By Jesse Jost
As a parent, I am terrified to look around and see how many young people are walking away from their faith and the convictions they were raised with. They willfully plunge into the life of pain and heartache that their parents tried so hard to spare them from. Some families are losing more kids than others. I wonder, is this just because some parents are given children who are the “elect” and others aren’t? I’ve heard parents are not the ones to blame when their children walk away. I have no desire to heap blame upon parents who are already devastated by the choices their children have made, but while I am in the throes of raising my own kids, I desperately want to believe that there are things I can do that will make a difference in my children. I know kids are not programmable robots; they are free to choose as they will. I know there are no foolproof methods that can guarantee that my children will stay faithful in their walk with God. But at the same time, I do believe that parents somehow impact their kids’ future choices. I think it would be irresponsible to just chew my fingernails nervously on the sidelines, hoping they make the right choice.
So often, though, solutions to one problem have hidden consequences. You want to shelter your kids from the negative influence of media (clearly a good idea!) but you may find that this results in your kids being prideful and critical, two attitudes that greatly hinder our walk with God. On the flip side, parents who don’t want to raise Pharisees and so let their kids participate in whatever the crowd is doing may find that the counterfeit pleasures of a godless life have left their kids with no desire for the things of God. Sigh. What can be done?
I am the oldest of 11 children. So far my parents have raised the oldest six into their twenties and all of the children have a heart after God. I don’t want to give you the idea that my siblings are unthinking, submissive little clones. Hardly! They are free thinkers and often our “discussions” lead to kids weeping in the corner. But still, not a single one has rebelled or walked away. My parents would be the first to tell you that this is only by the grace of God. I often look to their example for inspiration. I see things in what they did that have helped my walk with God.
1. They showed us their need for God
We often heard them begging God for his grace and mercy. They were open about their failings and honest about their need for his grace. They deflected praise back to God and did it with full sincerity. We were reminded over and over that if there was any good in us it was God’s doing, and that it was foolish to look down with condescension on those who were entangled in the destructive spell of sin. To sin against God was in our own nature. This realization of how much we needed God’s strength to be good stripped much of our critical spirit away and turned our eyes back to God.
2. They made prayer with us a regular occurrence
It was often during prayer time that we saw how real their desire for God was in their life. It was not a front or for show. Prayer time also showed us their brokenness and tearful confessions to God. It was also through prayer that God made himself real to us as He answered time after time.
3. They instilled a fear of God
We often heard that we were accountable to God for the choices we made. If we were to rebel, it was God’s authority we were rebelling against, not just theirs. I am not saying they tried to play God in our life. Far from it. But they showed us that their requests of us were rooted in God’s word and not a power struggle. We were reminded of God’s constant presence. And while this gave us a fear of sinning, it also was a tremendous comfort. Yes, we were to fear God, but they made it clear that this God was so kind and loving. His rules were for our pleasure. God was the one who created our desires and that if we wanted them truly fulfilled, God was the only one who could do that. When they laid out their rules for us, they took the time to explain why each rule was important and helped us to see that though disobeying God’s law might feel good in the moment, it would have devastating consequences later. Because obedience was framed in these terms, it removed any secret envy of those who were “free” to sin. We also didn’t feel pride for choosing God’s way; we were simply following the most truly fulfilling path.
4. They used the fact of our creation by God to shape our identity
We often were reminded that God made us for His purposes and that he had exciting things in store for us if we surrendered to Him. These truths gave us so much purpose and freedom. We had a strong sense that we were not an accident but were created for a reason. My parents reinforced this message by giving God their womb and letting Him decide the size of our family. This decision gave us kids the reassurance that we were here because God wanted us here and not just because our parents decided to have us. None of us were birth control malfunctions. We all felt very wanted.
5. They encouraged scripture memory from a young age
I had memorized several passages of scripture before I even knew how to read. This can only happen by great effort on the parents’ part. With young kids of my own I see how much effort this takes and I marvel that my parents persevered like they did. As we grew they tried to make it fun by games such as memory verse “ping-pong” (two partners take turns reciting the next verse in a passage. If one can’t remember or gets it wrong the opponent gets a point.) They also created positive association with memorizing by giving us a gift at the completion of a chapter. (I still remember I got a Swiss army knife when I finished Matt 5 and a Lego set when I completed chapter 6.) Even now the Holy Spirit uses these verses to shape and convict me, long after I had left their immediate influence.
6. They affirmed us liberally
Positive affirmation has such a way of inspiring us, while negative criticism drains us of motivation. We loved to take initiative in cleaning our room or different areas of the house as a surprise for them, because the verbal outpouring of affirmation felt so good. When we pleased them, they made sure we knew – which of course creates the victorious cycle of us eager to put more effort into pleasing them.
7. They took the time to listen to us
We always felt like they valued what we thought and wanted to hear what we were going through. When we had questions about our family convictions we were encouraged to debate and talk them through. This led to us learning to think for ourselves and to make convictions our own. They also knew that for our walk with God to be genuine, we had to be changed from the inside out. You can force outward conformity without taking the time to listen, but if you want your kids’ faith to be genuine, you have to listen and initiate the conversation.
This openness led to a wealth of perspective and guidance once we started developing crushes. The world of romantic relationships can be a scary, yet entrancing realm. I loved entering it with my parents as allies rather than enemies.
8. They kept a cleansed home
Today it is staggering to hear how many boys are exposed to pornography before they even know what is happening, and yet the poisonous damage is done. Their brains’ wiring is sabotaged and unless God’s grace sets them free they will never know the deep satisfaction of a pure and holy sex life. I am so grateful that my parents were so diligent to protect us in this area. We were taught from a young age to guard our eyes and save them for our future wives (as in, one each). Along with this my mom and sisters were careful to tear out immodest pictures in magazines and scribble out other scenes in books. They also held up pillows in front of the TV screen when it displayed a person revealing a little too much skin. Obviously purity needs to cover the internal world of the heart and thought life, but preventing lustful images from entering the mind made the struggle to stay pure so much easier during the wild hormonal swings of adolescents.
9. They refused to compare us or let us compare
My parents tried to instill in us a sense that we were valuable to them and to God apart from what we had done and that God had gifted us specifically for our unique callings. It was pointless to compare our gifting with someone else, because that other person was given gifts for his particular calling. This created a strong sense of security in who we were. It didn’t matter how we performed compared to others; God made us sufficient for the tasks that He would give us. Because of this we didn’t feel the need to tear others down in order to make ourselves feel better. We still had struggles and temptations in this area, but my parents saw the psychological damage that comparing causes, especially in the area of relationships and were proactive to counter it.
10. They were genuine
My parents are genuine people. I think that is really at the heart of what I appreciate so much about them. I think children, more than anybody, are turned off by hypocrisy. We can fool other people most of the time and keep up a presentable image. But if your image is not genuine, your kids will see right though that and you’ll drive them away. What people saw in public, we kids saw at home. Their marriage was just another aspect of that. My parents truly love and enjoy each other even after 11 kids and 32 years of marriage. They are as in love now as I have ever seen them.
It was tough narrowing this down to the ten things I appreciated. I had to leave much out: Regular times of worship and bible reading, the fact that they home-schooled us, how they both modeled selfless servanthood, how generous they were with us and others even when things were financially tight, etc. In a world where kids are walking away from their faith at an alarming rate, it is inspiring to look no further than my own childhood for examples of how God can bless a home when two broken people cast themselves completely on Him.