Maybe some of you are like me. Raised in a Christian home, I often felt defined by the things that I didn't do. But what would it look like if we parented a generation of young people to define themselves by what they did do? What if they were defined by their actions of justice and mercy, forgiveness and love, strength and courage, generosity and humility and faithfulness?
The danger in merely focusing on our children's outward behavior without the inner transformation is that sometimes our children will align their behavior to our mandates to please us or receive approval. They can end up doing or not doing these things without true spiritual healing inside. Without this supernatural transformation, we may have moral or obedient children, but we don't necessarily have spiritual children.
Before long, after the external motivations for obedient behavior are eliminated, our children will grow up and determine life for themselves: They will have been transformed by God's Spirit, or they will have chosen to live sinfully without any desire to change, or they will hide their sin and live a double life. But a spiritual life is one that is transformed and out of hiding.
Now what if we as spiritual parents agreed to do something different than merely manage our children's behavior? What if we put our energy toward setting our children in the path of the Divine and watching them fall in love with Jesus? What a remarkable difference this would make! One option warns, "Don't fall in love with the world," while the other option offers, "Fall in love with Jesus, and the world will look less attractive."
The Environment of Storytelling
As children, our world is very small. We see everything from our vantage point and how it affects us directly or indirectly. It's only as we mature (hopefully) that we begin to see the world as much more complex, and we begin to see our role as servants addressing the needs of those around us. Therefore, one role of the Christian parent is to train our children to shift from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. Paul describes this virtue in Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB): "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."
Of course, this selflessness comes from knowing Jesus personally and committing our very lives to the power that is available to us from God. Yet even before our children fully understand this war within, storytelling is a compelling opportunity to begin to shape an other-centered and God-centered worldview in their hearts.
To some degree childhood is synonymous with ego-centrism. With self-absorption raging in the hearts and minds of our children, how can we help them understand that there's a storyline much bigger than they are? How can we parent in such a way that tells the Big God Story throughout history, explains how our own story has been grafted in by grace, and describes how our children have the opportunity to be a part of that narrative as well?
A Bigger Story
While today's culture is telling our children that life is "all about me," we can direct them to think about the fact that life is really "all about God." God's Word is basically a love story—a story of the lover pursuing his created ones in order to have a personal relationship with each one of them. In his story, he is the main character; he is the perfect Lover and the perfect Redeemer.
Sometimes I am tempted to believe that I am the main character, that the story is really about me—because after all, I am in every scene. But that's a lie. It's a lie that our children are told on every TV channel, in every advertisement, and in every song. Sometimes it's blatant and sometimes sublime, but nonetheless they are being made to believe that the greatest story ever told is happening in their obscure little world.
Can you see how dangerous Satan's lie is? If he can get me to believe that this life is a story centered around me and my happiness, then I will see life as a series of events that allow me either to succeed or fail in this endeavor. I begin to subtly make decisions that will be to my own benefit. After all, don't we always want the main character to be victorious in the end? We want her to succeed and be happy. Thus, my happiness becomes primary. The problem with this perspective is that life is hard and unfair sometimes. I can't always control life, events, and other people. Then what? And even when I do manage to control people, that's not what I or they were created for. In using them to make my life work, I harm them.
If we consistently tell our children the Big God Story and help them to see the bigger story that has been lived out for thousands of years, they will have the privilege of catching a glimpse of the wonder of it all. They will see the wonderful mystery of who God is and how he has chosen a part for each of us to play. We can never play the role of the main character, but when we understand why we can't, we rest in the knowledge that we were never created to do so. When this happens, we are able to worship God and not ourselves. We are free to be who we were created to be: true worshippers in every aspect of our lives!
I love how the apostle Paul says this in Romans 12:1-2 (MSG):
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Okay, great concept, but how does that really play out in our daily lives of raising our kids? Let's unpack this and see how we can effectively begin to set our children up for success in this area.
Who Am I?
When we start to realize how amazing God's story is, a question naturally arises: "Who am I that I should get to be a part of the greatest story ever told?" Think about that question. How would you answer it? Is there a set of right answers that comes to your mind? Or do you struggle with knowing what that really means? Do you have a sense that God, the Creator of all things, created you and me—for a unique purpose? These are the questions that shape the environment of identity. The fact that you and I are even invited to be a part of God's grand narrative of life, love, and redemption is true only because of Christ. This is why we affirm that our identity with God is found in Christ.
I remember wrestling with this concept for the first time as a teenager. When you're 16, you identify yourself by your friends, your clothes, your car, and your academic or athletic abilities. I struggled to understand what it meant to find my identity in Christ. It sounded good. It sounded like something that would bring freedom, but I didn't know how to think differently about myself.
When I became a mother, I desperately wanted my children to recognize their unique God-given identity. As I watched my children struggle with this, God began to reveal to me why my identity was foundational for the kind of faith that I wanted them to possess. For the first time, I was awakened to the reality of who I believe God created me to be and what plan I believe he has for me to fulfill. This awakening began to shape the way I viewed myself and how I made decisions accordingly. As an eyewitness to my children's lives, I could see how what they believed about themselves influenced their decisions.
When the world told them they were ugly, annoying, stupid, or unwanted, I wanted to shout out at the top of my lungs, "No, you are not! You are lovely, wanted, and treasured!" It frustrated me that some punk kid down the street had more credibility than I did.
Then I thought about God as my Father. I thought about how the world had told me that I was worthless, unloved, and simply not enough—and how I had made decisions accordingly. I sought worth, love, and a life that would prove I was enough. Tenderly, God was shouting through Jesus, "You are worth it! You are loved! I am enough!" This was the "Aha" moment that changed everything.
When we receive God's identity for us (and believe it), we experience freedom. Suddenly the opinions of the world and those around us pale in comparison to the voice of our Father. As we live in our identity, seeking to live out the life we were created to live in Christ, then we can genuinely ask the next question: "Who did God create my child to be?" It is here that we begin to understand the Father's heart for spiritual parenting.
This is often a difficult posture for us as parents. We may believe in our minds that our children belong to God and that they were created for his glory, but daily living can tempt us to believe that they were created to reflect us instead of the Father. I can remember thinking and even saying to my children, "Don't do that, because I will be embarrassed in front of my friends." In that sentence, I am communicating that my child is a reflection of me and that it is his job to bring me acclaim, or not cause me shame, by his actions. How arrogant of me! Instead, from the beginning, we ought to see our children as image bearers of God for his glory.
Each of us was created in God's image. We bear his fingerprint—and no two are alike. At the end of our season of parenting, don't we ultimately want children who look like Christ? That is a much higher goal than simply trying to keep our children from embarrassing us in public, right?
So how will we accomplish this?
- We must repent from the temptation to create and mold our children into our own image.
- We must die to ourselves and to our personal ambitions for our children and sincerely seek God every day, asking him to reveal his plan for them.
- We must recognize afresh the larger storyline that God is writing—his grand redemptive narrative in which each of us has a part to play. This includes our children. We don't want them to miss out on the unique contribution that God created them to fulfill.
Only when we do these things are we ready to embrace what God has in store for our children. Spiritual parenting gives us the privilege of watching God's plan unfold as our children understand the One who created them and defines them.
Excerpted from Spiritual Parenting: An Awakening for Today's Families by Michelle Anthony. Copyright 2010 by Michelle Anthony. Used with permission from David C. Cook. All rights reserved.