My 10-year-old son does not like church. While my worship leader husband stands before the congregation singing and drawing hearts into focus, I stand by a boy who doesn't even move his lips.
In the past this frustrated me immensely. I wanted everyone to see my kids following the rules and singing with smiles on their faces. I wanted them to see that the Harms family had it all together. But, as I struggled through my frustrations, I became aware of the sinfulness in my attitude. Like the cup Jesus speaks of in Luke 11:39, I was trying to look squeaky clean on the outside. But by ignoring my son Owen's heart, I was unclean on the inside.
I've realized I cannot make my son love church any more than I can make him love mowing the lawn. And by pushing him to keep up appearances, I'm teaching him to be like the Pharisees. Instead of focusing on his heart and relationship with Jesus, I'm telling him the inside doesn't matter, but the outside does. That is the last thing I want to do as a parent.
Realizing we needed to change our game plan, my husband and I began talking about what is best for Owen's heart. Some of the changes we made as a result were misunderstood by some, and maybe even seen as "non-Christian" to others. It's true the outside of our cup was looking a little dirty, but we had changed our focus to the inside. We started making decisions based on Owen's needs, not on what was considered the norm.
Going against church culture
Our first non-traditional decision was allowing Owen to opt out of the church Christmas program.
Dressing up like a shepherd and singing on a stage in front of 200 people is definitely not his thing. We gave him a pass on the program and chose to do a small family service project instead. We purchased bedding and delivered it to a local homeless shelter. Instead of feeling forced to perform the Christmas story in front of a crowd of grandmas and grandpas, he took part in God's call to serve the poor. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!" Owen now has a first-hand experience fulfilling the call of that verse.
Another major change we made gave our son a voice in his own spiritual life.
We gave Owen the opportunity to quit attending our midweek church program. A fifth-grader, he was too young to be with the "cool" youth group kids, but he felt old and out of place with the younger kids in the children's group. Each Wednesday evening the stress level in our home skyrocketed as we argued about his attitude toward church.