I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My loving eye on you. — Psalm 32:8
I can’t tell you how many parents, when they heard I was working on this book, let me know they had a story to share. I was excited to interview them, but I had to laugh when I realized that at least two-thirds of the stories were variations on the same theme: praying for your child to get a job. Everyone who has ever had an adult child has, apparently, been down this sometimes long and winding road.
One mom told me how frustrated she had become after her son batted away one job lead after another, since they just didn’t seem to fit his “work/life balance.” (I thought she was kidding, but then I found out it’s a real thing, that today’s graduates really are looking for jobs that come complete with a gym membership, Friday happy hours, and even — since I guess they are waiting longer to have children — things like health insurance for their pets. Seriously.)
Another said her daughter didn’t want to work “in a cubicle, like Dad.”
And a third shared her son’s Goldilocks-style journey through everything from starting a business to playing in a rock band, until (and I think this is a brilliant idea) her husband invited a group of older men to serve as an advisory board in the young man’s life — a move that ultimately opened the door to a “just right” career in television.
I’d go on, but you get the idea. Plenty of kids need to figure out what to do with their lives, and plenty of parents are praying. And I’ll admit it. I didn’t expect to have to pray so hard about my own kids’ jobs — and I said as much to author Paula Rinehart when the two of us had lunch together one day. I’d just finished reading her Strong Women, Soft Hearts, and I’d loved what she’d said about trust. “Trust,” Paula had written, “hangs somewhere between knowing what your heart longs for and trying to dictate the shape or timing or outcome of your heart’s desire. It lies in the willingness to accept the particulars of how and when and where God chooses to intervene. It waits in the cool shade of surrender.”1
The cool shade of surrender. I liked that image, but I was nowhere near to experiencing it. Instead, I was working up a sweat over things like timing and outcomes in Hillary’s life.
“Hillary doesn’t have a job,” I confided over lunch. “She is back home and living in her bedroom — she’s one of those boomerang kids — and she seems content.”
“She only graduated three months ago,” Paula countered. “Trust me; she is probably not content. She’s an engineer — they think in linear terms. She is pursuing a job; she’s just not doing it the way you would.”
Well, she had that one right. Hillary was definitely not looking for a job the way I would have. I would have loaded my résumé into the barrel of a shotgun and pulled the trigger, splattering my education and experience all over any company that was hiring. But Hillary was a little more particular. She graduated with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and she wanted to be an astronaut. It was a dream she had since the fifth grade, and if she couldn’t actually wear a space suit, she at least wanted to do something with rockets.
At first, I shared Hillary’s enthusiasm. “Provide the job you have ordained for her,” I wrote in my prayer journal. “Fill her life so full of blessing that she will not be able to contain it! Let her joy be complete.”2
That’s a good, biblically based prayer for any new graduate. And I wish I could say that my positive attitude continued, and that I had the faith to believe that God puts desires in our hearts that He wants to fulfill. (He does. Psalm 37:4. I’m just saying I wish I would have had the faith to truly believe that.)
I wish I could say I had taken Paula’s words to heart and waited in “the cool shade of surrender.”
And I wish I could tell you I stood by my daughter, loving her and supporting her and letting her live at home with us, rent-free, as spring rolled into summer, and summer turned to fall, never once resenting the fact that she had polished off the last of the Starbucks K-Cups.
But I didn’t. I didn’t do any of the good-mother things I should have.
If we want to pray with faith, we must anchor our requests in God’s promises.
Instead, I spent the better part of a year grappling with fear, frustration, and even anger. And if that’s where you are in your own child’s job-hunting season, can I just say this one thing? Don’t beat yourself up. Give your worries to God, and remember that His grace is sufficient to cover all your mistakes, and His power is made perfect in your weakness.3 Hold on to that promise — and to others — because when discouragement and fear try to creep in and cripple our confidence, the Bible is the anchor for our hope. I like how author and prayer expert R. A. Torrey put it: “If I am to have faith when I pray, I must find some promise in the Word of God on which to rest my faith.”4
I hesitate to tell this story (it does not make me look good), but since we’re all in this parenting thing together, I’ll go ahead. Maybe you’ll find some helpful prayer prompts. Or maybe you’ll just read it and be glad you’re not me. Either way, here goes!
I was really proud of Hillary for academic accomplishments (she had gotten an A+ in Spacecraft Design), and I looked forward to seeing how God would use her education in the real world. But then, as one after another of her peers landed jobs with important-sounding companies, I felt the first crack in my confidence. Had she missed the hiring window? Were there no space-ish jobs to be had? Or maybe it was the reverse. Hillary would be the first to admit that decision making is not her strong suit, and I began to fear that she hadn’t gotten a job because maybe there were just too many interesting choices. The ink on her diploma was still wet, and I was already starting to panic. “Don’t You realize how late it is?” I cried out to God. “Don’t You think it’s time to step in and do something?”
I knew I was being a little dramatic, but I was also conscious of a nagging fear that I had somehow failed as a mother. Had I done something to create a lack of urgency in Hillary? Had I made her tentative or insecure? Or at the other extreme, was I being too pushy? Would it all backfire?
In the midst of my emotional hurricane, I sensed God’s rebuke. “Quiet!” He said. “Be still!”5 It was the same thing He said to the disciples in the boat one stormy night, and I felt my own winds of fear subside. I began to pray that Hillary would also be attentive to His voice.
“Be Hillary’s shepherd,” I asked, borrowing from John 10:2–4. “May she hear Your voice as You call her by name. Lead her into the grown-up world, and may she follow You.”
A month went by, during which friends offered suggestions about jobs that Hillary might want to do or cities where she might want to live. “May Hillary be willing to listen to advice and be humble, so that You will guide her and teach her,” I prayed.6 And even though I knew this was a promise given to the Israelites (and that contemporary Christians who claimed it did so knowing that it pertained more to spiritual and eternal blessings than to things like good health, good wealth, and good jobs), I pulled out Jeremiah 29:11. “I know You have plans to prosper Hillary, to give her hope and a future,” I prayed, “and I am so grateful for that. But I would also love it if part of Your long-term plans for blessing my girl could include a here-and-now job.”
July rolled around. Hillary kept researching space companies and looking at job postings, but it didn’t seem (to me, anyway) like she was making much progress. I searched the Scriptures for something — anything — that would help me cope with the chasm between my plan (“Just get a job!”) and Hillary’s (“I want to be an astronaut!”), and I came upon Proverbs 16:9 (NLT):
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
I realized that it didn’t matter whose plan we were following; the outcome was up to the Lord. My job was to get out of His way.
We can make all the plans we want — and so can our kids — but God is the one who directs our path.
That acknowledgment was my first step toward the cool shade of surrender. And the next thing I knew, Hillary had taken a job.
As a surf instructor.
To Hillary, the surf job (which was at a camp where she worked in previous summers) seemed like the perfect way to earn an income while she continued to send out résumés. To me, it looked like she was procrastinating, like she was looking for a way to avoid growing up and having to wear shoes every day. And then another worry entered my mind. Surf camp was a place where Hillary clearly fit in; maybe she didn’t know if she belonged in the space program. Was she secretly as anxious as I was? I didn’t know.
I kept on praying that God would show her where to go, career-wise, using verses like Psalm 32:8 as the basis for my prayers: “Instruct Hillary and teach her the way she should go; counsel her and watch over her.” But I also began to pray for her spirit, writing words just like this in my journal:
Give Hillary a sense of BELONGING. Let her know she is CHOSEN.7
Give Hillary a sense of WORTH. Remind her that she is YOUR WORKMANSHIP, and that you have prepared GOOD WORKS for her to do.8
Give Hillary a sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY as your child, and fill her soul with the knowledge that she is VALUABLE and PRECIOUS and USEFUL to you.9
I prayed this way for nearly two months. And when Hillary came home from the surf camp, two job prospects were waiting. The first was from a winegrower in California who wanted her to design a new way of processing grapes. That sounded good to me, but it didn’t appeal to my girl. The second was with a structural engineering firm, but when Hillary went for the interview and the guy (who seemed a little creepy) asked her to lie down in the middle of an Applebee’s and show him how to “pop up” on a surfboard, she balked.
I would have too.
But that didn’t prevent me from wishing that Hillary would just let go of the whole astronaut thing. I figured there had to be a million jobs out there for engineers; why did she have to be so single-minded in her focus? “Aim lower” has never been the best motivational speech, but it’s pretty much the way I began to think (and speak) about Hillary’s job search. I’ll spare you the details, but you know the Proverbs 31 mother, the one who “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue”? Picture the opposite.
I wrote some fairly frank things in my prayer journal, and I was sure that God would understand, and that (being a parent) He’d take my side. I opened my Bible to give Him a chance to respond. And — no kidding — here’s what I read:
Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.10
Okay, then. God wanted me to encourage Hillary with gentleness and patience instead of sarcasm and snapping. Point taken.
But He wasn’t finished. I read the next few verses:
Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.11
Was He serious? I could pray, and I could resolve to thank God for whatever it was that He had planned. But… be cheerful? I was glad I knew Philippians 2:13
It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose
because if cheerfulness was required to live the way God wanted me to, He was going to have to give me some sort of divine lobotomy.
September crawled by. Since she had time on her hands and an affinity for teenagers, Hillary volunteered to work with Young Life, a ministry to high schoolers. Hillary loved the kids, and they seemed to love her back, and as I watched a sense of purpose and joy begin to bloom again in Hillary’s life, I realized that her volunteer work was something I could be thankful for. Maybe even cheerful about.
In October, a neighbor arranged for Hillary to take a tour of NASA Langley Research Center, which is about forty minutes from our home. Hillary was captivated. She loved the designs and projects she saw, and even better, she could understand how everything worked.
But NASA didn’t have any job openings, so Hillary began making plans to go to Brazil, where she had done volunteer work during her college spring breaks. The orphanage where she had helped out was opening a trade school; Hillary figured she could teach welding or some other engineering-related job skill.
Then she got a phone call. Could she come to NASA for an interview the next day? A post had just opened up — one designed to be filled by a young engineer — and someone she had met on her tour remembered her name.
Flustered — and giddy — Hillary put Brazil on hold and began planning her interview wardrobe. I wasn’t sure how a rocket scientist was supposed to dress, so I left her staring at her closet and dug out my Bible. I’d moved into Daniel by then, where I found a gold mine of prayer prompts:
- Cause the officials at NASA to show favor and sympathy to Hillary.12
- Give her knowledge and understanding, and may she speak with wisdom and tact.13
- Let Hillary have a keen mind and the ability to explain riddles and solve difficult problems.14
She went for the interview and loved it. But then a couple of weeks went by with no word. Hillary took NASA’s silence in stride, figuring it might take a while for them to interview other candidates, but I was worried. Had God forgotten my girl? Had the whole thing just been a big tease?
I opened my Bible to Nehemiah 9, the part where the Israelites show up in sackcloth and ashes and confess their sins. I could relate. “Lord,” I prayed, “I am sad and I’m hurt. I thought I knew you and how you would work in answer to our hopes and our prayers. I thought you had put the desire to work at NASA in Hillary’s heart and that you would fulfill that desire. “But maybe I haven’t really trusted You. Maybe I’ve been focused on your provision for Hillary’s life, finding my joy in that outcome rather than finding my joy in You. I confess that I have been controlling, self-centered, and driven by fear. I’ve questioned Hillary’s approach to job hunting, and I’ve questioned Yours. I am sorry for my arrogance. Please give me Your grace.” There it was. The cool shade of surrender. Hillary’s dream job was within sight — but after eight months of wrestling in prayer on her behalf, I was willing to let it go.
I sat there, staring at my open Bible.
Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.15
That was what the priests told the Israelites to do, once they finished their confession. Even though I felt about as big as a worm (and like the last thing God might want was to hear anything more out of me), I figured I ought to join them.
So I did. I began to praise God for His faithfulness, for the way He walked alongside our family through the job-hunting journey, and for the provision He had given us in His Word. Nothing had changed outwardly — Hillary still had no job — but in the shade of surrender, that didn’t matter so much anymore.
And then my eye fell on Nehemiah 9:8:
You have kept Your promise because You are righteous.
You can probably guess what happened. Two weeks later, NASA called again. Hillary was ordering chicken nuggets with her Young Life girls when her phone rang, so she put the space people on hold. (Did I mention that she doesn’t always do things the way her uptight mother would?) Anyhow, they offered her the job, and she took it.
Poised for Prayer
Why did it take eight months for Hillary to get a job? Or to put it another way, why did it take me eight months to pry my controlling fingers off of her life and surrender to God? I don’t know. But God does. And as Priscilla Shirer teaches in her Discerning the Voice of God, “The purposes of God not only involve specific plans; they also involve specific timing.”16
Trusting God with our children’s future means being willing to trust His timing.
Had God provided Hillary’s job when I wanted Him to — the day she graduated from college — she would have missed the opportunity to work with Young Life, a volunteer post she loved. She’s still passionate about engineering, but as she told me just the other day, the chance to invest in the lives of young girls has been more satisfying than anything she could have imagined.
Not only that, but had she gone straight into the workforce after graduation, she might have missed the opportunity to meet (and then fall in love with) her husband, who brought a group of guys on the same Young Life ski trip where Hillary showed up with her crew of young girls.
God’s agenda is always so much bigger than ours. My prayer for Hillary’s job was about her finding employment; His answer was about teaching me to relax, to wait in the cool shade of surrender, and to realize that what Hillary and I really needed — and what God wanted to give us — was more of Himself.
- Paula Rinehart, Strong Women, Soft Hearts: A Woman’s Guide to Cultivating a Wise Heart and a Passionate Life (Nashville: Nelson, 2001), 75.
- A prayer based on God’s promises in Psalm 139:16; Malachi 3:10; John 15:11.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9.
- R. A. Torrey, How to Pray (Chicago: Moody, 1960), 50.
- Mark 4:39.
- Proverbs 12:15; Psalm 25:9.
- Ephesians 2:19; Isaiah 41:9; Ephesians 1:4.
- Psalm 139:13; Ephesians 2:10.
- Romans 8:15-17; Isaiah 62:3.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 MSG.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 MSG.
- Daniel 1:9.
- Daniel 1:17; 2:14.
- Daniel 5:12.
- Nehemiah 9:5.
- Priscilla Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God: How to Recognize When God Is Speaking, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2012), 172.
Excerpted with permission from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children by Jodie Berndt, copyright Jodie Berndt.
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If you’re in a season of launching your graduate into adult life maybe you’re experiencing the frustration of waiting for your child to find a job, too. Why not spend that time in prayer, specific prayer and surrender? We would love to hear who you’re praying for and what you’re praying. Come share with us! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily