As the mother of a 9-year-old, I am acutely aware of the approaching teen years. The impending steps into independence and development of her very own perspective, plans, and faith.
This is beautiful and exciting. But mostly terrifying.
Unlike when Maya was two and three, and our main objectives were to keep her alive and clothed and from becoming a sociopath, I am now fielding daily big questions. We are unable to skirt difficult topics because she notices everything, and the degree to which our words and actions are influencing hers is staggering. She is a sponge, and (thankfully) has up to this point been a really obedient kid.
My temptation, then, is to use these crucial years of tween-dom to focus on teaching her to simply do the right things. And to not do the wrong ones. If I can just get her through young adulthood without having messed up too bad – or at least not in the ways that are the biggest no-nos in our evangelical subculture – I can breathe a sigh of relief. Isn’t that what every good Christian parent wants? A “good Christian” kid? One who looks to all the world like a spiritual success story? Refraining from drug use and underage drinking; sexually abstinent until marriage; attendance at youth groups and Jesus rallies; a steady diet of only the right books, movies, and music; no major social media indiscretions – these are top on the checklist of the safe, pristine teen life. And that is what we want, yes?
Except no. Not really.
I don’t want to raise moralists. I mean, a large part of me does, because it’s safer. It’s more comfortable. Everyone makes mistakes, but I want my kids to check all the right columns in those big boxes and just make the little mistakes most acceptable to me.
When I pull myself back – peel back my fears and my need for control – I know that while I (of course!) want to raise my children with good morals, teaching moralism is not my primary parental goal.
I don't want to teach them to follow rules, I want to teach them to follow Christ.
In a time when young people leave the church in droves by early adulthood, I spend a lot of time wondering why, because these could soon be my kids we’re talking about too. And I wonder if, despite our best intentions in the Church, we are just not emphasizing the Gospel. The era of Christianity in my youth that gave us ‘True Love Waits’ and ‘WWJD’ produced some lasting disciples but also saw huge numbers of my childhood friends burned and broken by the church. The purity culture has “worked” in encouraging some teens away from sexual behavior, but has sent the message to many others that they are irreparably damaged. The focus in Sunday School classes on Heroes of the Bible is meant to be inspirational, but can end up feeling unattainable. “I will never measure up to these people. I’ve already failed. Why even try?”
I just desperately don’t want this for my kids. My dream for their formative years in the faith is not that they would walk the line and be "good". I want Jesus for them.
I want them to live laid low by God's holiness, and also buoyed by the knowledge that He removes our transgressions further than forever when we turn to Him. (Psalm 103:12)
I want them to know that true faith is not found in having our checkmarks in the right columns on a few choice matters that we sometimes elevate to the point of near idolatry. But that a consistent devotion to the ways of Jesus means purity in far more aspects than what we typically highlight for kids and teens. It means dying to our selfishness and greed, our earthly rights and entitlements (Galations 5:24). It means living a life poured out - loving God above all and loving others truly and deeply (Matthew 22:36-40). It means we must decrease (John 3:30). It means living in humility, because His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I want them to see that those biblical heroes were not used by God because of the ways they lived their lives, but in spite of it all.
Let’s show our kids that God loves us … simply because he loves us. In our beastliness. That he loves us before we are good.That his love isn’t vague sentimentality, but it cost him his most precious treasure to turn us into his prized possession; that the storyline of the Bible is God’s Search and Rescue mission to find the dying Beast and kiss him into joyous life.
How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.
Our heroes weren’t loved because they were good; they were good because they were loved.
(Sam Williamson - “I Wonder if Sunday School is Destroying Our Kids”, beliefsoftheheart.com)
Yes, I want my kids to know clearly what I believe God says about how we are to live. I want to be real with them about the difficulties we bring upon ourselves when we choose to stray from the plans of a Father who knows what is best for us, and who guides us out of lavish love - not arbitrary rules.
And yet I will not shrink back from telling them of His astounding grace. I will not fear that doing so will give them permission to sin. I will not ever, ever send my daughter the message that if she stumbles, she has forever become a trampled rose or filthy water in a glass - less wanted or less worthy. No. Just no. Because while we have all been trampled and filthy and dead in our sin, our Redeemer lives. Because when we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us completely (1 John 1:9). Because I believe that there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).
I want to be transparent about my own mistakes. Because oh my word did I make them, and oh my goodness do I still. My life can be a testimony to them that God heals and redeems and that no teenage transgression or attitude in adulthood has had the power to keep Him from taking our bowed-low brokenness and making us new.
My primary goal is not to make sure my children do the right things, but to show them how to know and live the true things.
Let me be real: I look at my kids every day and see my babies who I would like to lock in a protective bubble for all time. I do hope they do all that "right stuff". It feels so safe and comfortable to emphasize moralism over the wild and wonderful truth of the Gospel. And so counter-intuitive to my Mama heart to recognize that the worst thing that can happen is not that they trip into sin, but that they only understand a sanitized, pseudo-version of what it means to walk with Christ.
When it comes down to it, I would much rather see my imperfect child run back to Jesus to be rescued and redeemed, than to see my “good Christian” kid eventually turn away disillusioned and disenfranchised because they just never really understood who He is.Image Credit: Flickr
I begin each day of parenting tempted to pursue what seems safe. But I’m praying that He would help me to take surrendered steps instead, pointing these growing kids into the gloriously dangerous ways of loving Jesus - as broken people constantly being made new.