Without trying to create an alliteration (promise!) I was ruminating on raising Roger and realized that, as a Christian, there are three basic ways he could go; each is heavily reliant on how Jason and I instruct and shepherd his heart. They are: Rebellion, Religion, and Repentance.
Jason and I find ourselves in a peculiar situation. As first generation Christians, we weren't raised with any semblance of honoring any sort of deity, let alone Jesus Christ. Our upbringing was your basic "do the right thing because that's just what you do" moralism. There wasn't a basis for why we should obey our parents or be "good" beyond that's what our parents told us to do. We both had pretty rough upbringings and were exposed to lot of things that God never intended for children--or anyone--to experience, so we actually were each very drawn to the hope of a "clean" life in Jesus; more on that in the next section.
That said, as we raise our children, we don't have a Christian upbringing to reference. In many ways that's a gift of grace, as we get to lean entirely on Jesus and not past experience for how to go about this thing called parenthood. Something we've both observed, though, is that many, many people we knew from "Christian" homes became rebellious. They were imparted rules from their parents on how to obey God but they have no relationship with Him. God was inseparable from their parents and out of exasperation they defiantly revolted against both. Rebellion can be blatant in the form of outright insubordination or it can be deceptive, pretending to honor the "Christian family tradition" while secretly having no heart for God and living life according to one's own desires.
The deceptively rebellious child isn't too far from a religious child, except that the religious child also doesn't realize they are being rebellious. See, the rebellious child knows that they think living out of a heart that consistently worships the Father is, to be blunt, a big load of crap. Whether they have a personality that is willing to endure the drama of outward rebellion or they prefer to keep fake peace by living falsely, they are honest with themselves at the very least about their stance. The religious child is just as rebellious with no heart for God only, sadly, they don't know it.
|As Pastor Mark says, religion is as |
useful as a big, steaming pile; at least
the rebellious child is honest about that.
Religion happens when we try to earn God's favor by doing. The religious child, by all appearances, is the ideal child; in fact many parents happily settle for a religious child because it fulfills their heart's desire for a product of their making that looks really good. The religious child does what her parents say because the Bible says to honor your parents. The religious child has solid grades, follows through on commitments, is likely involved in extra-curricular activities, serves others, and never misses anything related to their age group at church because you honor God by doing your best at everything you believe He's called you to (and for the religious child this is usually quite a bit), you don't quit, you put others above yourself, and you always avail yourself to every opportunity to grow spiritually. The religious child finds comfort in a life that is clean, tidy, and put together and so she seems to be very low-maintenance for her parents.
The problem with the religious child is that his heart is not soft toward God. He has no intimacy, no depth of relationship, with Christ. He thinks he does, but in reality he's so busy doing, checking off his heavenly mansion packing list, that Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are given no authority to address the deep matters of the heart. But because she's a doer of the word since she volunteered to coordinate a clothing drive for local single moms, the religious child feels safe and secure that her ticket to Jesus' side is punched. And, again, for parents, this is ideal. When he's a toddler it's easier to pound into the child's head that you do what's right because God said so, get him real worked up about the fires of hell that are sure to welcome him if he hits his sister one more time so he better show God he can stop it, than to actually take the time to root out the evil deep in his heart and help him learn that he's desperate for Jesus' help.
This brings me to the final option, the repentant child. The repentant child is a sinner through and through, and she knows it. She knows that no amount of good or bad she does can affect her identity in Jesus Christ. He died for her not only at her worst, when she was His enemy, but also for her at her best, when she was trying so hard to prove to him that she could earn His favor. The repentant child sees that his heart is in a constant state of rebellion, but instead of trying to "do" it into submission by following rules that seem Biblical he cries out to Jesus, recognizing how desperate he is every second for the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to live for the Father's glory and His alone.
Repentant children are messy. They break your heart with their sin and they bring you deep joy when they come, confessing their sin and seeking your forgiveness. The repentant child doesn't offer the security of making you look good the way a religious child, or even the way a deceptively rebellious child does until the truth comes out. The repentant child also doesn't earn you the sympathy and tears at your prayer meeting that your openly rebellious child, in spite of everything you've done to show Jesus to them, can offer. Instead, the repentant child is a mess of a human being, desperate for Christ's grace. By the grace of sanctification they grow in maturity along the way, but they're a handful for parents to consistently shepherd and point to the cross again and again and again.
So What Then?
Jason and I want to raise repentant children. I've thought a lot about how that happens, because I don't think they just fall into your lap. The human heart is, as Smeagol might say, quite the tricksy little Hobbit. Our job as parents is to keep pointing our children's hearts to the cross, continually bringing the Gospel before them day in and day out, praying for them, and, ultimately, living out our desperation for Christ before them. Jesus has softly spoken to me that if I desire to raise repentant children I'm the first place they will look to learn how that plays out. Their gaze will be on me continually, and it's how I respond to Jesus that they will tuck away in their hearts as "the truth" no matter what comes out of my mouth.
This started long before Roger was conceived and it's relevant even now. When I freak out over finances will I try to religiously work my fingers to the bone to feel safe and secure and say that working so hard is honoring to Jesus? Will I rebel and buy that thing we can't afford, throwing it on the AmEx that we swore we'd pay off every month, out of frustration that it's just not fair that we work this hard and can't afford said item? Or will I confess to my Father that my wicked heart doesn't believe He's good, refuses to accept that it's His delight to provide for us, and that I need Christ's shed blood on the cross to once again cancel out my sins and restore me to a right relationship with God that I didn't earn and don't deserve?
I pray that I would be repentant always (and praise God, in spite of much freaking out, I have repented and turned to Him in this area in recent weeks as I've faced worry and fear about finances), but instead of playing the, "It's all good," card to my children my heart is to be honest with them as is appropriate for their age, maturity, and understanding. I remain convinced that if I am not repentant then neither will my children be; my repentance does not ensure they will follow suit, but certainly if Jason and I don't live out the Gospel then we can't expect our children to internalize it.
I praise God for our son. I know that this will be hard. I pray that these words, written before I've ever seen my son in the flesh, will be rooted deep in my heart. And, ultimately, I pray that I would always be quick to recognize and receive grace and even more quick to repent when I become religious or rebellious.