I don’t know what it was, exactly, that Focus on the Family and the conservative Christian leadership were trying to give families when I was a kid, but I know what it felt like, what it feels like now: a surefire, bullet-proof, Plan.
If you wanted to raise godly kids but didn’t know how, there were people who would tell you with absolute certainty and conviction.
Want your kids to love Jesus? Get them into AWANA programs and cram as much Scripture into their brains and hearts as possible. Want them to have good, godly marriages? Pray for their spouses every day. Give them purity rings at a fancy church banquet as they sign a pledge card because True. Love. Waits.
In a modernist, consumer culture with A Solution for Everything, the Christian Culture of the 80s and 90s was no different. 10 Steps to a God-Honoring Marriage. 7 Easy Ways to Give Your Kids a Biblical Worldview. It was proverbial wisdom turned absolute, broken into steps, made into books, sold as a kind of vaccine against pain, doubt, spiritual struggle. Here’s how you raise Godly Kids.
Over the last couple of months, I read nearly a dozen recent spiritual memoirs. I read about Quaker missionary parents who exposed their children to suffering and the work of social justice from a young age. About extremely fundamentalist parents who used fear to point to the path of salvation. About Catholic parents and Baptist parents and evangelical missionary parents.
The narratives were different, but there were always similarities: in most cases, the parents in the stories loved God and loved their children and were trying to spare them from unnecessary pain. They’d found a place on the sturdy ship of God’s love, and they wanted that for their kids. They went about it in different ways, but every one of them tried to pass it on in some honest, transformative way.
And every single writer still chronicled their struggle with faith.
For some it was God’s silence. For others, the problem of Suffering. It was Churches that felt hypocritical or it was the either/or dichotomy between faith and science. But it was always something. It seemed that no one was spared.
I was raised singing campy Jesus songs at AWANA every week, watching Christian cartoons, eating ice cream in the fellowship hall at our church. I was raised by parents who loved me and who loved God, and I never doubted the truth of either of those things. And yet, still, when Depression and loneliness crashed into my life, I found myself pitched overboard from that sturdy faith I’d once known.
Now I’m a Mama myself, and I get it. My heart is tied so completely to the beating hearts of the two wild boys in my house, and I feel a desperate kind of desire for them to know Jesus. For them to find their home in His Love, for them to be drawn back, always to this place of Safety, Truth and Grace.
And yet, I also know that for me there was no way around but through. All the good parenting in the world didn’t save me from nearly drowning in the waves of my own self-destructiveness. And it was only from that desperate, cold place that I understood Jesus as the only thing that could keep me afloat.
I’d been “saved” since I was five. I didn’t understand what that meant until I grabbed hold of Him again in my 24th year, waterlogged in my own sin and pain.
I came away from all those faith stories, my own included, with a sobering view of faith-based parenting: I cannot save my kids from this.
I can show them Jesus, and I hope that I do. I hope that in these years of trying and failing, of church and prayers and snuggly, bedtime conversations, that they learn in the depth of their hearts that God is here.
But I also know that for most of us, a faith crisis is part of it all. It looks different for all of us, but we generally can’t bypass it or take a shortcut around it. Choosing Jesus at age 13 in youth group matters. But there will be more moments, more crossroads. My boys will likely doubt their faith at some point, and it won’t be because I failed at some Program or Plan (though I will fail in a million ways, both small and big). It will happen because it happens. Because it’s part of it
And I think we need to change the conversation. The question is not How do we raise Godly kids? Because in the end, we can’t. In the end, it’s not up to us.
The question is, How do we point them to Jesus? How do we show them the Love that’s big enough and wide enough and deep enough for all of their questions, all of their struggle, all of their failures and their fight?
I don’t know the answer to any of that. My boys run through my house, and if I think too much about the heavy responsibility of being their Mama, I get short of breath.
So I cling, instead, to that mysterious, unknowable thing called Grace. That thing that tells me that I can’t get it right, that I’m not in control, and that it’s okay. I’m not supposed to be.
God is here. His hands are big enough to hold it all.