Sticky Faith?

I saw the sadness in their eyes.

I was speaking at a church last Sunday on the subject of “Passing on the Faith.”  Since they had spent four Sundays on “Family Matters” based in Deuteronomy 6—the pivotal passage on parenting in the Bible—I chose as our follow-up text a few verses from Psalm 78:3-7:

“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. . . so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God.”

I love the multi-generational hope extended here. I love the pattern for passing it on.

But still, I saw the sadness in some eyes out in that congregation.  Many pairs of eyes, actually.  And I know where it came from.  It came from struggling hearts, grieving hearts.  Hearts of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and pastors and friends.  Hearts that had held out great hope for the children in their lives.  Hearts that had wanted very badly to “pass it on.”  But they were watching kids—teens and young adults and even not-so-young adults—make some very disappointing choices, not showing much external evidence, if any, of a life of faith.  

Recently  I’ve been reading Sticky Faith, an excellent book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark on how we can build a lasting faith in our kids.  It’s a great book, based on extensive research as to what makes faith “stick.”  It’s also full of  helpful suggestions and powerful strategies for parents, churches, and anyone working with kids today.  I highly recommend it.

But still, the question lingers, and I see those sad eyes.  Why, Oh God, do I know so many parents who have truly poured themselves out to passing on the faith—and still their kids are wandering?  Or running?  Yes, praise God, I also know many kids who grew up in “sticky faith” homes and churches who are shining examples of faith passed on.  It’s just those others that I can’t get off my mind—and never from my prayers.

It’s that dangerous gift of free will that God gave us, isn’t it?   Our kids grow up to make their own decisions.  And they have to find, eventually, their own faith, and establish their own walk with Jesus. 

Does this mean that there’s no point in giving our all to raising “sticky faith” kids who we pray will love Jesus above all else?  Of course not.  It’s our calling as parents.  It simply means we never forget our highest parental call: to pray for our kids—first, last, and always.

It also means we never forget Who ultimately sticks with our kids, pursuing them, pursuing them, pursuing them always with His infinite love and powerful grace.  

It’s why I looked out over that congregation on Sunday and reminded them of what they already know: God is not finished yet—with them or with us.  And what did Paul say in Philippians 1:6?  We can be confident that God finishes what He starts.  

So we get out our knee pads and stick with our prayers for our kids, knowing Who ultimately sticks with us.   

Out of the Mouths - and into the Hearts - of Babes

Recently a friend called my attention to an excellent blog posting called “Doctrine in Diapers” by Amy Julia Becker on Christianity Today’s blog for women called her.meneutics.   It’s worth reading!  In it Becker shares stories of saying (and singing) grace with her children, praying with them, answering (or attempting to answer) their questions, taking them to church, and reading Bible stories with them.   Through it all the whole family—not just the kids—are learning a lot about God.  It sounds a great deal like what we talk about at Mom to Mom as the “Deuteronomy 6 lifestyle.”

It brought back a flood of memories for me.  And as I relived these memories, I realized something.  I am now re-living them in a new and different—and wonderful—way.  I am now seeing new versions lived in the lives of my grandchildren.

There was a time when our kids were young when we would sing “God Is Great and God Is Good” (pretty good theology, I’d say—as Becker observed about some of their songs of grace) before eating.  I’ll never forget the time our family, along with a young teen “Mother’s Helper” from our neighborhood, was grabbing a quick supper in the food court at the mall.  Lars, who was about 2 ½-3 at the time, insisted on singing our grace right there in the middle of the mall.  I thought poor Susan was going to go through the floor.

Recently Lars’ son Bengt was sharing his “wish list” for his 5-yr-old birthday.  “I really like hymns, Nana,” he said,  “so I’d like some CD’s of hymns.  My favorites are ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ and ‘Be Thou My Vision.’”  Interesting choices, I thought, for a 5-year-old.  Also some great theology being sung into his life at an early age.

Becker also talked of her children’s prayers for others, and I was reminded of how many years (yes, years) Bjorn prayed for the “hostages in Iran to come home” every night before bed.  Now I sit around the table with Bjorn and his family and hear Soren, almost 4, praying for a missionary family in almost every prayer: “Please be with the boys in the Middle East.” (Names and country can’t be used.)

Becker also references some very interesting blog posts from a New York Times parenting blog.  Some of the conversation generated from those posts, links, and comments reflects the very real angst of parents who, as atheists or agnostics, struggle with how to answer their kids’ questions.  Questions like: “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?”  Or:  “Where do we go when we die?”

Questions kids ask probably deserve another whole posting (or several!)  I know my kids as preschoolers asked me much harder questions than my middle school and high school students ever did when I was a teacher.   But even as we, as Christian parents, grapple with how to answer tough questions about Bible stories and about God at age-appropriate levels,  I am so thankful that we can pass along to our children the things that matter most about God—especially, and above all, His amazing love and care for them.

One of the NYT posts, called “Creating God in Your Parents’ Image” talks about how kids’ images of God are formed not only from things their parents tell them about God, but perhaps even more by how their parents treat them.  (As Becker observes from the NYT posts, “Interestingly, children with absent parents don’t assume that God is absent.  Rather, they often understand God as their surrogate parent.”)

I’m reminded of something else we talk about frequently at Mom to Mom:  “Children remember feelings more than facts.”  Which brings back another memory, which I believe I shared in a long-ago blog post (“What Songs Are You Singing to Your Children?”)  Once when our whole family was here visiting, Erika slipped down to our lower level with her newborn Gabriella to comfort her seemingly inconsolable crying.  As Erika rocked her and sang to her, she heard footsteps tiptoeing down the steps, and there was Bengt, then about 3.  He stopped in his tracks and listened with wonder as Erika sang the old Swedish hymn “Children of the Heavenly Father” (the hymn I sang to all our children when I put them to bed).

“That’s my Daddy’s song,” he said in amazement.  “My Daddy sings that song to me.”

Who knew?  All the ordinary, daily “stuff” we do with our kids (or maybe grandkids)--rocking and singing and loving and struggling with really tough questions—is teaching them more about God than we can ever imagine.  And, as Amy Julia Becker reminds us, teaching us, too.

I’d love to hear from some of you.  What are your kids learning about God from you?  And how?