing He loves to do more.
If you don’t believe me, ask TJ.
For more parenting soul food, enjoy these great resources:
Fighting for the Hearts of Your Children, recorded at a Wild at Heart Boot Camp.
And for some worship to receive deeper into your heart that God loves to make the Impossible Possible, enjoy this from Jared Anderson: