My older two kids are hovering around the double digit mark (Will is 11, Kate is 9) and I have lots of memories of who I was at their ages. Will is more like his dad every day, so I’m not always able to pick out the behaviors that take after me. But Kate. Oh boy. She gives me flashbacks all the time. Sometimes she’ll let me sneak a peak into her journals and I’m shocked at how similar they are to my 9 year old ramblings. Or I’ll slip into her room to turn off her light as I’m going to bed and she’ll give me a sheepish grin. It takes me right back to those nights that I just couldn’t stop reading, even when my parents insisted that I go to sleep.
I love being a mom to elementary students, but I realize every day that the stakes are higher than I ever imagined. It seems like every time I turn around, there’s something else we need to guide them through.
But there’s one resounding thought in my head as we have conversations about a million different things: As I fight for the heart of my kids, I also have to fight for my own heart. Because if it’s not in me first, my words will fall on deaf ears.
Kids today value authenticity. And if I don’t practice what I preach, there’s no way my words will hold any weight. Now that may seem almost impossible, but the truth is, whatever I want my kids to become, I must lead the way. Sitting back and hoping that my kids turn out to be decent adults is not an option. It’s something that must be intentional, a goal we actively work toward together.
It doesn’t mean I have to be perfect, but it does mean I need to be honest. With myself, with others around me, with my kids. Because the truth is, if I waited until I had my life figured out, I would never accomplish anything. It just isn’t going to happen. But if I’m willing to be honest, to have the hard conversations and not shy away from where I feel most inadequate, then I have a shot at fighting for the heart of my kids.
Last week I was the guest speaker for our mid-week kid’s ministry at church. I told them a story that I’ve told many times: The Parable of the Mustard Seed (It’s in Mark 4). Jesus told the story to his disciples to help them understand what the kingdom of God is. So I had all of my little props in a box and one by one I pulled them out. I showed them the jar of mustard seeds, tiny little things. I told them that when it’s planted it becomes a big, big bush. Then I showed them a nest with an egg in it, because Jesus said that the mustard bush is big enough for birds to build their nests in it and they are safe.
The kingdom of God is like that. It started as just a rag-tag group of 12 disciples with Jesus and has become one of the biggest movements in the world. Pretty amazing. But maybe the story is also about our own faith journey. We pray one tiny prayer to ask Jesus to forgive us, to change our hearts and lives and actions…. and that prayer grows and grows until Jesus creeps into every part of our life and we are changed forever, in the very best of ways.
I then asked those sweet kids if they were part of the Kingdom of God and if they remembered when they had asked Jesus to come into their heart. Hands shot up everywhere. “Tell me!” I said. “I want to hear your stories!”
The first little girl told me how her mom had prayed with her in the middle of the night, after she had a bad dream.
A boy told me how he’d talked to his dad and afterward he had prayed.
Another boy loved skateboarding because his dad loved skateboarding and they heard a Christian skater talk about Jesus, so his testimony prompted the two of them to pray together.
Over and over, hands shot up and they bravely told me of the time they had become part of the kingdom of God.
You know what struck me the most? The power parents have in ushering their child into the kingdom of God. Parents who take opportunities to talk, teach, and pray with their kids. Teachers, pastors, and small group leaders are certainly important, but at the end of the day, it’s us as parents who hold the privilege of fighting for the heart of our children.
Now, I know the parents of many of those kids. I know just how normal they are. In fact, I recently talked to a mom about her feelings of inadequacy and discouragement as she seeks to lead her family. But as she matures in her faith, she is finding out what it means to fight for the heart of her kids. And the testimony of her daughter shows me that she’s doing just fine.
All the little seeds… five minutes of listening to what’s on our kiddos’ hearts, praying on the way to school, reading a Bible story together, saying “I’m sorry”… grow to become a big tree.
One of my favorite verses is in Deuternomy 6:
Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
So, let me tell you this: You have been chosen by God to be the parent to your child. He does not gift you with the life of your child and then sit back, wondering how you’re going to handle this mess. He leads you and guides you and gives you just the tools you need, even (especially?) when you feel enormously inadequate. He fights for the heart of your child. But don’t you for one second forget that He fights for your heart, too. So when you feel discouraged, get His commandments inside you. Talk to your child about them in the every day tasks— in the school pick up line and as you make lunches. Let your kids see you on your knees, praying for them. Write a verse out and stick it next to the kitchen sink. While you’re at it, make an extra copy for your child’s locker. Keep the fight on the front of your mind and see how God works. Don’t be a perfect parent… be an authentic parent. And never ever give up the fight.