My friend Dena Yohe is a powerful partner with the Prayer for Prodigals community. She has lived through hard stuff, learned from God and wisely and gently shares with others. Here are some helpful thoughts on living through what you can’t fix.
Most parents long to have a special relationship with their children. We have a deep emotional attachment to them, along with a strong sense of responsibility. When we bring a child into the world, we eagerly watch them grow under our loving guidance–full of hopes and dreams.
Then one day we realize there’s a problem. It may be drugs, alcohol, self-injury, an eating disorder, pornography, sexual issues or a mental illness. We launch into doing everything we can to solve the problem.
Then the day finally comes when we realize we can’t do it.
We. Can’t. Solve. Our. Child’s. Problems. And we wonder how in the world we’re going to live with that reality. It’s breaking our hearts.
A few years ago this described me.
I tried everything I could think of to rescue my daughter (then 18) from substance abuse, self-injury and mental illness. I took her to counselors and a psychiatrist; I forgave, made excuses, gave consequences, covered up, smoothed out and believed everything she told me. When my first attempts at changing her didn’t work, I tried to make demands and control her. But nothing worked.
This is not unusual.
If your child lives at home, you’re probably exhausted from the daily experience of dealing with unacceptable behavior. You listen anxiously for them to come in at night, or sneak out at night. You fear the phone call in the middle of the night, overcome with fear of the what-if’s.
We’re angry with them, their friends and ourselves. Full of guilt and shame, we torture ourselves, asking: “What did I do wrong?” “How could I have prevented this?” “What should I do now?” “How can I help them?” Sadness over all that’s lost sits like an elephant on your chest. You become so obsessed you tend to neglect yourself and your other relationships.
Are we supposed to stop caring? Impossible. What are we to do then? How can we live with this unsolved problem? Many people have to do this. There are countless situations in our lives that we can’t do anything about. If we’re not careful we’ll become angry, depressed or cynical. Some will blame God and choose to walk away from their faith in defeat.
In my struggle over not being able to change my child I discovered four things I could do. I think they apply to any problem you can’t solve on your own.
First, I could practice courageous love by stopping my enabling, nagging and criticizing, controlling and protecting, making her problems mine. Stop talking to the person who’s not listening and keep talking to the One who is—God. You may not be in control, but He is. He will work where you cannot.
Second, I could let go and let God with a grateful heart. When I focused on what I had to be thankful for, it redirected my thoughts from the negative to the positive. Letting go helped me detach and allowed my daughter to accept responsibility for her own problems. Her problems no longer had the same impact on me.
Third, I could trust God and take one day at a time. This has been the key to less worry and more joy. I now know that whatever happens—whether my daughter is ever okay or not—I will be all right because God is with me. I made peace with the unknowns.
And fourth, I could reach out for help. For believers, one place is the church—the body of Christ. I attended support groups (Eventually, my husband and I started one); Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Celebrate Recovery are wonderful. There are groups for many different issues. You can find them on the internet. Sometimes we need a little professional help and that’s okay, too.
By doing these four things hurting parents can learn to live with an unsolved problem—anyone can. No matter what happens we can know that God is with us. He can redeem our suffering and use it to bring good into our lives and our children’s, too.
The Serenity Prayer is a great help with any problem you are powerless to solve:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.
Dena has been on a purpose-filled adventure with Christ for 41 years. She was Cru staff for 15 years (part of that time in Russia), a Pastor’s wife (15 years), and a social worker prior to that. Dena and her husband, Tom, began Hope for Hurting Parents after ministering in this area for three years. This ministry was birthed out of her own pain with one of her daughters. Her pain has become her passion. She and her husband come alongside parents whose children are involved in destructive choices and behaviors to offer encouragement, resources and hope on their difficult journey from pain to peace. She has three wonderful children (31, 27 and 25) and two precious granddaughters.
Her experiences include: Leading support groups for parents; conducting seminars and conferences for churches and non-profits (Cru, Family Life and Youth for Christ).