Recently my friend, Dawn, started asking people a significant question about the spiritual legacy they want to leave their children. I doubt she intended to leave me pondering deeply for days after I answered her on a Facebook thread. I couldn’t shake thoughts of what our day-to-day life looks like as opposed to the cry of my heart as a mom committed to intentional motherhood.
You know how life goes. We get into our routines. Our schedules drive us. We can find ourselves going through the motions instead of leading our children with intention. We start our days getting kids packed and off to school, or we educate them at home. Throughout the afternoon we complete chores and errands, then run from soccer practice to dance rehearsals. Evenings consist of supper, getting teeth brushed and tucking children into bed. We throw in family devotions and bedtime prayers if we are able and consistent. We can inadvertently end up performing all the tasks while missing the mark.
Where’s the Heart?
I started thinking about crazy-intentional things I did when my oldest was younger. I mean, like, let’s get a degree from Talbot School of Theology in kindergarten, crazy. For example, we memorized the names of God in Hebrew and their meanings. This was actually pretty cool. I’m not so sure I quenched his spiritual thirst with age-appropriate experiences. Then I considered activities which resulted in messages I didn’t mean to convey. Sometimes our spiritual practices put far more emphasis on our behavior than the heart behind our actions. There’s nothing wrong with learning to be kind or control our tongues. When the heart is left disengaged, these become exercises in trying to be good without God. That’s not the spiritual legacy I want to impart to my children.
Somewhere between child one and child two (and after child 1.5 who was our foster daughter had left our home), I realized more deeply that spiritual virtues are fruit. As I continued to mother my children, I saw my own failings and sin come through my motherhood. I knew God had to be at the heart. Otherwise our spiritual activity was going to add up to nothing (don’t believe me? Check 1 Cor 13).
The Next Generation of Pharisees
I mean, if you are constantly memorizing verses and reciting them (all good), and you are counting three blessings a day at supper (again, good stuff), and you are reading a designated portion of scripture together each morning (yep, that’s good too), you can feel like you’ve got this spiritual training thing all wrapped up in a bow.
Strictly leading children through spiritual practices has the potential to produce adults who tithe, show up to church on time and serve in ministry. These same adults can be the ones whose hearts do not lean on God or seek Him to share their joys. They rarely lift their sorrows to God or look to Him to strengthen their weakness. We can have children who know a lot about God, live around the things of God, and yet lack a meaningful connection with God. In other words, we can be unwittingly raising the next generation of Pharisees.
Paul prays this amazing prayer in Ephesians that we would be rooted and grounded in love and know the height and depth and breadth of a love that cannot be measured – the love God has for us. The concept of relationship as a foundation started to permeate the way I shepherd my children, and honestly, it’s made things all messy and unmeasurable.
When you start to focus on the relational connection your children are having with God, it gets a bit murky. Often we don’t know what is taking root in our children’s hearts. Some seeds we scatter will fall on fertile soil. Others, like this old lime tree we brought with us and replanted when we moved, have to grasp new soil for a good long time before any fruit comes.
God tells us, though, that we will know a tree by its fruit. We can tell if our kids are growing in really knowing Jesus by the way they talk about Him. We can observe whether they independently seek Him when we aren’t prompting them. Yes, this quickening of their heart is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit. We can hinder or facilitate their growth by what we demonstrate about walking with God. A lot can be impacted by how we invite them into life with Him.
Have I Got A Match for You
At some point, and I don’t remember when, I started thinking of my role in my children’s faith relationships with God as one of a sort of Yenta (matchmaker). You know when you meet this awesome single young woman and you think, “Oh, do I know a guy for you?” (Ok, maybe that’s just me …) Anyway, I look at my children and God as a delightful match literally made in heaven. My role is to introduce them to one another and then let them cultivate a relationship. Christianity is not a box I want to fit my children into, but a relationship I want them to cultivate. I hope my spiritual legacy will be one of relationship.
Walk the Talk
Another pitfall we can easily stumble into is working on our children’s spiritual growth as if it were a project to be accomplished. We sometimes do this to the neglect of our own walk with God. It’s so much easier to focus on what they need to do and how we need to set up all the things to make them do it. Instead, we would do better to double up on our own heart examination, prayer time, and devotion to the Word. Jesus talked about this when He reminded us to take the log out of our own eye so we could be equipped to help others with the speck in theirs.
As parents, we need to model our own dependent and abiding relationship. The more we walk with God, the more we will include Him in all we do. Our children will emulate our modeling far more than they will absorb lessons we struggle to impart to them.
Do first; teach second.
Live out the spiritual legacy you want your children to copy and you will be amazed at the growth in both of you.
God has both the capacity and the desire to pursue our children. Their faith is not an outcome of our input. Let’s walk the talk and focus on leading them to Him so they can foster a trust-follow relationship. We will know we have done the best we can to facilitate a spiritual legacy that carries them forward. Not one of us does this perfectly. Ultimately, the choice to live out all that has been modeled and taught will be theirs.