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Photos by Tierney Cyanne Photography
Several years ago, our small town was hit with a catastrophic tornado. When it touched down, Eric and I were at a local coffee shop with Hudson and Harper, ages three and one, along with Eric's sister and her three children who were visiting from out of town. The coffee shop was filled with quite a few elementary-aged children who were there on some kind of special field trip. Suddenly the sky grew ominously dark, and we began to hear a loud crashing sound outside. We looked out of the windows to see baseball-sized hail shattering the windshields of all the cars in the parking lot. The guy at the table next to us had a Blackberry and clicked on his weather app. "There's a huge tornado headed right this way," he informed us. "We are directly in its path."
As the power flickered off and the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance, the employees and customers at the coffee shop ran to the only real "shelter" that the building had—a windowless hallway behind the food prep area. As we huddled uncomfortably in the small space, many of the elementary children began to whimper in fear. Most of their parents weren't there, and they were scared. Eric and his sister began to speak to them in cheerful voices, reassuring and comforting them, and soon they began to lead them in singing several worship songs. An hour later, we finally realized that the tornado had ended, and we ventured outside to survey the damage. Before we drove away in our hail-damaged car, several of the children came up to us to say thank you. They told Eric and his sister, "I was terrified at first, and I thought we were all going to die, but once you started talking and singing in such happy voices, I wasn't afraid anymore."
That experience showed me how powerfully our reaction to difficulty can affect a child's perspective. If we panic, they will panic. If we remain joyfully calm, so will they.
One mom told the story of walking with her one-year-old twins and hearing a loud thunderclap. Startled, her toddlers looked to her face to see how they should respond. She smiled calmly, and they relaxed and smiled too. Mommy wasn't worried, so they shouldn't be either!
I have learned that when our family is hit with difficult or even dire circumstances, the way that I respond is critical. If my kids sense that I am fearful, anxious, and despairing, they will immediately be gripped by fear. But if they sense that I am calmly trusting in God and rejoicing in His faithfulness even when circumstances look grim, they gain the peace and security they need to walk through challenges triumphantly. Children learn what faith is by watching their parents respond to trials with joyful, unwavering confidence.
Here are two key principles that have greatly helped us cultivate this kind of faith-filled attitude in our home:
A few years ago, Eric and I stumbled upon an incredible spiritual principle for responding to trials and challenges…leaping for joy. In Luke 6:22-23, Jesus says that we are to "leap for joy" when we are reviled and hated for His sake, and in Philippians 4:4 Paul exhorts, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!"
Leaping for joy when things are going wrong feels very counterintuitive—especially for someone like me who does not naturally have a "Pollyanna personality."
But I once heard a minister say, "Rejoicing in trials is putting faith into action." When I choose to rejoice in the power and faithfulness of our God no matter what I am facing, it is like saying, "Lord, it doesn't matter if my circumstances say that all hope is lost…I choose to put my hope and confidence in You!"
In order to "leap for joy" when extreme difficulties hit, I've learned that I must keep my eyes fixed upon Him and not the threats and impossibilities that surround me. If I take my eyes off God and become distracted by the circumstances that surround me, I quickly lose my joyful confidence in Him and become paralyzed by fear or despair—like Peter when he attempted to walk on the water to Jesus. But when I keep my eyes squarely fixed upon Him, I can leap for joy no matter what dangers or difficulties I am facing, because I know that it's just another opportunity for Him to demonstrate His power and faithfulness in my life. It's exchanging the "Oh no, look how bad things have gotten!" perspective for one that happily proclaims, "Just watch and see what my God will do!"
When I keep my eyes squarely fixed upon Him, I can leap for joy no matter what dangers or difficulties I am facing.
There is an amazing story that illustrates this truth in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas were arrested for preaching the Gospel. They were cruelly whipped, then thrown into prison, put into stocks, and surrounded by guards. How did they respond? "At midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God." So what was there to praise God about in such a situation? Paul and Silas knew that the more dire the circumstances, the greater the opportunity for God to demonstrate His power and faithfulness, and in that reality they rejoiced. God responded to their faith by showing Himself mighty on their behalf: "Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's bands were loosed" (see Acts 16).
Or how about the incredible story of Elisha standing against the entire Syrian army? His young servant rose early in the morning to see the enemy army surrounding them with horses and chariots. The young man immediately panicked, saying, "Alas my master! What shall we do?" Elisha's response was truly baffling. Calmly and confidently he replied, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." (I can almost imagine the confident grin on Elisha's face when he spoke those astounding words!) Then he prayed for God to open his young servant's eyes. "And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (see 2 Kings 6).
Our God is so much mightier than we often give Him credit for. He is ready and able to defend, protect, and deliver us in all our troubles. But how often do we rob Him of the opportunity to show Himself faithful? Instead of expectantly looking to Him when we face difficulties, we so often keep our eyes on our "dire circumstances" instead of the powerful God that we serve. When we should be calmly rejoicing and eagerly waiting to see what He will do on our behalf, all too often we wallow in despair and hopelessness instead.
I've learned that I cannot expect my children to be strong in faith toward God if I never show them what real faith looks like. So whenever challenges come—as they inevitably do in any serious Christian's life—Eric and I have chosen to make a habit of rejoicing in God's faithfulness, even before His solution is provided, and to do our rejoicing in front of our kids whenever possible!
This is certainly not easy, and definitely requires the supernatural grace of God. When we seem to be facing the impossible, the last thing I want to do is start dancing for joy in front of my children. I mean, what if God doesn't come through? Won't that disillusion their faith? Isn't it better to show my kids how to be cautious rather than confident? After all, I don't want them to become disappointed in God…
But God never disappoints those who put their hope in Him (Psalm 34:5). He honors childlike faith. And He is ready and waiting to show His mighty faithfulness to those who will take Him at His Word. So even when there is a mountain in our way, we have chosen to remain confident in front of our kids, not dampening their faith, but building it up all the more. Time and time again, our kids have witnessed the mighty power of God firsthand as a result.
These days, it's not very popular to share personal accounts of God's faithfulness being demonstrated in our lives. Testimonies of God's power and provision will often be met with remarks like, "Well, that's great that it happened that way for you, but miraculous stories like that are very rare and not every Christian should expect them."
But I have found that reading, sharing, and hearing true stories of God's faithfulness fills me with fresh courage and resolve to trust Him even more with every trial I face. And it helps my kids understand that with God, all things are possible!
On a regular basis, I read or tell my children stories of both modern and historic Christians who have personally witnessed the power of God as they have chosen to rejoice in trials and wait expectantly for His faithfulness to be demonstrated. Some of our family's favorite historical accounts are the stories of Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim, and George Mueller. The Torchlighters Series is a collection of wonderful animated videos about some of the great heroes of the Christian faith, and these are among our kids' favorite edifying movies. In addition, we often read the biographies of these men and women as our kids are eating breakfast.
We also introduce our children to modern day stories of faith. Whenever possible, we surround our kids with faith-filled Christians who constantly share their experiences of seeing the faithfulness of God in their lives. And on family nights, Eric and I often share with our kids the countless ways that we have personally witnessed the power and faithfulness of our God. These simple habits keep our faith strong and help our children grasp the joyful reality that with God, all things are possible!
Are you facing difficult or dire circumstances? Here is a powerful way to respond…leap for joy! Remember that each difficulty is just another great opportunity for God to show Himself strong in your life, and that is more than enough reason to rejoice! Let your children see your joyful confidence in the one true God. If you panic, they will panic. But if you rejoice and wait expectantly for God to deliver you, so will they.
Leap for joy!
2 Chronicles 16:9 says, "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." May we not rob God of the opportunity to prove Himself mighty in our lives. May we show our children the power of rejoicing in the perfect faithfulness of our King!
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