Faith in the Family
I have three children. At the time of writing, Nia is 20, Owen is 18. and Elliot is 14. They are all different. Very individual. Different motivators, different temperaments, but all great fun. I became a Christian when I was 15. When my wife and I had children we were in effect first generation followers of Jesus. We had no real blueprint. We were working it out as we went.
So we had to introduce things. Grace at meals. Bedtime stories from the Bible or one of a million Christian books that I love. When our children were ill we would take them to the doctor, but we would pray first. When they had bad dreams we would pray and inform them with a theology learnt from American TV series VeggieTales that ‘God is bigger than the bogeyman.’ And when Nia went to Australia to work as an intern at Edge Church, Adelaide we gathered around her as a family in the middle of the airport and prayed.
Working It Out
There are an increasing number of first generation Christians. It’s a positive. It means we are reaching the lost. But we also want to have lots of second, third and fourth generation followers, so we need to pass on faith. This is about bringing your children up in the presence of Jesus so that they become everything God created them to be. It’s about the Holy Spirit shaping, forming and sculpting them so they live well — knowing how to deal with hurt and pain and disappointment, responding with compassion, love and grace. Generous, forgiving and gracious now. Living life with the quality of eternity now. It is about instilling in them an understanding that they are loved, valued and accepted, even if they walk away and become one of the prodigals.
In his book The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire Edward Gibbon comments that part of the reason for the destruction of Rome was that it no longer had strong families and therefore the empire fell from within. The fourth century bishop John Chrysostom writes: ‘To each of you fathers and mothers I say, just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours… Like the creators of statues do you give all your leisure to fashioning these wondrous statues for God.’
Proverbs says ‘Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it’ (22:6). It’s interesting that it says ‘the way they should go.’ Rather than dictating that they need get a proper job — whatever that may mean — we should help them seek and discern what God has created them to be and do. Chrysostom again speaks of parents ‘vainglory’ in trying to push their children into certain well paying, high visibility roles.
1. Nobody’s Perfect
It’s not about making perfect human beings or over protecting and keeping them away from the harsh realities of this cruel world. They are naturally resilient. If a new-born baby could talk, it would be say, ‘Bring it on!’ Doctors will tell you that poorly babies are the best fighters. They want to do life. In Brené Brown’s incredible book Daring Greatly she writes: ‘When it comes to parenting, the practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive — it turns parenting into a shame minefield… Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.’
Until recently I sat as a Family Court Magistrate. I would get slightly concerned when a social worker would be asked about the standard of care in a particular family and they would respond, ‘It’s good enough.’ Eventually I challenged it only to be told in no uncertain terms by a very experienced social worker that, ‘Good enough is really rather good.’ But it’s not perfect. Perfection may just be our enemy. Perfect parents are not the goal. Good enough is really rather good.
2 Absolute Acceptance Always
One of the hardest keys is absolute acceptance. Chrysostom speaks of the love from parent to child being the same as God’s love to us. Agape love. Unconditional love. Green hair, pierced nose and/or belly button, inappropriate boyfriend, needing improvement in every possible school subject… absolute acceptance. We have to communicate that we accept their imperfections. And they are worth loving. It’s the essence of the Christian home. Absolute acceptance. Not ‘I wish you were taller, smaller, thinner, smarter, tidier, more Christian, attended church more….’
3. Modelling behaviour
Our children need to feel absolute acceptance because they are family. Because of who they are. It’s only possible to accept your children fully if you have learned to accept yourself. Otherwise you’ll constantly see your faults in them. Ultimately the key lies in being the sort of person you want your children to become. What do you model when it all goes wrong? What do you model what it all goes right?
I’m taking for granted that we are modelling prayer and reading our Bibles. I have discovered that prayer is quite simple. Set aside a time of day to meet with God and keep the appointment. There will be days when the heavens seem as brass, there will be days when you feel that God has forsaken you, there will be days of joy and peace in his presence, but all you must do is be there.
4. Be Fully Present
Are you engaged? Are you involved? Are you there in body, mind and spirit? Are you truly engaged in the job of being the parent God called you to be? Engagement means investing time and energy. It means sitting down with our children and understanding their worlds, their interests, and their stories. This is possibly the hardest thing to do at this point in history. We have forgotten how to be fully present. There is a fascinating commentary on the story of Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3). The rabbis say that the bush didn’t suddenly start burning when Moses came to it; it had been burning the whole time. Moses was simply moving slowly enough and paying attention enough to notice it.
When I was learning to snowboard my instructor gave me one simple piece of advice, ‘You’d be great at this if your mind was actually here rather than thinking about a dozen other things. Focus on this, just this.’ It worked. Snowboarding has become one of my favourite things to do because I can’t focus on a dozen other things and stay upright. I have to be fully present. It’s a skill to learn. Author Rob Bell remains one of my heroes. In How to be here he writes, ‘When you are constantly judging what you’re doing you aren’t here. You aren’t present. You are standing outside of your life, looking in, observing.’
When we are fully engaged in parenting, regardless of how imperfect, vulnerable, and messy it is, we are creating something sacred. And if your home already has parts that are not following Jesus: who don’t turn up in church as much as you would like, who despite your best efforts have drifted away, there is no guilt. If they have moved into the realms of the prodigals, we need to continue to outwork our four principles above and pray and wait patiently and believe for the prodigals to return. Not perfect parents. Just real ones.
I’m presently working with the New Wine Trust on this important focus on ministry to families. It’ll culminate in 2018 with a 65-venue tour with Riding Lights Theatre Company, all based around faith in the home. Keep checking out www.new-wine.org website for details.
Excellent stuff Mark, keep ’em coming