When Your Legacy is Shattered

Years ago at a church where I was serving we had a speaker that had written some helpful books on children’s ministry and fiction books specifically for that age group.   I was standing at the book table with one of our men looking at the various titles and my friend turned to me and wistfully said, “I wish there were some books here on what to do when you have failed as a parent”.

I was taken back by his comment because he was a good man and took parenting his children seriously.     As we talked for a moment I could feel his deep grief and guilt.   It got me to thinking that many parents are very discouraged over the lack of influence they are having in the lives of their kids and feel like failures.

All of us have dreams for our children.   It goes with the territory of parenting.  The problem is that the dreams did not include a part of life that is real – the nature of sin in all of us, even in our children.     Mixed in with the joy, excitement and privilege of being a parent is dealing with pain, disappointment, and shame from rebellion and wrong choices they make sometimes.

As we held them for the first time these thoughts never entered our mind.    But as they grew older our wholesome aspirations and dreams became a nightmare.   (This is difficult for any parent, but particularly so to those that have been very intentional about training their children).    We tend to blame ourselves for the failure of our children and, sometimes, other people make accusations about our parenting that hurt us very much.    (Unsolicited advice is a form of criticism).

The theme of my posts for the past five weeks has been on leaving a meaningful legacy in the lives of our children and grandchildren.    My heart has been to be an encouragement and help.    However, when you are not seeing a legacy established that honors the Lord or is reflective of your training it hurts deeply.

No one is harder on themselves than a parent that has worked hard at it and done the best they could.  Ted Camp said, “The greatest joy in the world is seeing your children turn out right and the greatest hurt in the world is seeing your children turn out wrong”.

As I close out this emphasis of establishing a godly legacy I want to address this issue that many face – what does one do when they feel their legacy is shattered?

Remember that the goal is not a legacy.   A legacy is a byproduct of other factors.  It is a journey, not a destination.    If we become consumed with a certain type of legacy the inevitable result is pride or discouragement, depending on the result.   Our task is to obey and honor the Lord, not to be praised for the work we have done as parents. 

Usually in a football game that ends in blowout score, the team that won isn’t necessarily that good and the team that lost isn’t all that bad.   The reality is somewhere between.   I think parenting is like that.   We really aren’t that good because our children turned out well. – nor are we that bad because they made some foolish choices.

When you aren’t seeing the results you desire and expect, focus on present responsibilities that can help move them toward future success – no matter what their age is.   God will honor His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11).

Remember that no one has a perfect, ideal legacy.    Part of our legacy and story that helps others is how we have dealt with setbacks and failures.   It is easy to establish ideals when you do not have to deal with realities.    Years ago I read that “idealism increases in direct proportion to your distance from the problem”.

Some of the most idealistic people on parenting are those that have no children.   It is simple to solve a problem when you are not facing it or having to deal with the consequences.   John Wilmot wrote, “Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now I have six children and no theories”.    (He wrote this in the mid-1600’s!)

Of course, we have the Bible to guide us in the matter of parenting, but it is not an easy task; in fact, I believe both the most significant and the most difficult thing we will ever do is to train our children properly.

Quit trying to be the perfect parent.    Consider this, God put Adam and Eve in a perfect environment and they still rebelled against Him.    He was the ultimate Father, never failed in any expression of love or ever disappointed those He created, yet, His authority was rejected.    Why do you think your track record is going to be any better with all of the mistakes you will make through the years as a parent?

God can take a mess and make a blessing out of it.    He can use our detours for our good and His glory.   Moses’ dream appeared to be shattered, but it wasn’t.   Joseph’s dream looked like it was dead, but it wasn’t.   Simon Peter felt like his ministry was over when he denied our Lord, but it wasn’t.   John Mark was written off by the Apostle Paul, but God wasn’t finished with him.

Keep the big picture and stay humble so God can bless you.   (Nothing can humble you like your children).

Never give up on your kids.   God’s grace brings cleansing and forgiveness, but also hope for a better day!   The Bible says in Romans 5:20 – “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”.     Continue to sow seeds into their lives.   Those seeds may blossom and come to fruition even after you are gone when your child finally gets things right with the Lord.   (Read Luke 15:11-21).

I believe in Heaven from an eternal perspective we will be surprised at how what we thought was hopeless and totally bad turned out to be a great blessing.   This surely includes our parenting and times when we felt that our dreams for our children were shattered.

I was in the home of a well-known preacher many, many years ago and he was dying of cancer.    We visited and talked for a long while and when it was time to go we walked into the living room where he had a very large bay window that overlooked a long driveway from his house to the main road.   He told of how his adult children had just visited him the day before and that one of them had stayed behind to talk to him.    His son began to weep and seek his father’s forgiveness because of the wild life he had lived in his early years.   My preacher friend told me that as his children and their families began to leave in their vehicles down the long driveway that he and his wife stood at the window, embraced and watched them depart.   He told his wife, “You know, honey, there are other preachers that have tried harder to raise their children for the Lord than we have, but our kids have done well.   They love the Lord and have good families.   It’s really all of God’s grace”.  

I couldn’t agree more with my preacher friend.   We do have our parental responsibilities, but it is God’s grace that enables us to succeed as parents and we must rest in His grace to nurture the truths we have put into their hearts.

Be encouraged, dear friend, if you are struggling with a child.   Obey the Lord.   Humble yourself.   Forget about your reputation and love them.   Pray and rest in God’s grace.

I love the lyric by Steve Chapman in his song, “You Will Always Be Mine”.    It’s an appropriate way to sign off on this topic.

“You were born to me, I was there,
and I remember your mother’s pain;                                                                                                        I was very proud to let you have my name.                                                                                           But I want you to know wherever you go                                                                                            And whatever you do;                                                                                                                                    If you’re the president or a prisoner                                                                                                      You are my child, and I will always love you.

You will always be mine                                                                                                                           And you can lean on me any time;                                                                                                 Whatever you do I will always love you,                                                                                               You will always be mine.    

And I’m living for the day                                                                                                                     When I hear you say,                                                                                                                           ‘Daddy I’ve been born again’;                                                                                                                 And the Savior will tell you what I’m telling you now,                                                                    ‘Cause I got the words from Him.

He’s be saying ‘You will always be Mine;                                                                                             You can lean on Me anytime.                                                                                                               Whatever you do I will always love you,                                                                                               You will always be Mine'”.

(Visit Steve and Annie’s website for some great music that will bless your family – steveandanniechapman.com).

About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 41 years with seven children and nine grandchildren.
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