I saw this card on Facebook the other day. I suppose at first glance it might seem innocent enough. I mean, sure, we would all be happy if our kids never had a day without suffering, right? And I would be ecstatic if somehow they grew up and "achieve[d] all their dreams." And if they lived in a world that were free. Wait a minute, the world isn't actually free, though, is it?
I imagine that if you are listening to someone like Joel Osteen, you might see this prayer and "like" it. But let's take a closer look and line it up with Scripture. Romans 8:17 says, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Because Christ suffered on our behalf and because we are called to follow Him, we are called to a life of suffering. We are heirs to His glory in eternity, and as heirs, we must walk the walk in this life. Suffering makes us holy, and if we are true followers of Him, we cannot expect to live a life without it.
Now, because we are called to suffer, God is glorified by granting the grace needed to endure our trials. It is through these trials that we call on God, our needs are met, and thus we grow. We continue in this manner and are granted a closer relationship with Him. It isn't through the good times that we call on God, though, of course, we should always have our eyes on Him. Some believers (ahem, Joel Osteen) may hold to a "Wellness and Prosperity" Gospel. That is to say, that somehow our faith is translated into material blessings. But it simply cannot be backed up in Scripture.
God does promise us peace and joy. But He never promised us easy times. In fact, it seems that the easy Christian life exists mainly in free countries like the US. For some reason, Americans have this idea that life is easy all over the world, just as it is here in our free homeland. I have news for you, our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are suffering right now. I don't mean at all to diminish your daily sufferings. You might be struggling with something huge, insurmountable. I know that I have done so at times, as have many of my loved ones. But the fact is that we, at least those of us in the US and most other parts of the Western World, have the freedom to worship as we choose. At least for now. But many of God's children in other countries are being quite harshly persecuted only because they are called His children. So to pray that our children always live in a world that is free, to hope that they live long and healthy lives, is essentially praying that they are not called to the life of Christ.
Furthermore, to pray that all their dreams come true, is to teach them that their desires are more worthy than to follow Christ. As Christians, we should pray as Jesus Himself did just as He was about to take on the burden of death, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." God's will is more important than ours, simply because He is all-seeing and knows what is best. Just as a parent knows what is best for his child.
My heart is heavy today for my sister and dear friend, Stephanie. She was born with a heart defect and has lived her entire life--some days healthier than others--with the heavy burden of less than perfect health. She has undergone a total of 5 heart surgeries, and today she waits in the hospital for a new heart and a new liver. The last few days have been a roller coaster with one crisis after another--a staph infection, frighteningly low blood pressure, poor kidney function, etc., etc. While my sister has some of the best doctors in the field, there is only so much they can do. And while the rest of us pray unceasingly, there is nothing else that we can do but watch.
And while my heart goes out to Stephanie and her husband and children, my heart breaks for my parents. I never understood until I had my own children how much my parents love me and my brother and sisters. And as much as I love my children, I know that a parent's love grows every day, and so my parents' love for all of us is immensely more than mine for my kids. Knowing this, I cannot fathom the pain that they have, while watching their first daughter suffer as she is at this moment. How helpless they must feel. Yet they rest in the comfort that God our Father "will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8).
So when I see these ridiculous sentiments being shuffled around on Facebook, I honestly have to ask, is this really the prayer that we should be praying for our kids? Is this what we want for them? Is this what God wants? And if they are suddenly diagnosed with a disease (or are born with one), does this mean that God didn't hold up His end of the bargain? Is God obligated to give us lives free from sorrow? From illness? No, I don't think so.
Let's pray, instead, that our children learn to "love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart[s] and with all [their] soul[s]. Love Him with all [their] mind[s]. This is the first and most important commandment." (Matthew 22:37, 38). If God sees fit to shower them with long, healthy lives, then praise to Him. But if His will is for them to suffer, let's tell them "Don't be surprised by the painful suffering you are going through. Don't feel as if something strange were happening to you. Be joyful that you are taking part in Christ's sufferings. Then you will be filled with joy when Christ returns in glory." (I Peter 4:12)
If we can teach them to love God this way, if we can instruct them to follow in His path, the one that He chooses and not the one they choose themselves, then they will know without a doubt that they are "deeply loved" by their parents.