Religion (when devoid of a personal relationship with the living God) is based on rules, do’s, don’ts, consequences, stigmas, and appearances. Religion says you are not a person but a cog in a great machine so do your part and be quiet. Religion says there is no mercy, no help, no pity but simply a list of things you must do and a list of things that will happen if you don’t do those things that you must do. In short, religion crushes, burdens and kills the spirit.
Relationship with the living God is based on choices, the condition of our heart, and kindness that leads to change from within. Relationship says you are a unique person and you must be yourself to do your part. Relationship says there is mercy, help, grace sufficient to meet challenges, compassion and promises and expectations that God has for us that are for our own good. In short, relationship brings life, energy and love to our spirits.
God has entrusted us with the care of our children and He loves them enough that he goes so far as to say we must become like children to enter heaven (Matthew 18:3). We won’t get it right every time and we’ll make mistakes. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t need Jesus. But, one thing we need to be on super-woman-uber-protection-guard-against in our homes is the poisonous yeast of religion devoid of life-changing power.
(1) God is not heaven’s version of Santa.
We should be careful not to communicate to our children that God is like Santa at Christmas. Naughty, nice, naughty, ooohhh very naughty… no presents ever! If we give our children the impression that God is primarily concerned with their behavior as opposed to being concerned with their lives and hearts then we may likely turn God into something that they run from when they become teenagers. Sure, God requires certain things and commands certain things.
But God empowers, loves and changes our hearts and desires and comforts us in of times of need. He helps us – when we are willing to surrender – to become the type of people He desires us to be and as we surrender our hearts to Him our hearts mirror that. It is a process. To then require threaten our children with God being angry or God withholding from them due to their behaviour will not lend them to drawing near God. In fact, it’ll likely do the opposite.
(2) A child’s heart attitude and disposition is the source of their behavior.
Just as the words that come from our mouth originate in our hearts (Matt 15:18) so do our behaviors originate with our heart attitudes and beliefs. Requiring things of our children without learning what is in their hearts will be damaging and will diminish the chance at a rich and vibrant relationship between you and them and them and God. If your child is acting naughty then, sure, we have to discipline. But part of the discipline process is also to sit down and talk about why. Why did you deliberately disobey me? Are you frustrated with something?
Why did you hide your sister’s barbies? Are you feeling angry at her? Getting used to sharing our hearts, and hearing from their hearts, will show them that we aren’t trying to enforce a million rules on them for arbitrary purposes. Instead, we are trying to help grow them up in a way that is best for them and just as God is concerned with our hearts and hurts and desires, so should we parents be concerned with our children’s.
(3) Appearances are not what’s important.
Have you ever looked around in a church and thought, “Wow, everyone looks so happy and perfect and wonderful.” You know what? They’re not. Well, I take that back. As an average that is probably true. At any given time some people are probably flying and at any given times others are trying not to give up completely. So it evens out. At our church a month ago a leader gave a sermon with the sole purpose of expressing to the congregation the importance of us being real as a community. Not to pretend we’re okay if we’re not. Not to say we’re doing fine when we are not fine. Not to show up looking pretty and go home and die inside.
He said it robs us of the opportunity to love each other, serve each other and help each other if we are not real. We should never communicate to our children that it’s more important to look good than it is to be good. We’d never do this intentionally, but we must remember to be genuine and honest ourselves. We must not discipline the lying without figuring out why they are lying. What’s on the inside is what’s important, and that’s what we need to be communicating with our words and with our deeds.
(4) Equip them for the Christian life, not for a life of do’s and don’ts.
If you ask your children what it means to be a Christian and they answer “don’t lie, cheat, smoke, drink or cheat” then they it’s time to back up. Yes, avoiding those behaviors are necessary, but that isn’t why God saved us. Teaching our children to pray, read their Bible, trust God and love others will bring them a lot closer to God than just requiring perfect behavior. We need to prepare them to trust God in hard times, to pray when we are scared and nervous, and to learn to look in the bible for solutions to our problems.
Yes, the commands and do’s and don’ts are important and for our own good but God didn’t create us to just do or not do a bunch of stuff. He created us to help share His life with others and as we do that we’ll need to follow the do’s and don’ts for our own protection. One comes before the other. Make sure we don’t mix up the order or we’ll leave our kids with a complex.
(5) Don’t guilt and shame and use God’s word to get your way with your kids.
I think this is fairly self-explanatory but oh so important. Threatening our kids with “God will be so mad at you” or “what would Jesus do?” (if your heart is manipulative not if you are genuinely asking) or “you won’t get to heaven” will only give our kids anxiety or, even worse, a total distaste for God. Manipulating and controlling by fear is a tactic of Satan, not of God. If you’ve been doing this just out of desperation to try to reach your child then do not fear. Just stop! Find another way to get into their heart. Apologize for manipulating – unknowingly or knowingly – and move forward. God is bigger than us and can reach down and touch our children, so let’s be careful to help make that easier and not impede God’s intervention in their lives.
Again, I’m not perfect and you’re not perfect and our kids aren’t perfect. Okay, your kids aren’t perfect. No, I’m joking. My kids are not perfect either. Except when they give me spontaneous hugs and kisses. I believe that most Christian parents want to raise their children up in a way that is life giving and I believe that the key to this is for us – as parents – to make sure that we are in a relationship with God and not simply a contractual agreement to be morally good. Being in a vibrant relationship with Jesus will lend itself to our own heart desiring purity and holiness. And, if our children choose the same path, it will be the same for them.