The Watchful Eyes of Our Children

Michele Mayer is pinch-hitting for Keith Simon today. Rest assured that he will return to the ESI line-up next Thursday!

Yesterday, Dave posted the story of Candace Lawhon, an amazing young woman who works in children’s ministry at The Crossing. Candace spoke to a group of women earlier this week, and very transparently shared with the group what her childhood was like and how God used the difficult circumstances she lived through as a child to shape who she is today. You can read Candace’s story here, if you haven’t already.

I’m not sure there was a woman in the auditorium who didn’t shed at least a few tears as Candace spoke. I certainly did. One of the things that struck me the deepest about Candace’s story was the way in which she described how the choices her father made negatively impacted her and her siblings in the days and years that followed his departure, and how her mother’s choices and the way in which she coped with single parenthood further impacted Candace.

While the details of our childhoods were quite different, I am also a child of divorce, so we share the experience of having our families destroyed by the decisions of one or both parents. As I listened to her, though, I “heard” her more from the perspective of an adult who also chose to put her own children through the demise of their family, divorcing their father when they were young.

As I listened to this young woman talk about how the decisions her parents made affected her for years to come, I felt an old grief resurface. I know what it feels like to be a child and to have your family redefined for you. Even more so, though, I live with a clear view of my own selfishness as I turned around and, years later, did the same thing to my own children when I chose to leave my first marriage and “pursue happiness elsewhere.”

Just a few weeks ago in the DivorceCare class my husband and I facilitate, we discussed the impact that divorce has on children, and all the ways in which we, as adults going through the deep pain of divorce ourselves, often fail to see how much the choices we make influence our own children, very often in ways we never intend. A few examples:

  • A child watches his daddy leave the family for another woman, and learns that people don’t hold a lot of value, and can be replaced.

  • A woman, after divorce, moves from relationship to relationship looking for Mr. Right. Her children, watching her, learn that happiness is grounded in another person, “just the right relationship.”

  • Mom and Dad, going through a divorce, fight with each other over money and inadvertently teach their children that money is the highest priority, worthy of any means to obtain and retain it.

  • A child sees mom turn bitter and angry about how hard life is after divorce, and again might learn that relationships are the source of happiness. Or, perhaps that child will learn that life is one big disappointment, or that men cannot be trusted. Oftentimes, even though they are in many ways contradictory, the life lessons are “All of the above.”

I’ve tied these thoughts to divorce because of the way in which my choices in that season of my life highlighted the point for me, and Candace’s talk highlights it as well. When I left my first marriage, I would have told you I was a Christian, but I lived out virtually my entire life in functional unbelief. I attended church after the divorce, but pursued happiness and fulfillment in romantic relationships. My children watched for a few years as I said I valued one thing, then lived out of a very different belief.

Whether you are going through a divorce or not, the point is the same. Your children are watching you. They are watching the choices you make and where you put your hope, and – trust me – they are not fooled by the rationalizations that you might accept from yourself. As your children watch you live your life, they are evaluating your worldview and, very often, they are absorbing that same worldview. Are you living out the worldview that you want your children to adopt?

Do you take your children to church, tell them that God will take care of all their needs…and then worry incessantly about finances? Do you claim to value God’s Word…all the while spending precious little time actually reading it (and then living it out)? Do you talk about how important your family is to you…but spend most of your time pursuing your career or your golf game?

If you see an inconsistency in what you say you value and what your life shows you really value, don’t despair. We all do it to varying degrees. We can choose today to begin making changes in the way we live in front of the watchful eyes of our children. God is faithful to our prayers asking for forgiveness for our sins and past mistakes, and our cries for the strength to change (1 John 1:9).

Just as God redeemed much of those difficult childhood years for Candace, as He promises He will (Romans 8:28), He can redeem the mistakes in your past. He certainly is in mine. I have seen Him redeem many of the mistakes of my past in the lives of other people, through the divorce ministry that Warren and I now volunteer in, as well as in the lives of my kids as they have become teenagers. He is beyond good to do so, to not only redeem those mistakes but to allow me to see His work; it’s far better than I deserve.

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