This weekend, my husband told our son and daughter about an experience he'd had at church camp as a kid. The story was very personal and described his walk with Christ.
My daughter's response: "You had to go to church camp?"
I can relate. My greatest watershed-Jesus moments did not happen with the music and the memory verses and the traditional church setups. Still, as Christian parents, nothing is more important to us in this world than our kids developing deeply meaningful, personal relationships with God.
I feel crippling pressure to ensure we seal the deal. I pray with panic, "Dear God, what if I do this wrong? What if I say this wrong?"
His answer: Sometimes, Janelle, I speak for myself.
It is a great relief to me when God reminds me that he reaches out personally to my children. I take him at his word. I believe it with all my heart.
Well, pretty much. I mean, these are my kids.
My best shot for reassurance on all things God is to find one of his truths played out in the life of someone in the Bible. So I flipped around in the Bible, looking for a story about joy and ease—the lovely life I want for my children.
Instead, I landed on that man from Uz named Job.
When I read Job, I started with the imagery of his happy family and how Job was doing everything God said to do. Then came the side story of Satan cajoling God and God pointing to Job as a stand-up guy.
I took a peek at a later chapter to see how it would turn out. I flipped to Chapter 42, where Job called God's things "things far too wonderful for me" (Job 42:3). This shouldn't be too bad.
Back to the beginning. I dug through the early chapters. Satan cut loose on Job's life. Job's family died. He was covered in painful sores.
And I thought to myself, God's doing something wonderful. I'm looking for the wonderful.
Meanwhile, Job's wife told Job to curse God. Job's three friends came along with advice and encouragement that neither advised nor encouraged.
Hello, wonderful? Anybody got a wonderful? I'm not seeing anything wonderful.
But Job did.
I've heard believers say that the story of Job is God basically demonstrating this to Job: I am God, you are not. Pretty rough. I'd say so too! Who wouldn't?
Job knew his terrible circumstances didn't make sense. He was willing to stick with God, but still he was confused, wanted answers, and wouldn't settle for the party line. Job's friends gave him answers that seemed good in church but fell short in life. Their diatribe wasn't untruthful, but it still wasn't Truth.
Who stepped up and gave Job real insight, real answers?
Sometimes, Janelle, I speak for myself.
It is written, "Come close to God, and God will come close to you" (James 4:8). God came close near to Job, alright. Brace yourself, Job.
But after God spoke, Job said, "I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes" (Job 42:5). A gift from a God who loves.
The gift? Sight. Not of all the circumstantial details, but of the God.
God reminded Job: Yours is the God who told the ocean how far it may come. Yours is the God who showed the dawn its place and gave the horse its strength and endowed the heart with wisdom (Job 40-41).
In other words, you did not pick wrong.
No matter how many times I read that story of Job, I cling more to Job's experience of the story than the story itself. My only explanation for Job's "wonderful" is a God who gave his child insight.
God reaches out to his children. He offers insight. Is the insight perfect?
The insight is personal.
That's the faith I want my children to cling to—faith in a powerful God whose ways are personal, even in agonizingly, confusingly hurtful times.
Of course, selling them on this idea starts out easy when they're young: God is good, God is great. Then kids really try God on for size. Like my daughter, who prayed for two weeks that her little brother would win a contest at school where they draw names from a hat.
He didn't win.
That's kid stuff, we say! That doesn't really matter!
It mattered to my daughter. And my daughter matters to God.
I encouraged her by reminding her that God loves her. She crushed my heart with her response: "This is what his love feels like?"
I'm too weak to be a mother. In those moments I want to call my husband and say, "I'm in the fetal position in the corner. I've broken one of the children. Come home."
The truth is when my children ask questions of God, even in childlike honesty, I feel afraid. But if there's anyone who can withstand a question from his child, it's God. "Let the children come to me," Jesus said (Mark 10:14).
When we see doubt in our children, we can rest assured as parents that doubt happens to the best of us. Even John the Baptist, after swearing complete allegiance to Jesus, sent last-minute word to ask him, "Are you the Messiah we've been expecting?" (Matthew 11:2-3).
John, brace yourself, buddy!
But Jesus was gentle and answered John, "The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor." " 'God blesses those who do not turn away because of me' " (Matthew 11:5-6).
Sometimes, Janelle, I speak for myself.
As parents, we can cling to the realization that these early conversations with God build resilience in our children. The resilience of Job. They will begin to have an eye not just for truth, but for Truth.
We can remind them that God longs to show himself to them. We can surround them with reminding words, reminding people, reminding circumstances that reinforce God's ways.
And we can encourage them, like Job, never to settle for the party line.
So far, my kids say all the right things about the cross and Jesus and sin. Additionally, I asked my daughter what she learned at a recent Bible study and she said, "Even if you don't feel good and you don't think God is with you … he is."
Yes, darling. Yes, he is.
"Very good answer, Sweet Pea," I said, hugging her tight. "But you're still going to church camp."
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer, focused on integrating Bible stories into daily life. She and her loving husband enjoy their two wonderful children most of the time.