Our Faith and the Faith of Children

Here are sketchy notes from a talk I recently gave to parents of children at First Baptist Church of Asheville. 

A mother of two preschool children was cleaning her kitchen one morning, hoping to get the breakfast dishes put in the dishwasher, the milk and cereal put away, and the floor swept of wayward Cheerios before it was time to start fixing lunch. Cleaning the kitchen wasn’t hard (if she could ever just get to it), but every few minutes the children in the playroom would either get suspiciously quiet or dangerously noisy, and she’d have to leave the kitchen either to break up a conspiracy or to referee a fight. On the way back from refereeing still another round, her phone rang.

Exasperated, she answered. The voice on the other end of the line belonged to her neighbor, a nice woman about the age of her own mother. She was very nice, but she was also irritating—again, like her own mother! This older neighbor had made the young mother’s spiritual life her project. Every few days, she would call or visit and invite the family to go to church with her. This morning’s phone call was more of the same. The young mother wasn’t sure how she felt about church. Plus, she couldn’t imagine how she could get her preschoolers corralled and tamed on a Sunday morning. So, she tried, yet again, politely to dodge her neighbor’s invitation. This time, though, the older woman—a very conservative Christian—turned up the pressure, saying: “Don’t you ever think about life after death?”

The young woman looked at the mess in her kitchen, thought about the baths she hadn’t given her children last night and hoped to do this morning, remembered the laundry left to do, glanced over at a stack of bills to pay, saw her grocery shopping list on the refrigerator (it had to be done today!), and sighed in reply, “Right now, I’m not thinking about life after death. But I am hoping for life after dinner.”

Sometimes, when I, or some other church leader, talks with you about your spiritual lives and your church involvement, it’s hard to imagine how you could possibly do anything more than you’re already doing. We’re talking about eternal life, and your hoping for life after dinner. We’re talking about your long-term hopes for your children and for your own life, and coping with the short-term deadlines is already more than you can handle. We’re asking you to set priorities and make commitments, and you feel like you’re barely managing to juggle the commitments you’ve already made.

I get it. I really do. I talk with people all the time who are doing the best they can with the scarce time they have available and the demands they face.

Almost all of us are way too busy and in too much of a hurry. The comedian Steven Wright once said: “I think God is going to come down and pull civilization over for speeding.” If God does pull us over, there will be no way for us to beat the charge. We’d have no defense; we push hard and fast, and we drive ourselves and others at reckless speeds.

Years ago now, when John Ortberg was facing a tremendous amount of both opportunity and pressure, he called the late Dallas Willard, described to him the pace and demands of his life, and asked, “What do I need to do to be healthy spiritually? What do I need to do to guard my heart?” He said Willard paused for a long time and then said words John has never forgotten: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

Then, there was another long pause and John said: “Okay, I wrote that one down. Now, what else do you have to tell me, because I don’t have much time and I want to get a lot of wisdom out of this conversation.” Willard said, “There is nothing else.”

"You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” That phrase rings in my heart and soul as undeniably true, but it also registers with me as a daunting challenge. To meet that challenge will require us to get very clear about what the problem is, and it isn’t the clock, the calendar, or the smart phone.

Actually, we’re the problem, or, more accurately the anxiety and fear we have are the problem. We hurry because we are anxious and afraid.

Anxious that we aren’t enough, don’t have enough, and won’t do enough to deserve the place we occupy in the world or to provide for ourselves and our families.

Afraid that if we don’t push our kids into a blur of activity and achievement, they’ll miss make-or-break opportunities, and missing them will fate them to failure. That isn’t the truth, but we fear it is. Our culture has programmed us to think so. But it isn’t the case.

I’m zeroing-in on these issues of hurry, pressure, and time and on these anxieties we have about not being, having, and doing enough, because I think that these things are what most hinder our living the lives we’d really like to live. I think most of us would like for our lives to be calmer, more centered, more peaceful, and more focused on matters of the heart and the spirit. We’d also like to feel like we have time to listen to our children, really listen to them; to simply be with them, hang-out with them; to help them know how much we love them and how much God loves them; to be directly involved in shaping their minds and hearts so they are people who increasingly think, feel, and live as Jesus thought, felt, and lived.

I think you’d like that kind of life, and I invite you to commit yourself to it. The best thing you can do to foster your child’s emotional and spiritual growth is to make a solid commitment to your own. Like the pre-flight announcement about oxygen masks in case of a loss of air pressure, you need to secure your own spiritual life first. You can’t help your children become what you are not also becoming.

So, the best way to help your child become and be a follower of Jesus is to follow him yourself; and, then, to enter into partnership with the church to nurture your own growth and the growth of your children. Some suggestions:

Have your children them here enough that the good news about God’s love for them has a chance to get heard above the voices and messages of the culture that are always streaming toward them.

Talk about what they experience, and what you experience, at church between the times you are here.

Talk about your own faith with your children. Tell that what Jesus means to you. Tell them why you live your life the way you live it. Tell them why you don’t spend all your money on yourself and on stuff but give it away. Tell them why you give your time to serve other people.

Let the church be your extended family; enter into partnership with us as we together nurture one another’s faith and the faith of our children.