I’ll never forget that moment I realized he was gone. Mom thought he was with Dad. Dad thought he was with Mom. And then there was that awful moment when we realized that no one knew where their two-year-old was.
In a panic, most of us started running towards the beach where we had last seen him. Our grandson isn’t a wanderer so we knew he hadn’t gone off on purpose and that definitely helped calm us a bit.
When we got to the edge of the beach, we looked all around and finally spotted him a ways down to the left, standing in a tidal pool. My youngest daughter took after him (I didn’t even know she could run that fast!) and heard him calling for his daddy as she approached. She picked him up, hugged him, and then brought him back to his worried parents. We all breathed big sighs of relief and thanked the Lord. I contemplated the rest of that evening and often over the next few days just how tragic that could have ended and thanked the Lord again and again.
We realized later that his mommy had told him to follow his daddy without his daddy realizing it. And, instead of following him, he had just continued on down the beach finally stopping when he reached the tide pool. I also found out later that there was a couple who was keeping an eye on him from a distance, just as many of us would have done in that situation. Somehow that was very comforting. There are still a lot of good and decent people around.
My dad mentioned to me the other day that there is a spiritual parallel to this story. As I thought about that, I realized that is definitely true. The only difference is that most spiritually lost kids are never searched for. They are left to struggle in the tide pool all alone or even drown in the ocean that is the world. Many times, no one even knows they are missing until it’s far too late.
One of my greatest sorrows in this life has been watching adorable little children grow up into worldly adults who have no care for God. I’ve seen them in the church nursery, in homeschool co-ops, and in Christian schools. I’ve watched them turn away from the beliefs of their parents completely or pretend to follow by going to church and putting on a show of godliness–all while living a worldly, ungodly life when they think no one is watching.
So what happens to these kids? Why do they choose to follow the world instead of God?
I’d like to suggest that it happens one step at a time. And that, as parents, we can never, ever stop looking out for their spiritual well-being. Unlike our grandson who was simply confused, our kids have a spiritual enemy that is actively seeking to lure them away from their Christian family–and from God.
As we reflect on this, there are some important considerations to think on as we raise our children (or support and encourage those who do)–
1. Set the spiritual health of your children as your ultimate priority. As I reflect on those who have lost their children to the world, I almost always see one thing in common–something took first place in their family that wasn’t God. Whether it was sports, academics, the arts, or a number of other things, it became the primary priority in the family. Sometimes it was just a passion for the child to be popular in school. As loving and serving God fell down on the list of priorities, so did the chances that the child would follow hard after God. After all, why would they believe it is important, if they were never taught or shown that it is important?
I am absolutely amazed at the grace of God on a family that makes this priority in the face of ridicule and unpopularity. God often will draw these kids to Himself in spite of their parents many sinful habits and abundant mistakes. He is so so faithful to those who desire nothing more than that their children walk with God.
I recognize this especially because we have been receivers of this abundant grace. With all four of our kids walking with the Lord, we fully recognize that we are utterly and completely undeserving of this. We were not awesome parents and there are a thousand (or more!) things we’d change if we could go back and parent all over again. And, yet, God has been so gracious and kind to us.
Keep the right priority and then watch God work in spite of your sin and mistakes. It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch!
2. Recognize that we, the parents, are responsible for our child’s spiritual well-being. If there is a second thing I’ve seen in families that lose their kids it is that there is little communication regarding the stuff of life that really matters. Instead of taking responsibility to teach children about God and discussing many of the hard things of life in light of the scriptures (which truly are a treasure that hold life’s answers), churches and Christians schools are often given that role.
But it’s not the church’s job nor the Christian school’s to guard our child’s spiritual health. This is our job, as parents.
If you’ve never had this modeled in the home where you grew up, then this may be a really hard switch to make. Most families aren’t comfortable when you get into the realm of “hard”. This is why boys find out about sex in the locker rooms and girls learn about it in trashy novels. It is why “Christian” kids fall away from their faith at a rate that is beyond alarming. It is why they have no answers for the Creation debate or any other hot topic that is taking the world by storm. They have no answers because they’ve been given no answers.
Instead they are being entertained and coddled.
Oh, this is such a tragedy. Our job as parents is not to entertain and coddle. Our job is NOT to make sure they never are troubled or ridiculed. We aren’t given the responsibility to make sure they never feel pain or frustration.
Our job is to teach them, from scripture, how to respond to these things. Our job is to nurture and train them in the things of the Lord. Our job is to talk about the hard stuff of life, always using the Bible as our guide. Using the Bible as our guide helps us parents, too, as we seek to understand what is and what is not important as we raise our children.
I like to tell the story of how I got into an argument with one of my girls over something that just really bothered me. I told her no and I was sticking to it. Finally, my husband looked at me and asked me if it really mattered? Was this something that was in scripture or was I standing firm on a preference? It hit me like a lightning bolt, for I surely was standing firm on something that I did not need to stand firm on. I relented and learned a hard lesson that day.
When we run everything through the grid of scripture, we can figure out what is and what is not important and it gives us the answers our kids need as they face the unfriendly, ridiculing world. Of course, this can only be done by actually knowing and studying the Word first. And this takes work. But there is no more satisfying work in the world.
I might add here: Don’t be afraid of the hard questions. It’s okay to say you don’t know and then go hunt for the answer together!
3. Provide a secure, warm, loving home. As I have given some thought to this in my own life, I wondered why my brother and I were really never even tempted to stray? I remembered an incident in 7th grade during shop class. One of my friends had told me that she “guaranteed” that I would smoke a cigarette by the time I graduated high school. I laughed and firmly told her that would never happen, even more determined that it never would after our conversation. But, to be quite honest, it was never even a temptation. Why not? Why were drugs, drinking, and smoking never a temptation for me? Why was I willing to take the ridicule and derision of my classmates on many occasions? And even, often, of my public school teachers?
I think there is one reason– and it wasn’t that I was some spiritual paragon because I wasn’t! I believe it was because I felt so wonderfully safe and secure in the love of my parents at home. This gives a child strength to face hard things. No matter what happened at school, I knew my parents loved me (even if I messed up) and that they had my back (when I stood for the truth and ended up having consequences because of it).
When a child feels like they are on a family team that is seeking to do what’s right and will stick together no matter what, it takes much of the sting out of not being the most popular kid at school. I know this because I’ve lived this.
4. Stop worrying about popularity and if your child is going to hate you. How well I remember the time our daughter came downstairs in a short skirt. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Her dad took one look at it and told her to go and change. Our daughter was FURIOUS. She stomped back up the stairs, shouting at her father. My husband went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted back: “You are not going to wear me out! I love you and you are not going to wear me out!”
I will forever be grateful for my husband’s commitment to raising godly children and for his response in that moment. We thought for sure we were going to lose that daughter to the world and he wanted her to know that he was never giving up on her. Oh, that more kids would have dads like this.
We have got to stop worrying about if our kids will like us. We have got to put popularity at the bottom of the list or even move it off the list altogether. These things don’t matter in the long run. Remember–we have one goal and one goal only. If we are believers, we want our children to grow up to love and serve God. We must make all of our decisions–what our daughter is allowed to wear, what our kids are allowed to watch, where they go, who they hang out with–in light of this goal.
We should–no, we must–help our kids shrink their love for the world. We must help them see the dangers of the world rather than feed the world to them.
Sure, your teens will feel hatred towards you sometimes but they will forget. And, actually, will most likely thank you someday for your courage and willingness to do the hard thing.
A few years ago, I went over a few journals I had written as a teenager. I was so surprised to read of extreme anger that I had felt towards my father. I didn’t remember this at all. What I did remember was my parents willingness to guide and mold me in spite of the pressure to give in to the world. I remembered their willingness to say NO, our many discussions about hard questions, and their commitment to God. And I feel nothing but immense gratitude.
We have got to stop thinking about now and start thinking about the future.
5. It’s never too late. What if your child is now the teenager or young adult struggling in that “tidal pool”. Is it too late?
It is never too late! I remember a friend who struggled so as she watched her twenty-something son make bad choice after bad choice. But she stood firm and kept praying and eventually God brought that son to Himself.
No matter how old they are, keep pointing your kids to God’s Word in every conversation where you are given an opportunity and then pray, pray, pray. Never give up! God loves your kids more than you do.
There is much wrong in the parenting of today and I shudder when I think about the ramifications. Many children are never told the word “no”. Parents passionately want to make sure their kids never feel pain or experience frustration. Smartphones are used as babysitters and if they aren’t being used as babysitters, mom and dad sit there scrolling through apps, while their kids play alone. Discipline is avoided or never used at all. Oh, the outlook for the family is not good. The future is indeed grim when we consider the fruit of today’s parenting style: Self-centered, godless kids who care for nothing but their own gain.
But we have an opportunity to make a difference–even if it is in our own family. And this difference will ripple out through the span of time, as your children touch the lives of others and then their children and grandchildren do the same and on down through the generations.
We know that only God can draw a heart towards Him. We cannot control this through a list of do’s and don’ts. But there are things we can do to create a thirst for God that supersedes their thirst for this world. Losing our kids is not inevitable! God has give us instructions and encouragement in His Word, He provides so much grace, and He is incredibly faithful.
So be strong and courageous. Raising kids is not easy! But there is no sweeter fruit than knowing that your kids are following the Lord. It is worth every hard moment and every bit of ridicule. God will walk with you each step of the way!
Special note to grandparents: As grandparents, we have a special role. We are no longer responsible for the spiritual health of our grandkids but we can be a blessing to our kids by embracing our support role. I cannot even begin to tell you the tremendous blessing that our children’s grandparents have been to my husband and myself. Both his parents and mine took their roles seriously and spent hours and hours playing and talking with our kids. They provided a safe place for our kids to have fun and just be kids. They are godly people and so we were assured they would be pointing them in the right direction as conversations took place. They continue to do this with their great-grandchildren, blessing their grandchildren who are now parents themselves. I hope to be just like them.
We grandparents have been given an opportunity to bless and to be blessed. This is much more important and way more satisfying than passionately doing our hobbies or fulfilling our own dreams. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with these things, may we not do them to the neglect of the most special opportunity we’ve been given.