One of the purposes of Advent is to nurture the habit of waiting, the spiritual fruit of patience as we wait for something better.
When Paul says that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4), he acknowledges that waiting may be painful but it also produces good fruit. It makes us better people, the kind of people God created us to be.
It’s often difficult to know how to apply this truth when it comes to helping our adult children and grandchildren, especially when so many of us as parents have so much. Some of us wonder, when are we financially helping our kids too much? And when too little? There was a time that I resented my parents for not helping us financially when we really needed help as a young family. But now, have my wife and I maybe gone too far the other way in not allowing our children to struggle and wait a bit more?
I was helped by a long phone conversation I had recently with a Jim, a friend of mine since college days. Jim lives in Florida and was explaining that Shelley, their daughter, is doing pretty well now. Rebuilding her life after years of drug addiction and imprisonment has not been easy. But she now works at Taco Bell as a manager, has her own modest travel trailer, and has an ebike to get back and forth to work.
I was elated to hear about the turnaround in Shelley’s life. I also told Jim that I was curious to understand why he doesn’t help her more financially. He can afford it. Wouldn’t her life be easier if she had a car? Or a little bigger trailer? I mostly admired his restraint and wanted to understand it better.
Jim explained that Shelley likes her simple life right now. She actually turned down a promotion at Taco Bell that would have required her to buy a car. She spends a lot of time at the Salvation Army helping others in their addiction recovery. She doesn’t have to worry about car insurance, crippling car repairs or carbon footprint. She has a community at the trailer park. Life is simple.
When I wondered out loud whether I’ve maybe been too quick to swoop in and fix things for my kids, especially when it involves writing out a check, Jim told me about the day Shelley was released from prison. I will never forget it.
He had already reminded me of how bad things had gotten with Shelley before prison, how he and his now deceased wife had been forced to move into a gated condominium community in Florida to keep Shelley from breaking in and stealing from them. He explained how Shelley dropped out of their life for years. Jim knew she was in prison but they had no contact. “And get this, Duane. The day Shelley was released from prison, the state of Florida gave her $100 in cash and a bus ticket to the Florida city of her choice. hat’s it. She had no place to go and no one to turn to for help.”
Shelley survived. And eventually Shelley initiated contact with her dad. Their relationship has become more than either of them could have asked for or imagined. “And of course,” Jim says, “I have helped her with some things. I bought the ebike and she made payments back to me so she didn’t have to keep renting one. I helped her with a plane ticket and motel when she wanted to see her son in Baltimore for a special occasion. But Duane, I am so proud of Shelley, and she is so proud of herself, for how far she has come. Why would I want to get in the way of such a beautiful work of God in her life? I honestly don’t believe swooping in to relieve Shelley of the misery that goes with having little would have made her a better, more beautiful person than she is today.” I was humbled. And in awe of the way God works.
Today Shelley and Jim are soul mates. Though Shelley doesn’t use the words of faith, she knows the music of faith; She has experienced death and resurrection, forgiveness and love, patience and trust. She lives to help others. Her life has purpose. Her life is anything but easy. But what more could one want for her, especially if “more” subtracted from the beautiful things in her life right now?
It is confusing to live in a world of abundance. Especially in this Advent season, I need to be reminded and to really believe that indeed “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”