A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse

A heart for those who want more of God. A desperate plea for those who don't.

Monday, April 18, 2011

When the Child Holds a Mirror to the Face of the Parent

My son has been created with a tender heart towards suffering. He cannot turn away from it. The reality grips him and he is driven with a need to help. It is a clear mark of his formation bearing God’s image, and his sensitivity – and His sensitivity – blows me away when I am chosen to observe it in action.

He is only 7.

I can already envision the ways God may use him as an agent of healing in this world. And I can also envision ways in which this tender heart of his may be immersed in pain as he’s continually confronted with such sorrow. But I have to want it for him, if it is indeed what his life is created for, as much as that may bring a differing sorrow to me.

He also must confront the sinful, selfish nature equally driving him (and all of us) in order to live in God’s purposes. His failure to do this, I know, will create a measure of sorrow far more devastating than whatever pain his obedience may bring.

My sweet boy. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit right around his birthday. He had been saving up his money - $67 thus far – to buy a Nintendo DS. One evening, my husband showed him some pictures of the devastation......homes, vehicles being overtaken in the waves......people crying out in terror......and explained to him what had happened. After the kids were in bed, my husband came down and told me that our son was so overcome by what he saw that he said “I think they need my help more than I need a DS”.

I can still picture what I know his little face must’ve looked like. I’ve seen that look before, like last year, when he gave what he had to help the people in Haiti after the earthquake hit there.

There’s so much beauty to behold in his example.......the selflessness of giving up his dream to help another.......his belief that what he had – whether little or much – in God’s hands, could stretch in ways that we could never fathom. I forcibly resisted the protective parental urge to tell him only to give some money and keep the rest for himself, as I also longed to see him reach his goal and be happy. How dare I even consider quenching the gift of giving that has been planted inside him!

Immediately, though, I felt an even greater longing inside to find some special way to bless him for what he wanted to do, and I began sharing with nearly everyone about the wonderful way my son wanted to help. A friend was touched; she felt the desire to give her daughter’s DS that she no longer used to my son as a way of encouraging his giving spirit, and I started seeing how the domino effect of freely giving was taking shape because of his spark. I decided not to tell him of this.....that he should feel the pain of loss for a couple of days in order to truly absorb the overwhelming magnificence of timely blessing when he was given the DS. My husband and I then decided that we would let him pick out two games he wanted and we would pay for them, as our own way of blessing him for his incredible selflessness. I couldn’t wait for all of this to unfold.

And then something very awkward happened.

My son changed his mind. He said he only wanted to give $15 now. He really wanted a DS.

But it wasn’t the awkwardness now of potentially having to retell the story when asked that saddened me. It was the realization that his initial inclination to give was an act of obedience. He felt a call in his heart towards giving all he could to alleviate the suffering he saw before him, and the serpent’s voice had spoken to him in the two days that had passed, reminding him of what he would be missing out on if he actually, really gave all. And that is the voice he chose to listen to. As we all do. Every so often we have to stop seeing our young children as our children and look at them as fellow believers, struggling on their own journeys.

We thought deeply on how we should handle this. I was determined to not at all attempt to make him feel guilty. If there’s no joy in giving, it really doesn’t mean much to God, and I did not want him to feel compelled to give anything. This had been entirely his idea from the get-go. And his still wanting to give some of his money was very generous and something that not all people would be willing to do, but this wasn’t about the specifics of what he wanted to give. It was about following through on a calling. I knew he needed to understand what had happened inside of him.

Delicately, I asked him to go back to the moment when he felt the desire to give......to remember the images he saw and the feeling inside he had that prompted him to want to help. I told him whatever he felt he should do in that moment is what he should do now. And then I told him that no matter what he decided to do, I would love him and I was proud of him. I did not tell him about my friend’s DS that was on its way into his life. I didn’t want his decision to be based on what he might potentially receive for his actions.

After a little while, he came out of his room and told me he still was only going to give $15. He really wanted a DS. And then he backpedaled and said that he never really meant that he was going to give it all. But we knew better. We knew what he said. We knew the sadness that struck his face when confronted with the horror of loss. I told him that if that was his decision than that was fine, and that it was a great thing that he wanted to help. It was then that I told him about my friend and her DS and how she wanted to bless him for giving. The light inside him illuminated the room. I told him then, though, that he had to be honest about how he changed his mind if he was asked. He said he would throw in another $10 now, since he didn’t have to save up for one anymore. How much easier it is to give when we already know what our benefit will be if we do so.

So Sunday came, we went to church, and my friend told me that she brought the DS. I told her what had happened and that our son was to be honest with her if he was asked. She still wanted to bless him, though, for his wanting to give. Her daughter approached him with the DS, told her how proud she was of him for giving, and he smiled a hero’s smile the rest of the day.

And later, we took him to a store and he used his leftover money to buy a charger and a game, and that wiped out his savings.

We never told him of our intent to purchase two games for him. He’ll never know how he would’ve been blessed for his full obedience.

That was my lesson.

Our duty as parents is not to work for and place our hope and happiness into our children’s dreams being fulfilled in their lives. It is to do what we can to encourage and prepare them to joyfully abandon their own dreams, and wholeheartedly choose God’s dreams for them in their place.

That I would have the strength to leave my son abandoned on the altar, moving however far away God calls me to in order to allow Him to use my boy as He would so choose and not interfere. That my son one day will willingly climb upon it himself.


  1. What an amazing story. I know when I get to heaven and can see in full, there will be many blessings I missed out on, like his missing out on the 2 extra games. I'm consistently learning new lessons from my children. Great post.

  2. What wisdom and restraint you showed allowing your child to be a child in his struggle with wanting to give and wanting to have! I am impressed with his heart for the suffering and his wisdom in seeing that one person can do something! He will benefit so much from the way you talked him through it all and allowed him to make his own choices.

  3. Thank you, both. This whole thing still makes my heart bleed a little......welled up with pride for who he is and yet sad for what I know he missed out on. Parenting is the surest mirror we have of God's character.

  4. What an insight into human nature and how to help our little ones navigate growing up spiritually. Great post.