It was a little distracting…the exchange taking place in the row ahead of me. Although I really wanted to shut myself in with God during our worship time, I couldn’t help but watch the situation unfold.
It was a mom with her two boys, who I would guess to be about 8 and 10 years old. Mom was trying to engage with the music but kept getting sidetracked with the fact her boys weren’t standing. She would motion for them to stand up, close her eyes and then one or both of them would sit back down. Then she’d start all over again—sometimes motioning with her hand and other times whispering in their ears (somehow I imagine it wasn’t with the sweet mom voice). Judging from the look on her face, I know it wasn’t.
Eventually both boys complied. But one in particular made it quite clear that his heart wasn’t in it. You have no idea how badly I wanted to have a conversation with that mom. You see, I was that mom at one time.
When my kids wouldn’t stand during praise and worship, I saw it as a sign of dishonor. And let’s just be honest, it was also embarrassing. Especially when I would glance over and see other kids/teens fully engaged in the experience.
So here’s what I wanted to tell that mom—you can force your children to do the “right things” on the outside. However, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a transfer to the inside.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with teaching your child respect. It’s just that in this particular moment, witnessing the struggle between mom and her boys, it brought up a whole mess of feelings. And I’m just going to be completely honest with you right now…I’m not in a good place as a parent. I’m frustrated. Confused. Disappointed. Discouraged. Weary.
My kids were brought up in the church. We were there a lot. Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening. They were involved in all kinds of children’s ministry—Sunday school, kids church, VBS, camp, etc. As teens they were involved in youth group and a variety of other activities.
We read our Bibles at home and prayed. My husband and I certainly weren’t saints, but we strived our best to be godly examples. They were surrounded by Christian influence. Outwardly, my children were doing the “right things.” Same as many other parents’ children. Yet all our efforts wouldn’t be a guarantee of hearts turned toward God.
Here’s what I really wanted to tell this mom who was demanding outward reverence for what is really something that should come from the inside. We can get so caught up in the doing aspect of Christianity, we forget the importance of coming into a relationship with Christ as an individual. Each one of us must develop a relationship with Christ.
It’s not a parent/child event. It’s not a family affair. It’s not even always something that really happens at the age of 3 when the little one asks Jesus into the heart and we count it all done.
A relationship with Christ is a personal journey.
The way I raised my children is certainly helpful in pointing them toward Him. Yet I was never raised in the church and I still managed to turn my life around and surrender my heart to God. I have to keep reminding myself that my children’s paths aren’t necessarily going to look the way I want or expected.
This is no easy feat. I don’t care how much faith you have; it is painful to watch your child struggle. Especially when you know a better way. Yet in desperation for our children to live a faith-filled life, we can become an obstacle in their way when we cajole, preach, demand or nag. While these methods might change outward behavior, just like that little boy sulking about having to stand, it doesn’t necessarily change hearts.
This has been an ongoing (as in, never-ending) lesson for the past 8 years in navigating one difficulty after another with my daughter. The journey, in my eyes, is taking too long. Don’t I get extra credit as a parent for raising her in a believing home? Can’t I catch a break?
The answer is no. My daughter has her own journey to take, to be walked out in God’s way and timing. I can be a guide that advises and shows her the way but I can’t dictate her steps, nor can I know what is necessary for her to go through in order to fulfill the plan God has for her life.
Especially because her decisions don’t just affect her, they impact my two granddaughters. So much more at stake. Yet, they are in God’s hands too, and I must trust His purpose and plan for their lives as well.
My intention isn’t to discourage parents. To suggest that raising them in a Christian environment does no good. But I do want to warn against the false assurance of doing right things being a guarantee of “good” results.
Even if they don’t realize it, they’re learning the most about God when running from Him. They discover what it means to endure hard times. We spend so many of our years protecting them, they may not learn reliance upon God’s security. Struggles are just one way of experiencing His preservation.
They come to realize the faithfulness of God. Wrong choices, bad decisions may still lead to consequences. Yet God’s grace will always come through. Hands-on experience of a faithful God.
Most importantly, they come to see the danger of sin. Those consequences I talked about, many times are exactly what’s necessary to open their eyes. To understand the repercussions of living outside God’s will.
I will never sugarcoat the difficulty of watching a child live separate from Christ. But I will also not allow my faith to be disrupted because of it. Their steps are ordered of the Lord and He will see them through their journey. The outside matters little when I can rest assured that God is working on the inside.