Her comment hit me like a kick in the gut. She and her husband, along with her kids, rarely go to church and haven’t expressed a commitment to Christ, yet she was talking about how her kids had recently communicated an interest in Jesus. “I guess we’re doing something right,” she shrugged. And she left it at that. That was the end of the conversation. They weren’t planning on making any changes to their lifestyles or pursuing deeper conversations with their kids. For them, it was enough to leave the mild interest lie dormant, as she patted herself on the back.
There’s certainly hope attached to their style of parenting. Hope that their kids will turn out okay. Hope that they will be kind and decent. Or is there a deeper, more intentional hope as they journey through parenting?
I don’t want to be a parent who guesses. I want to be a parent who instills intentional hope into my children. I want to do whatever I can, even when it costs me or when it’s inconvenient, to lead them to the heart of a perfect, loving, compelling Father.
I’ve been sitting with a new friend each week for an hour. She doesn’t often talk much, but she lights up when she sees me. We make brownies and play computer games. She’s in fifth grade. She struggles with making friends and is trying to make a way in an often cruel world, where popularity trumps everything else in life. In a moment of honesty, she told me about Madison. She told me how she built up her courage and spoke to her, even though Madison is one of the ‘popular girls’. “And she’s been nice to me!” she said, here eyes wide in unbelief. Then she paused. “She’s different from all the rest of the girls somehow.” A smile spread across my face and I blinked away tears. “You should try to find out what makes her different,” I told her.
Because I know that Madison is part of a family who is pursuing Christ. Her parents are raising her to build intentional relationships— in their family, with others that surround her, and most importantly, with Jesus. And as a fifth grader, without even using words, others know she is different. Madison’s parents are hoping, too. But their hopes aren’t fickle like the wind, they are on a clear, straight path.
And it makes all the difference.
I don’t just want to hope that my kids will be ok…. I want to instill hope in them. I want to do all I can to show them what it means to have an authentic, growing faith in Jesus. The difference might seem subtle, but it isn’t.
“There are two powerful influences on the planet— the church and the home,” say authors Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. “They both exist because God initiated them. They both exist because God desires to use them to demonstrate His plan of redemption and restoration. If they work together they can potentially make a greater impact than if they work alone. They need each other. Too much is at stake for either one to fail. Their primary task is to build God’s kingdom in the hearts of men and women, sons and daughters.” (Parenting Beyond Your Capacity*, p. 33).
How exactly do we work to instill a deeper hope in our kids? Here are three quick ways:
I build intention in my own life. If I want kids who love Jesus, they have to see me loving Jesus first. If my desire is to have kids who serve others, they have to watch me serving first. If I want my kids to develop habits of faith, they must see it reflected in me first. My kids have a front row seat to my life— both my best and my worst. They see where I spend my time and how I love others, how I mess up, and the way I react…. and if they don’t learn it from me, chances are it won’t become part of their own lives.
Peter and I find ways to put them in environments that foster relationships with others who share our values. Inevitably, there will be times that our kids won’t want to share something with us, and that’s ok. I certainly didn’t tell my parents everything, especially during my teen years, so why should I expect my kids to? So we surround our kids with other adults who align with our beliefs— coaches, small group leaders, parents of their friends who we know we can trust if our kids ever confide in them.
I shift my focus to raising adults, not kids. The bulk of my children’s lives will be spent as adults. And as their mom during the formative years, it’s my job to raise them to be passionate, authentic adults who pursue the God who created them. It informs my parenting decisions. When I shift my focus to parenting adults, I can parent with their spiritual formation in mind. I fight for their hearts, not just for their immediate actions.
When Eliza entered Kindergarten this year, I didn’t simply hope she would learn to read. For years we’d read books together and practiced letter sounds. Her teacher sent home books and popcorn words and we reviewed them. Even so, when I found her on the couch this morning in her little footie pajamas reading a new book alone, I marveled as the words came off her lips with only a little help from me. I didn’t just hope for the best, though. It took a group— her teacher, her classmates, and us— working together to help her accomplish this huge milestone.
And now that she’s mastered the basics, I won’t just sit back and let her go for it. She has years of learning bigger words and deeper concepts. It’s important that she has the right materials in front of her— not too easy and not too hard— to spark her interest and give her confidence. There will be ups and downs, but as she grows, so will her ability to read.
She’s pretty bright (says the mom), so chances are she’d eventually pick up the concepts of letters working together to form words and sentences. But why would I just hope for that? Why wouldn’t I do all I can to foster a love for reading in her?
And if I’m willing to do all that to teach her to read, what more can I do to build in her a longing for Jesus, a confidence in His love and care for her?
You, as a parent, have been called to one of the most challenging, exhausting, enduring and amazing journey. It’s as risky as it is exhilarating. But you have been called and God will not abandon you as you seek Him in raising your children. You can do more than simply hope your kids will grow to love Christ. You, as the greatest influence in your child’s life, can use your influence to instill deep, intentional hope in their souls.
I’m Sarah and I write about the hope & joy that can come even in the midst of deep grief and sorrow. It’s a privilege to have you along for the journey. Do you need some encouragement? Here’s a printable of the verses I hold close to my heart.
*Not to be bossy, but if you have children, you reallyreallyreally need to have Parenting Beyond Your Capacity in your regular rotation of books. (affiliate link used)