At 11 and 14, our kids were fully aware of the gravity of the news my wife and I were about to share. They sat motionless at the kitchen table, waiting.
At first, I struggled to find the words. Then I just said it.
“It looks like we’re moving to Arkansas.”
As they absorbed the blow, I watched them shrink before my eyes. They looked so small, so fragile. Moving was the worst news they could have imagined.
In a testament to New York public schools, our children had no idea where Arkansas was. One of them didn’t even know it was part of the United States. They were completely unprepared to move to an area with a 96% drop in population. So were we.
That day, we began a journey that would take more than three years to complete.
A strange new world
Moves are disruptive. They tear us away from the familiar and leave us lonely and uncertain.
After a move, everything feels more complicated and urgent. We visit the DMV, set up our utilities, research doctors, and talk to teachers. We get stuck in traffic the locals know to avoid. Then we find ourselves on the receiving end of road rage as we struggle to determine the right exit. Stress challenges our sensibilities, and we live on the knife’s edge between anger and tears.
And we’re the adults.
As I saw shock sweep across my children’s faces, I knew they would need my help processing this change. But how could I help them when I had my own emotions to deal with? With everything that needed to be done, how would I even find the time?
The move was painful for our family, but the journey taught us a few things.
We needed to be confident in our direction.
If we were going to put our family through such a drastic change, we needed to be sure God was the One directing our steps. Before telling our children, we spent time praying for clarity and seeking godly counsel.
Our kids’ opinions and emotions matter deeply to us. But as parents, it’s our responsibility to listen to God and obey His will, not the will of our children. A family is not a democracy. Once we knew what God wanted from us, we had to make the tough call. Even if it made our children unhappy.
The rock-solid assurance that we were following God’s will enabled us to endure the long, difficult days ahead.
“And [Moses] said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here’” (Exodus 33:15).
We needed to be clear.
In my attempt to ease the blow, I said, “It looks like we’re moving.” Unfortunately, my then 11-year-old interpreted that statement as, “There’s a chance we won’t be moving.” Even after pictures were stripped from the walls, and boxes lined the living room, our son held out hope that we would stay.
I let my fears over my children’s reaction strip my words of clarity, and my son paid the price. Even if the message is painful, parents need to communicate clearly.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
Everything would NOT be alright.
I knew God would ultimately use our experience for good, but the immediate future was not promising. Our kids were about to lose the only home they had ever known, along with their friends, cousins, school, youth groups, and even their dog. There was no getting around it. This was going to hurt.
We chose not to patronize them with statements like “It’s going to be great!” or “Don’t worry, you’ll find even better friends!” We didn’t want to lose credibility by making promises we couldn’t keep. Instead, we openly discussed the loss they felt.
On our last day in the house, we sat on the floor of our empty living room with extended family and shared memories. Our mini “memorial service” gave everyone the opportunity to begin the mourning process.
In this environment, we were able to help each other. Since we were all going through it together, there was no need to hide our emotions. Our kids saw us cry, heard us complain, and listened to us express our fears. In an age-appropriate way, we let them know they were not alone in their pain.
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6:6).
Our kids needed our presence more than a sermon.
As parents, we want to “kiss the boo-boo” and make it all better. In a Christian context, this often results in over-spiritualizing every situation. We try to fast forward through the pain and go straight to the glories promised to us in heaven. But this often comes across as uncaring and out of touch.
Even if what we say is theologically accurate, timing matters. Pain often softens the heart and prepares it to receive the truth. We can’t rush the process. Trust God to use their current pain for His purposes. Give your kids the gift of your presence and save the sermon for a later time.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
We needed to not overcompensate.
The last thing we wanted to do was discipline our kids for responding to a situation we created. But we also didn’t want to overcompensate for our guilt by giving them too much freedom.
Some days we could tell they needed extra grace, but other days they needed correction. We had to pay close attention to their emotional state to discern the appropriate response on any given day.
“It’s OK for you to disagree, but it’s not OK for you to be disrespectful.”
“It’s OK for you to cry, but it’s not OK to hide in your room all day.”
“It’s OK for you to wait to join the youth group, but it’s not OK for you to stay home from church on Sunday.”
In the end, our goal was to teach them to trust God more than it was to have them behave in a certain way.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV).
God is big enough to handle their pain.
I love that my kids come to me with their troubles, but if I never teach them to take their troubles to God, I’ve failed them.
When our daughter struggled to find her place in a new school, my impulse was to encourage her to make as many new friends as possible. But then I would have squandered the opportunity to help her connect with the only One who could really fill the void she felt.
So instead of trying to fix things for her, I read her a devotional on sadness and grief each night before bed. I prayed for her and encouraged her to continue praying after I left the room.
Sometimes it’s difficult to trust that God will work in our kids’ lives independently of us, but He can and He does.
Now when our daughter finds herself facing a tough situation, she knows how to find the answers in God’s Word.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We all needed permission to dream again.
When we lose things we love unexpectedly, it can be easy to adapt a “why bother?” attitude.
Why spend time making new friends, if you might lose them?
Why work on fixing the house, if you might move?
To combat this attitude, we created a dream wall in the kitchen where we could post our dreams. Some, like the picture of a cherry red 1965 Mustang convertible my son posted, might be a long shot. But it helped us to visualize possibilities and look to the future with hope.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
God never promised us a pain-free life. What He did promise was His presence and comfort. When we walk through pain with our kids, we model what a relationship with God ultimately looks like.
The move was hard for our family. It took just over three years before everyone in the family was OK. But through it, we grew closer to each other and closer to God. With results like that, I’d do it all again.
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