Just recently I heard of two high school seniors who received long awaited news about applications to their desired institutions of higher learning. Although they had worked hard and met the many goals it took to qualify, the results were not the ones they or their parents hoped for. There was a time I might have sent this condolence:

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

The above phrase was likely derived from the verse below. However, the word used in Romans 8 is “purpose” rather than “plan”. For me, that word choice makes a vast difference. God’s “purpose” does not limit him to a rigid set of worldly goals or “plans” to guide us where he wants us to go.

…we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose… Romans 8:28 NET

As parents, it has sometimes been a challenge for my husband and I, not only to encourage our daughter to follow Jesus, but also for us to avoid taking the role of the Holy Spirit in determining her precise vocation. The following story in the lives of Abraham and Sarah reminds me that we are not alone in discerning where our responsibility lies.

If you want to fully understand the event highlighted below, the backstory is found in Genesis chapters 11-20. Like many of us, Abraham and Sarah fumbled some crucial faith decisions. The result was that Abraham ended up with a spare slave wife (Hagar) as well as a spare, surrogate, older son (Ishmael). By the time Abraham and Sarah had the son God promised (Isaac), Abraham had invested a preponderance of his fatherly affection, energy, and training on his surrogate son.

The child [Isaac] grew and was weaned. Abraham prepared a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah noticed the son of Hagar the Egyptian—the son whom Hagar had borne to Abraham—mocking. So she said to Abraham, “Banish that slave woman and her son, for the son of that slave woman will not be an heir along with my son Isaac!”

Sarah’s demand displeased Abraham greatly because Ishmael was his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be upset about the boy or your slave wife. Do all that Sarah is telling you because through Isaac your descendants will be counted. But I will also make the son of the slave wife into a great nation, for he is your descendant too.” Genesis 21:8-13 NET

This part of their story reflects how the dreams of all human parents for their children can get out of focus. Just as Abraham had developed a strong, emotional attachment to Ishmael and envisioned his destiny, we too might hope God will meet our aspirations for a treasured child.

As Christian parents, we are both responsible and privileged to take the primary role in providing Godly guidance and care for our children in their formative years. But the Holy Spirit independently confirms his destiny for our adult children. Still, parents are called to pray for their children as well as provide influence toward God’s purpose for them. Ultimately parents must trust God for the outcome even if, at times, the path of an adult child appears dubious.

Do you have a treasured child, now an adult, in whom you have invested a significant amount of your emotional energy? Has that individual not yet met your estimate of their kingdom potential? That person may not be your biological child, but your affection may be strong. Focus on a photo of him or her as you pray for that person’s place in God’s kingdom. Ask God to give you his peace.