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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Glimpses of Hope

Do you ever feel as though, no matter how hard you work to teach your children about the goodness of God and the work of Jesus on the cross, they just don't get it? I have to admit that I do. 

Yes, I am aware that my children are only five, four, and two years old. However, there is enormous pressure on Christ-following parents to raise up little saints, is there not? I feel like many of us live under the weight of man-made expectations when it comes to raising our children, operating by a set of unspoken rules that we are "supposed" to follow, rules like:
  • Teach your children one Bible verse per week, also reviewing every prior verse to make sure that if they were to get the call to audition for America's Got Talent, they would be able to recite the entire New Testament without error, winning the viewing audience for Jesus and a million dollars for your family.
  • Make sure that every evening before bed your family gathers together for Family Time, a time of worship and reading of the Word of God, and a time of bonding together over the opportunities for discipline and spankings that arise as your children won't stop touching each other.
  • Listen to the latest worship records at all times in your vehicle, ensuring that your children know the words to the most current worship songs so that when they go to church with you and stand on the chair next to you during the service, they can sing every word for all to see, looking angelic and adorable.
These are just a few. And maybe it's just me. But somehow I don't think so.

Don't get me wrong, I think all of these are good things to do; it's more about the legalism involved, almost a superstition of sorts that I think Christian parents live under when it comes to raising their kids to love Jesus. If my kid can't win the award for reciting verses, I'm a failure. If we miss an evening (or evenings) of family prayer time, the Spirit of God is sucked right out of our homes. If our kids don't know every lyric on the new Tomlin record, it probably means they are going to grow up and listen to Korn. Is Korn still in existence? I don't know, but you catch my drift.

Add to these pressures the fact that we are raising, well, KIDS, and it's easy to feel like you have failed before you have even started. How dare they be so immature? How dare they roughhouse and interrupt and pick at each other during our prayer time? How dare they ask me to turn off 104.7 the Fish to listen to Katy Perry's "Firework," their favorite song from the movie Madagascar 3? Which of course they have never seen, because we only watch Bibleman and Antiques Roadshow in our house.

I do not want to sound jaded here, but moms, we have GOT to cut ourselves some slack. We have got to be freed up. We have got to learn to listen to the voice of God through the Holy Spirit in us instead of the man-made pressures and expectations of this world.

The privilege of winning our kids to Jesus belongs to the Lord. HE changes hearts, but He is good enough to allow us to be involved. We must take the focus off of being super-moms and off of making them love Jesus; instead we must instead love Jesus ourselves and live it daily in our homes, letting the Spirit guide us as we interact with our children.

What if, instead of just praying with our children before bed, we pray with our children anytime, anywhere, as the need arises, teaching them that a relationship with the Lord is 24/7? What if, instead of drilling random Bible verses into their heads, WE live in God's Word and know it so well that when circumstances arise in our children's lives that are teaching opportunities, we work with them on learning a portion of God's Word that directly corresponds to what they are dealing with so that the Bible comes to life for them? What if we teach our children that to LIVE is to worship the Lord, and that we can worship Him anywhere, anytime, not just when a song is playing.

For a long period of time we had a period of family time together before bed. It looked a lot like this:

Or not.

Now, don't misunderstand me, I am not slamming people who do this. Every family needs it in some form, and it can be a really special time. However, my children were so young when we tried that literally every other sentence was, "sit down and BE REVERENT!" Usually someone received a spanking. There was always someone singing stream-of-consciousness songs during our prayers. And looking back, I realize that we set them up to fail, having expectations that were not in line with our reality, as they were...wait for it...toddlers!

Sometimes I worry because my four-year-old son doesn't "get" spiritual things. Sometimes I feel like he is destined for a life of pain because of his separation from God. Then I remember that he's four. And as you're smiling right now and thinking, "oh that neurotic mom," you realize that you have worried about it, too. Now, could it be that he will walk through his life without knowing and loving the Lord? Absolutely. But I don't think so. I think he will grow up seeing a father and mother who are desperately in love with Jesus and will want the same thing. But I think that, for right now, he's four.

Before he went to bed a couple of weeks ago, I asked him, "Sutton, do you know how you can have a relationship with Jesus?"

"Yes, ma'am."

SCORE! I think, "he gets it!" This was the moment we had been praying for. He finally understands! I asked him, "Can you tell me how?"

He thought for a minute, and then replied, "you throw a big stick out there to him and then you see if he catches it."

In case you're wondering, that's my balloon bursting.

He is FOUR, people! And still I was disappointed!

My prayers lately have been less about them and more about me. Prayers for realistic expectations of my children. Prayers that they will know and love Jesus because HE compels them to, not because I pressure them into some guilt-based relationship with the Lord that they struggle with throughout their entire lives. Prayers that I can shut up and pray for my children instead of feeling the need to be the Holy Spirit in their lives at every turn.

And in doing this, I see glimpses of hope. I see God working in my children. I see my son come to me and confess some dishonesty without my prompting and because of his conviction. I see my daughter spending time in her room "writing" her own worship songs, singing with joy and abandon and creativity that is born out of her own relationship with God, not mine. And I am humbled.

Last night as I was putting my five-year-old daughter to bed, I told her the same thing I do every night. I said, "Emerson, God loves you and make you so unique. He has big plans for your life - don't miss them!"

She looked at me and said, "Mom, you know how you said that when I get big I can go anywhere in the whole earth and tell people about Jesus? Well, I didn't even have to go anywhere far away to do that. A few weeks ago at school my friend Abby told me that she didn't know Jesus, and I told her that I did, and then I asked her if she wanted to have Jesus in her heart like me. She said she did, so I told her how to pray and ask Jesus to forgive her bad choices and to live in her heart forever. She prayed and now Abby's a Christian just like me!"

This rocked me. Here I have been worrying away about the state of her heart and her understanding of the Gospel because she acts like the sinful five-year-old child that she is, and all the while she is winning her friends to Jesus at preschool. 

Lord, forgive me for doubting that you are big enough for her. Please forgive me.

She told me before I left her room, "Mom, I do want to go out in the world and tell people about Jesus when I'm a big girl. I think I will need a map, though." I promised her I would get her a map.

Matthew 5 tells us:
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in their house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
Moms, we need to let our lights shine for our children. We need to worry about the state of our hearts, the candles burning in us, before we can begin to concern ourselves with our children's understanding of God's grace. We need to trust that our God is capable of revealing Himself to our children, and that in turn they will love Him, know Him, and light up their worlds for Christ. He is capable, we are not. Our jobs as mothers is to continually point our children back to their need for Jesus, and to share with them our need for Him as well. He does the heart-changing, and He is enough.

Lastly, if you decide to brave family time with toddler-aged kids, I would suggest that you hand out Tootsie-Pops at the beginning of each session. The candy may rot their teeth, but it sure does keep them quiet, and what are rotten teeth in exchange for time with the Lord, anyhow?

Feel free to laugh!

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