Do Not Lose Heart: Encouragement for Hurting Parents
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”
— 2 Corinthians 4:7–10
Christian parents of LGBTQ+-identified children endure a unique kind of hardship, one that is hard to put into words. Over the years, I have seen countless mothers and fathers overcome with excessive sorrow for their children while feeling isolated and alone, confused about the opposition they are receiving from their children, and desperate for understanding and encouragement from others as they attempt to navigate this path. The picture that Paul paints in 2 Corinthians 4:8 captures the experience of hurting parents perhaps more than any other passage. Just like the Christians in Corinth, these parents feel crushed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.
Mothers and fathers are often desperate to show their children the truth of who God is. They want to be strong and hold unswervingly to the faith, and they are willing to take any means necessary to rescue their sons or daughters. Yet, despite these aspirations, they may find themselves barely holding on. Rather than a place of strength and effective witness, they are in a place of weakness, undone by their children’s situation and at a loss for how to convince them of the truth.
What do we do with all this? How do parents make sense of their experience of weakness and the suffering that has come upon them? How can they be of any use for showing their son or daughter the beauty of who Jesus is? If you are a hurting parent of an LGBTQ+ child, have you ever found yourself wrestling with questions like these?
My hope is to bring some encouragement to you through our exploration of Paul’s words to the church of Corinth, but, to get there, we must first consider how Scripture frames these unique issues in the broader context of suffering and the trials of the Christian life.
Suffering is the Christian experience
Throughout every page of Scripture, we see trials and hardship as commonplace for God’s people. When writing to encourage and strengthen the persecuted church, Peter says plainly, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13). Peter is expressing the uncomfortable truth that fiery trials and suffering are to be expected in the Christian life. This is certainly not an easy pill to swallow, especially when these trials come by means of your own son or daughter. For many parents of an LBGTQ+-identified child, it is normal to want it to all just go away, hoping that somehow this can be a passing phase. Others might simply want a different set of struggles than what they have right now, resentful that their family is dealing with this issue. When we are surprised by the fact that we are experiencing trials, it adds to our grief. Yet Peter challenges us to consider the providence of God in telling us to expect hardship. Then, Peter exhorts us even further: Rejoice because you share in the sufferings of Christ and will be glad when his glory is revealed! In this, we have the invitation to believe something different about the fiery trials and hardship that will surely come our way. We should expect adversity to come and rejoice as we share in Christ sufferings!
Take some time to consider the following questions:
- Are you tempted to be resentful and bitter towards your circumstances, perhaps asking why you must have this particular issue in your family?
- How might you be challenged to grow in your affection for Christ through your suffering? Reflect on Christ as a suffering servant and high priest (Isaiah 53; Hebrews 4:14–5:10).
- What do you think it means to see his glory revealed in your struggle?
Jars of clay
Returning to 2 Corinthians, we find a strange image of treasure in jars of clay. Paul exclaims that we hold within us the invaluable treasure of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Believers are radiant with the light of Christ! Yet this treasure is held in a fragile, weak, finite jar of clay that cracks and break, destined to waste away. What a unique image!
Why would God choose to hold such glorious, invaluable treasure in temporal, fragile vessels? “…To show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Here is a central purpose of God in the life of Christian parents enduring fiery trials with their child: God is displaying his power and glory through your weakness!
He illustrates further, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (4:8–10). You may feel weak and utterly helpless as you endure this journey with your child, inadequate for convincing your child of the truth. But take heart! This is the context in which the life of Jesus will be manifested in you. You are a jar of clay, just as God has purposed it. His grace is sufficient for you, and he delights in making his power perfect through your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Ask yourself the following questions:
- In what ways have you felt inadequate to invoke change in your child?
- How have you seen the power of God sustain you in this season?
- How might others, including your son or daughter, see Christ in you as you walk with him through your weakness and struggles?
Therefore, do not lose heart
In response to these things, Paul leaves us with a beautiful encouragement:
”So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 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 4:16–18).
If you are feeling like a cracked and feeble jar of clay, I encourage you to take heart. The afflictions you are enduring are light and momentary compared to the weight of eternal glory that is to come! We are not promised life without afflictions and trials, but we are promised the strength and power to persist through them. Though you feel weak, God is faithful and will reveal his power and glory through you. I pray that your child might see Christ most clearly in your perseverance through the race marked out for you.