Recently I overheard a mom say of her son, “I just want him to be happy and healthy.” As I listened, I started thinking of how many other parents—including me—have thought the same thing. But I wondered, “What does ‘I want my kids to be happy’ mean?”

As I considered this question, three things came to mind. I want my kids to grow up knowing:

  1. God made them special. 
  2. They can do hard things. 
  3. They are not alone. 

With these three truths under their belt, I hope they will be able to weather life’s storms and make a positive impact in the world.

But passing on these truths isn’t a once-and-done thing. Even knowing my desires for my kids doesn’t stop me from trying to shield them from adversity. In those moments, I need to remind myself that my goal for them isn’t happiness, but rather resilience, fulfillment and a quiet confidence, knowing their identity in Christ.

As parents, it’s natural to want to shelter our children from unnecessary heartaches and disappointments. Of course, it fills me with joy to see my kids’ faces light up with glee and to hear them having fun. But I also know that we can’t always feel that way and that happiness isn’t a very realistic—or helpful—goal.

The promise of baptism is that no matter what happens to us, God is with us and will never let us go. Jesus never promised that our lives would be easy or that we would always be happy.

In fact, our tendency to protect our kids can have a negative impact. By rescuing them from failure or friction with a friend, we actually strip them of the opportunity to stretch their imagination of what they thought they could do or overcome.

When I meet with parents who want to have their child baptized, I tell them baptism isn’t “fire insurance,” something we do in case something bad happens to their child. In contrast, baptism is “life insurance” because their child will inevitably experience hardship.

There’s good news: The promise of baptism is that no matter what happens to us, God is with us and will never let us go. Jesus never promised that our lives would be easy or that we would always be happy. But God did send us the Spirit to remind us that we aren’t alone and, in Christ, we can do hard—and great—things.

That’s part of the reason I wrote my children’s book, Bubble Wrap Girl. When my daughter was 4, she would often get hurt as she ran around and played. I wanted her to know that she was strong, capable and that in Christ she “can do all things” (Philippians 4:13).

Yet I’m often reminded of how much I need this reassurance too. As kids grow older, the stakes get higher. Some people will try to subdue their light or squelch their passions. But I also know that as my husband and I model resilience and talk about how God helps us when we face challenges, we equip our kids with tools to help them bounce back from hardship.

That’s why, as we talk about their day, I often ask, “What did you do that was hard today?” It’s why, as I tuck them into bed at night, I mark them with the sign of the cross and say, “God made you special and I love you very much.” And it’s why, at the end of the day, I ask God for  guidance in parenting, trusting that even when I don’t get it right, God is holding all of us in God’s strong, caring hands.

Kari van Wakeren
Kari van Wakeren is a pastor of First Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Minn., and author of Bubble Wrap Girl (Beaver's Pond Press).

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