Most parents would answer this question with something like: “Whatever it takes.” or “Anything.” But from my own experience and observation, I do not believe that is true. I am writing this as I look back over 30 years of being a mother, not to criticize but as I tell my children frequently, “Don’t make my same mistakes. Find yourselves some new ones!”.
The most important priority for a Christian parent must be your child’s spiritual health and eternal destination. And yet we spend more time and effort on supporting their scholastic, sporting, and vocational successes. It isn’t an either-or situation. They have a life to live here and now on earth certainly, but if we realize that in developing their spiritual life, identifying their beliefs and building their spiritual “muscles”, our children will be equipped to deal with life’s trials as well as successes.
I took my children to church from the time they were four weeks old. They attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, sang in the Children’s Choir and participated in plays. I did the “right” thing but not the “best”. Why? Because it would have taken more of my time and required me to study and consider my own spiritual health. I wasn’t willing to do that. Maybe you have never consciously thought of this. I hope you think about it now.
Do your children see church as “something we do as a family every week”? When your family has to make a change due to jobs or finances, do you pray about it together? Do your children know that you see the Bible as an important tool in your life that you use regularly or is it a little-used item on a book shelf? Do you discuss Sunday School the way you discuss Math or History class? Do you attend church with the same enthusiasm as you do a football or basketball game?
When my twins (girl and boy) were 15, I think they hated each other. That is a beyond hard thing for me to say but I was afraid to leave them at home alone because they “sniped” at each other constantly and John was so much bigger than Janet, if he lost his temper he could have really hurt her. Both of them were becoming more and more “secretive” as many teens will do. And if all this wasn’t enough, their parents were headed for a divorce.
Their Youth Director took them to an Assembly of God church for a revival service that had spontaneously begun three days before. We attended a Methodist church. They went back again the next night. And the next. It was about this time that I began to notice a change in their behavior with each other. I remember vividly that one night I called upstairs, telling them it was time to go to bed.
“In a minute, Mom” Janet said. (The light was on in Janet’s room.)
“What are you doing?”
“Reading.” John said.
“What are you reading?” Thinking Janet was helping John with homework (which would have been surprising enough!)
“John’s gospel! We’re almost done!” they said. My jaw dropped. It was then that I decided to go with them the next night to this revival. I was honest enough with myself to know that this was the only “different” factor in their lives. And so began a life-changing two years that has forever changed our lives as we continued to attend revival services and became more involved in our home church.
I still worked 50+ hours/week. Janet continued her commitment to 20 hours/week in gymnastics. John played basketball and baseball and played in the band. We spent less time in front of the TV. We survived the difficult road through divorce.
The “crucible question” that I had to ask myself as a parent was more about what was going to be my reaction to my children becoming radically committed to Jesus Christ. My church experience was mainline and marginal. I had never seen people sing and dance in church like that. Speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Spirit were not familiar to me. Was this a cult? Was this God? Friends, people that I respected, pulled their children out of this group and shut down “this craziness”, “this over-emotional religion”. But I could not get past the change in my children. They were suddenly respectful, kind, cheerful, obedient, working hard in school without being nagged, and doing chores without being asked! And as I listened to the preaching/teaching, I found the principles Biblical and the differences in worship tolerated. What would I do to encourage my children in this behavior? Join them. Put in the time to watch and “test” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) for myself and them.
What would I give up for my children? My time. My own ideas of what was usual in church and worship. I was willing to admit that I didn’t know everything but we would find the answers together.
I am now in the season of my life when my influence on my adult children is from a much greater distance. I pray more and speak less. I hope to be able to leave a legacy to my grandchildren that they knew I loved them so very much but I loved our LORD more.