We’re lying on the bed, all piled in together listening to the girls tell us about their trip. They giggle and gesture and talk lightning-fast in that way only tween girls can do. 

Our two daughters, London and Eve, have just returned to us after two days away— days spent with their best friend and her mom at a fancy hotel. They ate at restaurants and wandered around a gigantic mall. They ice skated and swam in the hotel pool and stayed up too late watching Dude Perfect videos on their iPads. We hug them and smile, so thankful for the chance to give them good gifts. 

Eve looks up at her dad and asks, “When you were our age did you ever do anything like this?” 

My husband Justin looks at me and smirks. 

“No,” he says. “My family stayed in a hotel once a year on our way to visit family, and my mom saved up coupons from soap wrappers to pay for it.” 

I nod, “When I was your age I’d never stayed in a hotel with an indoor hallway.” 

It’s a privilege to give our kids things we never had growing up. But lying there, holding them tight, we can’t help feeling like not having things was its own kind of gift. 

Not lacking anything

James writes,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

What do I want for my children? I want them to not lack anything.

I can be tempted to think that means giving them things, everything.

But, according to James, if I truly want them not to lack anything, perhaps the best plan is to intentionally withhold a few things.

Sometimes our job as parents is to give good gifts, and sometimes our job as parents is to welcome (or even engineer) trials, benevolently making our kids’ lives harder.

If suffering is the surest path to growth, we don’t want to “protect” our kids from maturity. 

Easier said than done, I know.

If suffering is the surest path to growth, we don’t want to “protect” our kids from maturity.

Healthy hardship

What does it look like to invite healthy hardship into our kids’ lives? It might look like:

  • choosing not to shield them from the consequences of their bad choices
  • encouraging self-control and discipline 
  • teaching them how to give sacrificially of their time and money 
  • making them do uncomfortable things, things they’d rather not— going to visit elderly people at nursing homes, striking up a conversation with other kids who seem lonely or outside, forgiving their sister 
  • constructing a life for your family that doesn’t revolve around the kids 
  • teaching them how to go last

If you have plenty of money, it might look like spending less than you could on clothes or toys or outings, and giving that money away.

It might look like saying no even when you could say yes.

Sometimes hard is good

For our family, it’s looked like enrolling our kids in a struggling public elementary school instead of sending them to private school or the fancier public school up the road. 

At their 80% Hispanic school, our girls learned what it’s like to be in the minority. They learned how to make friends with people who’re different than they are. With most of their fellow students living beneath the poverty line, they learned that lots of people can’t afford Chick-fil-a for lunch. They’re learning to be content with less. 

These days, healthy hardship in the Gerhardt family looks like living internationally, moving from country to country every few months. We yanked our kids out of their solid church youth group, asked them to say goodbye to friends they’d had since preschool, and encouraged them to make new friends in England and Ireland and Croatia.

It was a lot to ask, but nine months in they’re strong, resilient, and amazing at connecting with people. It’s been hard, but both kids would tell you: sometimes hard is good. 

Embracing the path to holiness

As the book of Hebrews draws to a close, we find this instruction about perseverance here on earth: 

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? […] God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-11).

If we want to parent like God parents, we won’t protect our children from every hardship.

Instead we’ll teach them to welcome suffering, to embrace it as the path to holiness.

We’ll walk by their sides like good coaches, cheering them on as they endure painful training, encouraging them with the promise of a harvest of righteousness.