In season nine of the hit show Friends, perfectly mismatched couple Monica and Chandler find themselves at a crossroads. They’ve not been able to conceive a child on their own, so they decide to pursue adoption. At this point, Chandler delivers the following punchline that is irreverent, amusing, and wholly and beautifully true.
“I want to find a baby that needs a home and I want to raise it with you. And I want to mess it up in our own specific way.”
I love that line. In its Hollywood-ness, it echoes a prayer I started praying over our children from their earliest days. They are words I’ve said countless times. “Fill in the gaps, Lord. Fill in the gaps.” Simple and powerful, I pray it because I know we are “messing it up in our own specific way.” Leaving gaps only God can see. Leaving gaps only He can fill.
Of course, we don’t aim to leave gaps in our children’s upbringing. But, as parents, we are going to make mistakes. We lose our tempers and respond occasionally in ways we shouldn’t. These mistakes are an obvious place to beg God’s mercy. But, I want to take the awareness of our limitations one step further. This need for God to fill in the gaps is not only for our mistakes. Even the good we give our children will leave voids in what they need. Yes. Even the good we give our kids is insufficient. How about that for raising your parenting anxiety?! Hang in there, it’s gonna’ be okay…
You see, unlike God, we are limited to the pace and development of time. We are not able to provide everything our children need because we cannot see their futures. We do not know what they will face or what skills they may need. We are unable to foresee the “good works which God prepared in advance” for them to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). We are raising these children not knowing what God has for them as adults. This leaves us able to only do the best we can, and then ask Him to fill in the gaps with anything else they may need for His plan.
As an example, I came from a very kind, low-confrontation home. I knew happiness and little arguing. It was wonderful and gave me a safe, solid foundation…except. In all the kindness, I was left ill-equipped for handling or resolving confrontation. Enter my husband, whose parents encouraged debate, discourse, and disagreement in love. He has taught me how to stay present in the tension and work toward resolution. My loving, low-conflict parents didn’t know I would need that one day. They did what they thought was best and God filled in the gap later for my work as a therapist, marriage speaker, and coach’s wife. He provided what I needed as I needed it.
No matter how we are raising our children, we simply cannot be everything they need. Instead, we can only prioritize what we think is best for them. Those choices may or may not be exactly what they need for their future selves, future relationships, or future professions. In our limitations, we must trust God will send people, experiences, His own teaching and grace as a supplement. Even more importantly, we must not wish to be all things to our children, for then they will not see or understand the need for reliance on God. For this, we are devastatingly poor substitutes.
So, embrace your insufficiencies, my friends. Whether it be from the mistakes or from the good, go right ahead and set yourself free from trying to do it exactly right because you never fully can. It wasn’t designed that way. Just do your best and if you feel there is a way you may have left your child wanting, it is a beautiful act of faith to simply pray that God would fill that space in His time, in His way, and in His love. Remember, in our weakness “His grace is sufficient” and “His power is made perfect” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). May we all love and parent as best we can…
and “Lord, fill in the gaps.”
Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash
(Originally published 9/23/20, updated for freshness and clarity)
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