The Permission Slip of Suffering

When God Calls Your Child into Danger

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In the early 1800s, a particular young man fell in love with a girl. Per her request, he wrote to her parents asking for their blessing to marry their daughter. Though young love usually involves sweet words and romance, Adoniram Judson wrote the most unromantic letter a parent could receive. 

To the parents of Ann Hasseltine, Adoniram wrote: 

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.

Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair.

Adoniram’s lack of sentiment wasn’t due to an absence of love. Instead, history tells us Mr. Judson was quite smitten by Ann’s beauty, charm, and vivacity. But young Adoniram was a man of purpose. His passion was the gospel, and his goal was to reach Burma for Christ. This was no small task in 1810, and very likely would cost his life — and the life of any woman willing to be his wife. 

As expected, this was a hard letter for the Hasseltines to receive. They chose to let Ann decide whether it was the life she wanted. After a couple months of deliberation, Ann said yes. Within two years, Adoniram and Ann Judson were married and set sail for India. Needless to say, suffering and hardship were descriptive of their journey, their ministry, their life, and eventually, their death.

A Warm Reception to a Chilling Possibility

When I first read Adoniram’s letter, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would respond in the Hasseltines’ shoes. I love my children deeply. It hurts to imagine them hurting. It would pain me, even more, to willingly consent to their suffering. This “yes” to Adoniram’s proposition would not be my natural response.

However, we Christian parents embody a paradoxical kind of love. In many ways, it stems from our intense love for God — which doesn’t lessen our love for our kids, but rather, changes it.

Our affection is first and foremost Godward. In fact, this is a prerequisite to Christianity. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus says, “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Appropriate love for God must exceed our love for our kids. This counter-cultural affection will produce an unrelenting passion for seeing God’s work accomplished — even in ways that may appear entirely contrary to the “well-being” of our children.

A profound love for our kids should also compel us to say, “Yes.” The greatest good for our kids isn’t that they be successful, problem-free, or comfortable. Instead, we want them to live for something far greater than themselves (2 Corinthians 5:15). We hope they gladly trade in worldly delights for heavenly ones (Matthew 6:20). We want them to become Christ followers ready to obey him and go anywhere, at any cost, for his fame (Matthew 16:24). What could be a more fulfilling or rewarding privilege than giving up the temporary pleasures of this life to reach souls for the next (Mark 10:29–31)? 

Though such a letter may initially bring tears, it should simultaneously bring great joy!

Letting Go

One of the hardest tasks we have as parents is the duty to let go. And letting go is a duty. It may not come in the form of an Adonirum-like proposal, but, in one way or another, it will come. You might feel it when you first drop them off in the church nursery, or on the first day of Kindergarten. You may feel the weight when they go off to college, or when they say “I do.”

For the benefit of our children, we must learn to let go.

Some of us will be called to an even higher degree of relinquishing. We may have to grapple with sacrifice like Hannah, who voluntarily gave her firstborn for the work of the Lord (1 Samuel 1:22). Some of us will need to trust God like Abraham, whose joyful obedience to God outweighed his love for his son (Genesis 22:1–8). The prospect may seem heart-breaking, but if God calls you to the task, he’ll enable you to do it (Isaiah 41:10).

Ultimately, we must pray that we would love God so deeply, his work so passionately, and our children so purely, that sacrifice for Christ is regarded a privilege (Acts 5:41).

Just Say Yes 

When we resolve to one day say yes, it has present implications. The unimportant begins to slip through the cracks. It helps us filter our goals (and activities, lessons, and schedules) through the scope of eternity. It helps us reorient our dreams and hopes for our children.

If we get the opportunity to say yes, we can be sure we won’t regret it. For all of eternity we will be with every person our child won with the good news. Perhaps there will even be “acclamations of praise” coming from “heathens saved,” as Adoniram predicted.

May we be a generation of parents who can say “Yes” out of an intense love for God and a paradoxically deep love for our children.

(@HeatherEPace) is a pastor’s wife, homemaker, and mother of four. Heather and her husband, Lucas, serve at Compass Bible Church in Aliso Viejo, California. You can find her writing at Truth 4 Women.