I am a mother of three teen daughters. Make that two teenagers and a 20 year-old: college, high school, and middle school. My daughters have grown up in a Christ-centered home watching their very imperfect parents struggle and grow and hold on to their faith during life's ups and downs, including some really difficult seasons. They memorized Scripture in Awana and went on youth retreats every year with our church's student ministries. They have gone on multiple global service trips. Each of them have a genuine, growing faith -- a faith that began when they were children and they are each now owning as teens and young adults.
This is good news. This is really good news. And yet, I am finding myself in this interim season, especially with the two older girls, where I am trying to figure out how to engage and have conversations about faith and culture when we don't always agree on things. I am quite clumsily navigating discussions that sometimes don't go very well as I seek to listen and understand, be heard and understood, and continue to guide and come alongside my daughters as they develop their world views and faith perspectives.
For moms and dads, these are challenging times. Our culture is profoundly influencing our children, and if I'm honest, it is profoundly influencing me. More than ever I am aware of my need to be rooted and grounded in the truth of God's Word, and to be alert and watchful. I will be the first to admit that I feel like I'm in over my head. Sometimes it seems like our powerful cultural current is sweeping us all off our feet, carrying us along, and we may not even be aware of its pull and the direction in which we are headed. We float along as if in a lazy river, and maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe we've become lazy when it comes to seeking and upholding truth and the process of spiritual transformation. We prefer quick fixes. We want what feels good.
Here is where it gets tricky: there is a brand of modern, progressive Christianity that calls into question the validity, reliability, and relevance of Scripture. Some groups emphasize and elevate certain parts of the Bible over others: some disregard the Old Testament or parts of it, others focus only on the words of Jesus, and some reject various passages because they do not align with twenty-first century thinking. Instead of preaching the gospel of good news that Jesus came to rescue us from sin and transform us by His Spirit so that we can know His will and live lives that please Him, another gospel is being preached. It is a gospel of self-reliance, self-promotion, and the self-seeking pursuit of happiness. Rather than calling us to discipleship, to taking up our crosses daily and following Christ, it is an ever-evolving, ear-tickling message that fits into our culture nicely. Choose your own path. Make your own rules. Interpret the Bible however you think it should be interpreted and essentially, make up your own version of God. Because the God of the Bible confounds us and confuses us at times, and we need to make Him behave. And people are eating it up.
"I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people." Romans 16:17-18
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3:16, 17
It is good to ask questions. It is healthy to engage our minds and our hearts as we study Scripture. But if in our questioning we are demanding answers that we agree with and approve of, answers that make sense to us and seem right in our own eyes, then we are in serious danger of creating our own version of God - one who acts and speaks and does what we think is right.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2
"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. " 2 Timothy 4:2-4
I love what Peter says regarding the reliability of the message he and the early Christian leaders were proclaiming:
"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21
I am in the thick of this, and I'm learning some things about my kids and about myself. I'm discovering some "what to do and what not to do" behaviors and responses (through trial and error), and I'd like to share a few of them here:
1. Don't freak out. (I have freaked out A LOT.) It can be alarming to hear your child say things or do things that go against what you believe to be true and right. My most common reaction in these situations is to over-react. I get emotional. Sometimes it comes out in frustration and even anger, but I'm aware that under the surface I am scared. I am worried my child may be deceived by false teaching, and on a deeper level, I am scared at the realization that I am not in control. I actually have zero control. My children will make their own choices and forge their own faith journeys. I do, however, have influence. But my influence will be severely hampered if I am reactive and emotional. My kids do not feel safe talking to me about their questions and opinions when I interrupt them and don't listen. Trust me when I say that I have messed up on this point and have botched many conversations because of my emotional responses. But it is not the end of the world, because there is this thing called grace. When I circle back and acknowledge my failure to engage well in a conversation, when, in humility, I admit when I'm wrong, when I am honest about the fact that I don't have the monopoly on absolute truth or know the answers to all or even most of our hardest questions, and when I vulnerably admit to my child my fears that lurk under my frustrations, I've seen something pretty remarkable happen. My child sees my struggle. She sees that I am trying. She sees that I love her. By grace, we get to try again. And again, and again.
2. Don't not freak out. It's true that we should not freak out. (See point #1). But if not freaking out means that I throw my hands up in the air like I just don't care, that I remain silent when I hear things that don't align with our faith and values, that I trust somehow it will all work out in the end, and I give my children all the space in the world to figure things out on their own, then I think we need to freak out a little. False teaching should alarm us. Red flags should go up. Like a warning light on the dashboard of our car, we should pay attention and heed caution. We should pay attention to what our kids are reading and read some of these books ourselves. We should study apologetics and dig into the hard stuff. It is a huge mistake for us as parents to be silent when our kids need us to be involved. To look the other way when they still need our guidance. Even if they don't agree with what we are saying, I truly believe they want connection. There will be times when we need to back off and, for a time, maybe stop discussing certain topics or issues. But we can still engage and be present in our actions and by example. Even as our kids become adults, we can be some of the most influential people in their lives. Hanging in there, being sensitive to timing and non-verbal cues, and showing respect by how I handle myself in the conversation goes a long way in protecting and preserving the relationship. And this is of utmost importance. Because without relationship I have no influence! When I demonstrate that our relationship is more important to me than proving a point or getting my child to see thing's the way I do, her heart towards me softens. She sees that I am not willing to give up or walk away. She sees that because we love each other and are on the same team, we keep jumping in. We keep engaging. And in my human, flawed, imperfect way, I will keep trying to be the best mom-mentor I can be.
3. Do trust God -- deeply, unswervingly, from the bottom of your heart. And pray for your children. Pray for their friends. Pray for your nieces and nephews, It really is true that God loves these children even more than we do. He cares about the state of their hearts and their faith journeys even more than we do. And unlike us, He does have control over a whole myriad of factors and influences we may not think about. He orchestrates people to cross their paths. He brings to mind truths in just the right moment. He uses anything and anyone to do His holy work, and most importantly, by the work of His Spirit, He convicts, reveals, heals, and transforms. And even if it is sometimes hard for us to imagine and believe, He uses us as parents, in all our shortcomings, to illustrate and demonstrate the gospel. He uses us in our weaknesses to showcase His strength and perfection. He uses us in our deficits and in our lack to show our kids that what they need most can only ever be found in Him. By His grace, God redeems, restores, and redirects. He holds us in His hands, and His love never fails.
4. Demonstrate biblical dependency and a commitment to live under the authority of Scripture. This speaks volumes. Living the Christian life is not about following rules and being a good person. It is about following THE person who gave His life in exchange for mine. It is about submitting myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, surrendering my life to His will, and placing all of my trust in Him. It is about holding Scripture higher than my own desires, opinions, and will. None of us does this perfectly.
By His grace, may we be found faithful.
A resource that has been extremely helpful to me: www.alisachilders.com/