By Kim Longden
A few weeks ago my son’s goldfish died. Bubbles the Fish had been struggling for a few days, and at the ripe old age of three had lived a good, long life. We knew the end was coming and did our best to be straightforward with our son, who was understandably devastated. This was his first pet and had been his little buddy for almost a third of his life.
One morning during those last days of Bubbles’ life I asked my son if he’d like to have prayer time in his room after family devotions. He said yes, so we all filed in and said our prayers around the tiny fish tank. This became our routine the next few mornings while Bubbles grew weaker and weaker, but still held on. These morning prayer times always ended with my son sobbing on his bed in my arms.
Each day my mind deliberated over what I could do to fix this. Bubbles was inevitably dying, and my son was distraught. Should I offer to get a new fish? No; too soon. Should I have softened the reality of what was happening? No; that wouldn’t be honest. I had to accept that this was one of those times when I couldn’t fix it for my child, and that is such a tough place to be!
As moms we get pretty good at fixing things for our kids, especially when they’re little. It feels good to see their eyes light up, to make the pain go away—to be their hero. Encountering times when we can’t fix things for our kids is disorientating and heartbreaking. I often find myself grasping for a way—any way—to make things right.
Several years ago, I was posed with a thought-provoking question regarding my exhausting resolve to fix everything and the resulting frustration at my inability to do so: “If you could fix everything for your kids 100% of the time and make their lives perfect, then why would they need Jesus?” This question made me step back and look at my constant mode of running interference in a new way.
Maybe problems weren’t always obstacles for mom to fix, but also opportunities for Jesus to work. My goal was to make my children’s problems disappear. But was it my role to be the ultimate hero? Was this really for the best?
And what about those inevitable times when I couldn’t fix it?
I felt anger over the loss of control rather than trusting Jesus. I tried every which way to fix it instead of believing that Jesus could work good through hardships in my children’s lives just as He has in mine.
What if I admitted my inability to fix everything and got out of the way now and then—would my kids see more of Jesus’ work in their lives?
I began praying for discernment to know when to fix it and when to get out of the way. Not long after I encountered a situation giving me an opportunity to pause before swooping in with my superhero cape.
We were in the car leaving church on a Sunday afternoon when one of my middle children burst into tears. Apparently, all the other kids had been given something at church that day: a sheet of stickers from a sweet grandma, a hand-me-down sweatshirt from a teenage friend, a trading card from a buddy, etc. It’s not abnormal that our kids receive goodies from our church family—they are a generous bunch!—but it just so happened that each child had received something except for this one. My own middle-child-heart hurt for my son who felt left out and unseen. So I started to come up with a plan to even things out for him.
But then in the back of my mind I thought, “Maybe this is one of those things I shouldn’t try to fix. Maybe I should trust that Jesus will work through this somehow.” And the reality was, we had company coming over, so there was nothing I could do at that point, anyway. I tried my best to comfort him without offering solutions, and we drove home with the situation unresolved.
Moments after we pulled in the driveway our company arrived. It was cousins coming over to play! And they had a surprise just for this middle child—bags of clothes and toys that his older cousin had outgrown. My son, who had been heartbroken five minutes earlier, was now smiling ear to ear. And really, it was not so much about the stuff, but that he had also been shown a special kindness and no longer felt left out.
This was so much better than any kind of patchwork I could’ve put on the situation. God had been working behind the scenes with this perfect timing! I had no idea they were bringing anything, and of course they had no idea what had just happened at church.
I couldn’t help but see what Jesus was showing me (and my son)! My kids have a perfect Heavenly Father who is active in their lives, and in mine. Our loving God is already orchestrating things I could never dream of. When I can’t fix everything for my kids, I can trust that the same Savior who works all things for my good is doing the same for them.
It’s remembrances of how God has reached into countless situations since then—big and small—that helped me be still and hold my son during those sad mornings when his pet fish was dying rather than feverishly throwing out ineffective solutions. I don’t know exactly what Jesus is doing in my son’s heart through this loss, but I can trust that He is working.
In His graciousness, Jesus has given me glimpses of good, though. I saw my older kids show unprompted compassion to their younger brother in his sadness, even though they didn’t totally understand. I saw a friend from church give my son a sympathy card which validated his grief. I saw my husband stay in our son’s room all night as a steadfast presence when he could tell the end was near. Like the clothes and toys my middle child received when he felt left out, I think Jesus gives us these glimpses of good to remind us that He’s working.
No, we couldn’t “fix” it; Bubbles still died. But we could be present, and trust that there is always more going on than we can see.
As my kids get older, I’m realizing that surrendering my need to fix everything and trusting these scenarios to Jesus is something I’ll be invited to cling to over and over again as situations get more complex. Rather than setting out to save each day, I’m learning to pause and ask God to show me when to jump in and when to step back. I’m asking for the Holy Spirit to give me grace to point my kids to Jesus instead of trying to be their savior myself.
Each situation is different, and I often find myself slipping back into superhero-cape-and-savior-mode. But these glimpses I see of my kids’ perfect Heavenly Father working in their lives help me trust more and more. These are God’s children, and our Father is faithful.
I can’t fix everything, but rather than feeling frustrated with this, I can have peace remembering that in all things—which includes the things mom can’t fix—God works for the good of those who love Him.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”