Trusting God with Your College Student

Note: If your kids aren’t quite ready for college, you might want to check out a couple of posts from the archives. Click here for some tips on hosting a back-to-school prayer party and here for some timeless wisdom from bestselling author Rebekah Lyons and Moms in Prayer president Sally Burke, who talked with me about how we can help our kids when they struggle with worry or fear.

Back to school prayers

I remember telling my father that I wanted to attend the University of Virginia. The school had recently topped Playboy magazine’s annual catalog of the “best” college party spots, and my dad was understandably concerned. Making matters worse (for me) was the fact that one of his closest friends–a minister–had sent his son to U.Va., and the fella had gotten into all kinds of mischief. “I wouldn’t send my dog to that school,” the minister had warned, and I thought I was doomed.

Two things, though, worked in my favor. The first was the fact that I knew the minister’s son, and he turned out okay. He had graduated, gotten married, and then gone to seminary. God clearly had his hand on that boy’s life, and I figured he could watch out for me too.

The second thing I had was a working knowledge of Scripture and a willingness to use it, even out of context: “‘Where sin abounded,'” I told my father, quoting Romans 5:20, “‘grace did much more abound.’

“Come on, Dad,” I said. “Don’t you want me to go to a school where God’s grace abounds?”

I won in the end (probably more because U.Va. was the least expensive school on my list than because of the whole sin-and-grace thing) and as it turned out, U.Va. had–and still has–a thriving Christian community. God blessed me with two very smart (and pretty funny) roommates who posted party-relevant SAT words and Bible verses in our apartment foyer (corybantic described “frenzied and unrestrained” dance moves; Proverbs 23 warned of “needless bruises” and other perils of drinking), where anyone who stopped by could read them. Between their friendship and God’s mercy (and despite my making a boatload of stupid decisions), I graduated, got a job, married Robbie, and never thought much about the college party culture again.

Until my own kids grew up.

Could God be trusted to care for my college daughter?

Dropping our eldest, Hillary, off at college–amid a sea of red Solo cups–I had all sorts of questions. Had the party scene gotten worse? Would she be exposed to a lot of drugs? Sexual pressure? Worldviews and social norms that ran counter to the way she’d been raised? And was the same God who had kept both me and the minister’s kid from falling into a spiritual (or physical!) ditch still on the job? Could I trust him to care for my daughter?

Pretty much the only answer I was sure about was that yes, God was still on the job, and that he could be trusted. Suddenly, though, all of the Bible promises about God being “with us” seemed more important than ever. I found myself praying verses like Joshua 1:9 over my girl: Do not let Hillary be afraid or discouraged. Be with her wherever she goes.

I asked God to help her be alert and sober-minded, able to resist the devil and stand firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8-9).

And I prayed for wisdom and discernment, so that Hillary would be equipped to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I asked God for all sorts of things–physical health and safety, good friendships, academic success–taking God at his word when he tells us to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. And, when I’d get weary or wonder if my prayers were making a difference, I drew courage from Jesus’ exhortation that we should “always pray and not give up.”

(That last verse, Luke 18:1, is especially helpful when you send a child to college and they don’t call or text you for more than a week.)

(Ask me how I know.)

Pray with the destination in mind

I think one of the keys to praying effectively “on all occasions” (and to persevering in prayer when everything in you wants to give up) is to be destination oriented, rather that process oriented. We need to leave room for God to move however he chooses. The goal when we pray for our kids–whether we’re sending them off to the first day of preschool or the last year of college–is that they will have a saving relationship with Jesus, one that increasingly informs and animates their thoughts, words, and deeds.

The goal when we pray for our kids

Some of our children will get to God (or get back to God) by walking the straight and narrow; for others, the path may be crooked, painful, and even sometimes dangerous. I talked with one mom who is convinced that God sometimes takes our kids down paths we would not have chosen to keep us from patting ourselves on the back. “We cannot glory-steal from God,” she says. “When our kids come to Christ in a way that only he could have arranged because it looks nothing like we would have hoped for or envisioned, we are much more inclined to give him the credit.”

When you pray for your children in this big-picture way, you trust him to accomplish his best purposes in their lives, no matter how many detours they take, or how many times they may get tripped up along the way. As you pray, though, remember that our kids aren’t the only ones who will face temptation. We will too.

We’ll be tempted to blame ourselves for our kids’ mistakes and second-guess our parenting choices.

We’ll be tempted to live in a world of regrets and “if onlys”, ignoring God’s power (and his desire) to redeem.

And when it looks like nothing is happening and we start to grow weary, we’ll be tempted to give up on the power of prayer.

But let’s not.

Let’s stand firm, knowing that our labor in the Lord is never in vain. It doesn’t matter whether the bad choices in life belong to our kids or to us, or how big the sin is. God loves us. And his grace has us covered.

Looking back on my college experience, I still like the idea that “grace abounds even more.” But I looked up Romans 5:20 in The Message, and as I pray my all-grown-up children (and my all-grown-up self) through life’s tempatations and stumbles, I think I like this translation even better:  “When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.”

❤️

P.S. This post and the prayers it contains are excerpted from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. From now until August 31, my friends at FaithGateway are running a back-to-school special on that title, as well as Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens and Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenWhen you order any book, you’ll get 47% off the cover price, plus a bunch of freebies to help you pray specifically, and confidently, for your children.

Back to school prayer kit

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating as we send the people we love back to school:  Our prayers release God’s provision. And as we pray, we discover his peace.

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Saints, sinners, and what Italy taught me about abiding

Robbie and I just got back from Italy. It was a bucket-list trip, one made all the sweeter since we went with a group of friends from our church. Billed as the “Saints and Sinners Tour,” I think the idea was to take a bunch of (mostly) old American sinners and introduce us to a bunch of (really) old Italian saints, and hope something good would rub off.

Saints and Sinners Tour book

We marveled over the humility of Francis of Assisi, a pampered party boy who renounced his luxurious lifestyle in order to “wed” Lady Poverty. That move didn’t sit too well with his father–especially when Francis stripped naked in the public square to demonstrate his commitment, leaving the Bishop to try to, um, cover things up:

Giotto's painting of St. Francis standing naked in the public square

We applauded the courage of Catherine of Siena, a spunky saint best remembered for telling Pope Gregory XI (and I’m paraphrasing here) to “Man up!” and get back to his duties in Rome. (The Pope had been living in Avignon; having been to both cities, I can see why he might not have wanted to move.)

Catherine of Siena telling the Pope to return to Rome

And we heard about folks like St. Philip Neri, a Florentine monk who thought Christians ought to be more cheerful than melancholy, and that being holy didn’t mean you had to look serious or sad. Known to carry two things in his pockets–a Bible and a joke book–Neri is one of those saints I hope I get to sit by at the welcome dinner in heaven.

I liked the saint stories, or at least most of them. Truth be told, though, they were not my favorite part of the trip. Maybe I’m just a bigger sinner than most, but what I really loved about Italy were the vineyards. Which, remarkably, seemed to be flourishing.

Vineyard in Italy

I’m no farmer, but I did take one class in meteorology at U.Va., and I could tell it was hot. Over 100 degrees, according to the weather apps on our phones. Plus, Italy was in the midst of a drought. “Pray for rain,” our tour guide pleaded, when she realized our group was on speaking terms with the Lord. “We really need it.”

Sunrise in Italy

We could see what she meant. I woke early one morning to greet the Tuscan sunrise, but I had to look down every few steps. Walking was tricky; the ground was so parched that the soil was cracked.

Cracked soil in Italy

How, I wondered, could anything survive in that heat? How could the vines keep bearing fruit? I would think they’d be spitting out raisins; how come the grapes looked so healthy and lush?

As I pondered these questions, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s whisper. “The branches survive as they stay attached to the vine,” he said. “They don’t have to try to produce grapes; that happens naturally, as they do their one job: Abiding.”

Grapes on the vine

Ahhh. A fresh twist on Christ’s words in John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Created for connection

Like grapevines, you and I are created for connection. The degree to which we stay connected to Christ is the degree to which we will thrive. But what does that vine-branch connection look like in our everyday lives? How do we, practically speaking, abide?

Back in 1900, R.A. Torrey tackled this question in a book that’s now widely considered a classic: How to Pray“To abide in Christ,” he wrote, “is to renounce all life independent of Christ, and constantly look to Him for the inflow of His life into us, and the outworking of His life through us. When we do this, and in so far as we do this, our prayers will obtain that which we seek from God.”

Put another way, when we take Jesus up on his John 15 invitation–when we say yes to dwelling in Christ and letting him dwell in us–our prayer life changes. No longer do we cultivate our own feelings and desires; rather, it is Christ who forms his thoughts, emotions, and purposes in us. And the more we allow this life-giving flow of his life into ours, the more powerful and effective our prayers become.

The more we become people of impact.

The more we live lives marked by purpose and meaning.

The more we bear lush, healthy, life-giving fruit.

Lemon tree

Lemons in Italy

(And yes. I was captivated by the ginormous lemons in Italy. They were like footballs.)

(Well okay. Footballs for children. But still.)

A harvest on the horizon

If you’re following along with our 31-Day Prayer Challenge this month (and if you are, you’re not alone; more than 20,000 people have downloaded the calendar and are praying with us!), you might already be seeing a harvest–or at least a glimpse of it on the horizon, as you allow God’s promises to give shape to your prayers. This week, for example, we invited God to animate our relationships, praying Philippians 2:3-4 (“Let me value others and put their interests above my own”) and asking him to fulfill 1 John 3:18 in our lives (“Give me friends who will love not just with words but with actions”).

 

Day 7: Friendship prayer from Philippians 2:3-4

 

Day 8: Friends prayer from 1 John 3:18

And there are plenty more topics on tap. We’ll ask God to help us to navigate suffering and grief, give us freedom from worry and fear, and teach us use our gifts and talents wisely. We’ll even pray about what it looks like to approach aging well!

31 Days of Prayer Calendar

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing we’ll face in life that God has not already thought of (and provided for!) in his Word. If you want to join us on the prayer challenge, click here for more info. If you just want to download the calendar so you can follow along on your own, click here. And if you want to dig deeper on the whole subject of staying connected to Christ, click here to get your copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God(There’s an entire chapter on what it means to abide, filled with insights from biblical brainiacs who know how to put the hay where the sheep can reach it.)

I’ll leave you with one more reflection from Italy, which comes (appropriately) in the form of a confession.

Yes, I liked the saints. And yes, I liked the vineyards. But what I mostly liked (and what I maybe got in trouble for stealing) was the secret stash of ice I found in the hotel refrigerator.

The cubes were almost as big as the lemons.

And boy-oh-boy, was I grateful.

Enjoying the fruit of the vine

 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

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31 Days of Prayer – Coming in July!

Quick question: Where do you need God’s help right now?

Are you struggling with a challenging relationship? A job that feels too big to accomplish? Anxiety over the future or the current moment?

Whatever the situation is – whatever popped into you mind when you saw that first line – it has not taken God by surprise. He reveals problems not to prompt you to panic, but to invite you to pray. And I’m sliding into your inbox today in the hope that you’ll join me, and a whole bunch of other folks, in saying “yes” to that invitation!

Let’s pray together in July.

31 Days of Prayer Title

The wonderful community at FaithGateway is hosting a 31-day prayer challenge using my Praying the Scriptures calendar. If you’ve seen the calendar, you know there’s a different topic every day – things like trusting God, finding freedom from worry, managing money and time, living with greater gratitude, and experiencing joy.

prayer calendar

Each day includes a short scripture you can pray about that particular need or concern. I’ve said it before: Sometimes, the tiniest verse or phrase in the Bible can do more to transform our thinking and shape our desires than if we were to try and tackle an entire chapter at once (and the bite-sized prayers are much easier to remember!). 🙏🏽 

Download the prayer calendar for free (click here)…

…and then follow along, if you like, on Facebook or Instagram, where we’ll be sharing each day’s prayer prompt in my stories, like this prayer for FORGIVENESS on Day 5:

Day 5 Prayer: Forgiveness

Of course, if you want to know more about any topic, or access a bigger collection of prayers, each day is covered in a different chapter in Praying the Scriptures for Your Life(Click here to learn more or to purchase a copy.) I’ve been so encouraged to hear all the ways that this book and the prayers it contains have helped shape your conversations with God – thank you for letting me know!

Book Cover (sneak peek)

And one more quick thing. Consider inviting a friend to do this prayer challenge with you. Some of my most favorite prayer times have been when I have a partner to come alongside me during a particular season – and who knows? Maybe this little 31-Day experiment will kickstart a daily habit of connecting with God and watching his answers unfold, long after you’ve finished praying!

I’m so looking forward to doing the daily prayer challenge with you, starting next week. There’s nothing like knowing you’re joining your voice with so many others and welcoming Jesus into the prayer circle!

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Warmly,

Jodie

P.S. If you joined us for 31 Days of Prayer last July, you can do it again—this time with a community of fellow believers on a journey of learning to pray Scripture. I’m so grateful to the folks at FaithGateway for all the ways they equip us to draw closer to Jesus and grow daily in grace! ❤️

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Grad Tip for Parents: Let God Pick Your Kid’s Career

 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.

It’s graduation season, and I can’t think of a more encouraging verse than Psalm 32:8. Whether our kids are headed to college, to new jobs, or into the great unknown, the whole “What’s next?” thing can be daunting! And as parents, our hearts can feel like a tangled mess of emotions:  pride of accomplishment, sadness over the chapter that’s closing, or even (particularly when we don’t know what the future holds) uncertainty, with maybe a little worry mixed in.

The pride and the sadness are both beautiful things; why else would 97% of all high school yearbooks and 29% of commencement speeches give the nod to Dr. Suess:  Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?

The uncertainty thing, though, is not so much fun. And if that’s where you are (like, if your child needs a job), I’ve got three things that might help.

The first is something Virginia (who was a college senior at the time) told me, as we discussed her (still hazy) future. “Mom,” she said, “Research shows that 72% of college students don’t have a job lined up before graduation.”

I don’t know whether Virginia was right or not. A point in her favor is that she actually worked in U.Va.’s Career Services office, where she would have had access to numbers like that, but you have to stack that against the fact that she is her mother’s daughter, and statistics (like that bit about yearbooks and speeches) sometimes get made up on the spot. Either way, though, the data made me feel better. And if it helps you to repeat this 72% claim, you can say that you read it in a blog.

The second thing that can help is prayer. It’s not just that you get a “peaceful, easy feeling” when you pray for your child; it’s more that when we bring our sons and daughters before God, we really are making a difference. As Paul told the Corinthians“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (Paul and his pals weren’t looking for work; they were more concerned with facing “deadly peril,” but the principle is the same. Our prayers matter.)

And finally, it can be good to remember the plan. We might not know what it is, but after praying (and yes, worrying) three kids through the job-hunting process, I’m finally coming to realize that God does. He knows exactly how our children are wired (Psalm 139:13-16); he’s already lined up good work for them to do (Ephesians 2:10); and he promises to instruct and counsel them in the way they should go (Psalm 32:8). Our job isn’t to worry or nag; our job–if we want to get on board with God’s plan–is simply to trust him.

So there you go: Repeat iffy statistics, pray for your kids, and trust God. And if you want help with tip #2, the folks at FaithGateway surprised me a few weeks ago when they sent word that they’d pulled a collection of prayers from the Adult Children book and created a beautiful “Praying for Your Graduate” resource for parents (click here to download):The guide includes 21 prayers, all neatly divided by seven so that you can pray one every day for three weeks.

Which, research shows, is about how long it takes for the average college grad to land his first job. 🙂

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