Across the world, different parents have different hopes and dreams for their children. Many just want their kids to be more than what they were–richer, smarter, more popular, or whatever -er than they were. Some devote all their parental energies toward ensuring that their children achieve academic success, pushing them relentlessly toward a love for learning or reading and maybe even toward degree after degree. And many American parents today are aiming for “balanced, well-rounded” kids, placing their kids in a wide spectrum of activities to ensure this outcome. And then a few just want their children to not go to jail. But I think almost all parents (the ones who care, anyway) tend to choose a “basket” and put their eggs in it, hoping their kids will cooperate. Basket-choosing is a little scary because of this last factor–will they cooperate? Maybe so, maybe not. But regardless, we all choose our baskets. And we’ve chosen ours.
But whatever their goals, most parents undoubtedly want their kids to be happy, whatever that means. This might sound weird, but I don’t necessarily want my kids to be happy. I mean, I DO want them to be happy, of course. BUT…
Not if it means they will be happily oblivious to Him.
Not if it means they will not know how much they need Him.
Not if the very center of their happiness comes from anything other than Him.
Not if they will happily spend their lives on anything other than His purposes.
(Because, REALLY, if they do grow up to love Him wholeheartedly and follow His ways sacrificially, rather than following their own way, they will be truly in-the-deep-places happy. And if it takes decades of miserable to get them there, then so be it. His will be done. But of course I hope it doesn’t take that.)
We’re not kidding around about teaching our kids about God. We do all the other stuff too, don’t get me wrong. (Our family calendar is a mystery to the untrained eye, my husband included–just kidding.) But when it’s just us in the mornings or in the afternoons and evenings, and in our comings and goings (the car!), we are putting our hearts on the line for this endeavor: to love them unconditionally and laugh with them unabashedly and teach them tirelessly of His wonderful ways, from sunrise to sunset, weaving His wonderful ways into as many of our regular daily activities as we can. We really believe that pouring into them is the biggest, most important thing that we will do our whole life long. Of all the disciples we will make in our lifetime, they are the most important.
But you can’t make a kid love God. I think that’s the very scariest thing to me about raising children. What if one of them grows up and doesn’t see Him, doesn’t love Him? Because when it comes down to it, that’s ALL that really matters. We are of the disposition that it is only God who can open our eyes, who makes Himself irresistible to His children, wooing us and even causing us to walk in His ways. If we’re right about that, I don’t have to worry too much about that question up there. But even if that ends up not being how it works (a concession for all you Arminians I love), then I can still cling to what He has said though: “train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Certainly, we parents have been commanded to teach our children the ways of the Lord (Proverbs 22:6 &15, Ephesians 6:1-4, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 29:15-17, Psalm 127:4-5, need more proof?). That IS my job description right now, to teach them (in word and deed) what it means to follow Christ. A tall order. It requires a lot of my time and energy. Sometimes, it’s just plain exhausting. But it’s the kids who give me little espresso shots of hope in what we’re doing.
Several months ago, when we were in Tulsa, the kids went somewhere and they each got a helium balloon. As soon as we all got into the car, Adam, our five year-old, who has become increasingly contemplative of spiritual things in the last year, asked us if he could give his balloon to God. We asked him to explain and he said he wanted to release his balloon to God to thank Him for sending Jesus. Be still my heart. Then he asked if God could really receive it if he sent it up there. And I told him with full confidence that I believed that God would open up a little door in Heaven’s floor just to receive that balloon. Adam grinned from ear to ear. And when we got home, he released his balloon to God with love so pure, I could have just floated right up to heaven with that balloon.
But then there was Benjamin. (I think I say that a lot.) My sweet, strong-hearted one. “The little tribe of Benjamin, he shall lead them all…” (Psalm 68:27) As soon as Adam had released his declaration of love to the sky, Benjamin piped up,
“I don’t love God.”
Ouch! Be still my heart again. He’s only three, yet he stuns me sometimes with his honesty. He then explained that he had no desire or intention to give his beloved balloon to God, that he wanted to keep his balloon, and repeated fervently that he doesn’t love God. I explained to him that it was okay that he wasn’t ready to give his balloon to God, and that God would someday help him to love Him and to want to give his balloon away. (In three year-old speak, I said this, of course. Not quite like that.) I said it with full faith in my heart even, and later I prayed achingly that this precious little boy would soon come to know the joy of loving Jesus.
That was months ago, yet I can still hear his little voice in my head, “I don’t love God.” It’s not the first time he’s expressed so candidly a hard heart toward the Lord. In family devotions, time and again, Claire and Adam have expressed sweet affection for Christ, while Benjamin insisted that he felt no such affection. But we’ve been okay with it, waiting patiently, and continuing to teach him alongside his brothers and sister.
Lately though, there’s been a change in him. Keith and I have secretly rejoiced over it together. Benjamin’s been listening more closely, and answering questions with enthusiasm, and squealing with delight during our little family praise sessions (when we sing and dance around and love Him super-silly-style). Suddenly, his prayers are more thoughtful and, suddenly, it sounds a little different how he says that precious name we love,”Jesus!”
And last night, absolutely out of the blue, at the end of our devotion, he looked straight at me and said,
“I want to give my balloon to God now.”