In our every day life as an ordinary Christian family, I have the opportunity to watch my children exercise their faith in Jesus.
I realized lately, how during the years that I had gospel amnesia I had expectations of what I thought Christian maturity and faith looked like for my kids. When they did not manifest this (as they often did not), nor meet my expectations (as they often did not), I would panic. I would start thinking I was doing something wrong in my parenting and inevitably resort to a variety of “godly” parenting methods to get the desired result: to get them to “act Christian.”
Just like us, our children have ups and downs in their faith. Especially once they become old enough to articulate their faith, they go in and out of seasons (e.g. oscillating between strong faith and dedication to Christ, and a lack of trust in God’s goodness and providence). For my kids, when they are strong, I usually see them respond to certain situations with God-given wisdom or Bible verses, and a desire to pray. When they are having a low season, I usually see slumped and pout-y demeanor, an overall ungratefulness, and doubt in God’s goodness.
Sometimes their prayers are fervent and sincere and sometimes they would rather get to bed then sit through family worship. At times we find them responding to circumstances with godly wisdom on their lips while at other times they say their favorite part of church is sitting in the back. (Hmmm… I’m pretty sure most adults have experienced this sentiment also.)
One of the many lessons the Spirit is teaching me is how to have grace on all my children from the oldest to the youngest when their faith is small. Our modern term, “empathy,” biblically known as “compassion,” goes a long way with children. Gasping at a faithless remark and then promptly and harshly chastising the child for not having a more “Christian” response and attitude… not so much. I should have compassion or empathy for my children in their times of weak faith, because I have times of weak faith, and it’s time I stop pretending otherwise for my children.
One thing I used to do a lot is get on them for their doubt. Now, I invite them to share their doubts with me and we talk through those thoughts (that includes the five year old). Even if in the end their heart struggle is not resolved, they are at least convinced that God allows us to struggle with him in our faith. They are not ashamed for wrestling with and for faith. Sometimes our children have doubts, questions and/or fears. I am trying not to rush in with quick “proof text” answers. Instead, I have had to think about how my heavenly Father responds to me when I am fearful and questioning.
My ultimate goal for them should be the same as the Lord’s ultimate vision for me—to be conformed to the image of Christ. This calls for suffering long with immaturity, failings, weaknesses, foolishness, sin and all their other flaws. It also means compassion when they have their seasons of small faith.
I love walking together with my children on this path of faith, always reminding them that we are disciples of Christ together, we are brothers and sisters in the household of God. I may be their mother and have certain temporary earthly authority, but my goal isn’t for them to always be looking to me, my job is to help them to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith.