Well, my publishing schedule got a little side-lined. Excitingly, I’ve been asked to blog each month this year on the Families First Magazine‘s web-site, a publication from Mothers’ Union. It’s a cracking magazine and I’ve been a fan of their mix of practical parenting and spiritual inspiration for a long time. Hopefully I won’t bring the tone down too far! Do check out the magazine itself as well as the blogs which are written by a variety of people. You can find it in places like Londis and Sainsburys or ask your local newsagent to stock it.
It’ll be similar content to here but much, much shorter articles (the first one made me sound far more saintly and wise than I actually am because I had no room for explanation!). I’m really looking forward to talking about opportunities the different seasons of the year present for discipling our little people.
Anyway….back to reality here on my own patch…
The New Year is often a time for resolutions or, something I personally find easier to do, goal setting. Maybe it’s a personality thing. I think it’s like when you’re on a long tough hike. I personally find it easier to focus on where I’m going than to try and focus on every painful little step. To me, there has to be a point to those little steps.
Even more importantly, those steps have to be going in the right direction!
It’s exactly the same as we look at the task of leading our children towards a personal faith of their own – rather than focus first on what we’re going to do, we first need to think about our end goal, and maybe prayerfully make some shorter term goals in between in order to choose how we spend our finite time and resources in helping them come to faith.
Let me flesh that out a bit. By the time my kids leave home, not only do I want them to be able to cook, clean and maintain a house, balance their finances and be generally decent human beings, I want them to have a faith in the Lord Jesus that will carry them through all challenges and last a life time.
Now stop panicking, right there! I can’t make that happen because faith comes from God and my children’s self-will is involved. It is not ultimately down to me.However, I can teach and train them and provide them with an environment where that is more likely to happen.
It’s not just about a one-time decision to follow Jesus though. During those 18 years (and, crikey, we’re already down to just 13 1/2 years with my daughter!), we’re going to need to teach and, more importantly, model many things.
This list might differ slightly for you, depending on your theology and spiritual tradition but here are some I thought of: what does humble submission to God’s commands and leadership look like? What does practical servanthood look like? How can we pray effectively for everything from our family’s practical needs to spiritual protection to the spiritual and practical needs of the world? What does praying look and feel like? When do we pray? How and why do we forgive? How do we handle the challenges of being in a church family? Or other church traditions? Or entire other religions?
It’s not like I have all the answers to these questions myself, even aged 38 (!), but these are things I think my kids need to know something about.
However, if we get stuck on the end vision, we can easily be daunted by the enormity of the task and overawed by the responsibility. Where on earth do we even start?
I think it can be good to have some time thinking about where your kids are now. What do they know about God? About praying? About how your faith relates to your life and the world around you? Remember, you probably know these kids better than anyone else on earth.
Then, step two, just have a think about where you might like them to be in a year’s time. It’s hard to imagine our kids several years ahead sometimes (or even a few months when we deal with some of their frustrating baby habits!) but a year or so should be doable. Pray about it, think about it and make a plan. What would you like them to learn this year?
If your child is 2, you might just like them to know some more bible stories, focussing maybe on those that show how much Jesus loved children or, if your child is fearful, how God is a protective Father. You know your kid!
If they’re 4, you might pray together for a nursery friend who is feeling sad or a relative who is ill. Remember to point out any answers you see to prayer. You might want to be praying for them as they learn to handle their emotions.
Your pre-teens with their burgeoning independence may need to learn about issues of self-control and personal integrity as they start to handle social situations on their own more and more. You may need to think about which social events you let them go to and what freedom you give them on-line.
But it’s not all about talking with them or buying great bible-study resources.
Here’s where it’s really at. As you live your own life in response to God’s life, do you talk about what you’re doing and about your thought processes? Do you exlain why you’re visiting an elderly neighbour or delivering a meal to a family with a new baby? When you ask your children to be kind to children they find hard to like at school or to forgive each other, do you relate it to what Jesus taught us? We need to be living our lives out loud for our children, to narrate some of the thought processes (dear God, not all!), to show how we handle our struggles with God’s grace.
We also need to be nurturing our family bonds and making our homes a place of warmth and fun and belonging so that when they look for direction in their lives, home wins, our values win, hands down.
So, as you look into 2014, where do you want your kids to be by the end of it and what will you do to get there? Write it down, break it into small steps and work out how to make it happen.
So, do you set a vision and goals for the spiritual input you’re going to provide for your children? Or do you take a completely different approach? I’d love to know your thoughts so get commenting!
Picture supplied under creative commons licence here