One-Time Comments Have Lasting Impact.
Telling kids that only sticks and stones can hurt them–not words–may make speakers feel better. But both kids and adults know it’s a lie. Fortunately, positive one-time comments have lasting impact too. In this world of physical bullying and cyber bullying, it’s more important than ever for adults to speak words of hope to the kids in our lives.
Girl dancing in church expresses her praise.
Parents have lots of opportunities, but any adult can bless a child with words of lasting impact.
Even our brief conversations with children at church during greeting times can affect them powerfully. Negatively or positively. I mentioned before my twelve-year-old daughter’s horrid reaction when an older woman told her to enjoy her childhood, since these were the best years of her life. The well-meaning elderly woman had no idea of the negative impact her words conveyed and that my daughter would never forget that one comment.
At the same time, a sincere question to a child about to start a new school can be powerful. It affirms the child’s importance and the significance of that time in life, because the grown up acknowledges it. Hearing that an adult they don’t know well is going to pray for them in this time validates their membership in the body of Christ. It points to the fact that they are valuable human beings and not simply partially formed adults. We can help our church children to feel embraced by the Body of Christ, so that they can open themselves up fully to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
One woman I know overheard a nine-year-old say something to her mom about the sermon reminding her of her recent nightmares.
She told the girl she had overheard and remembered her own children experiencing nightmares. Her children had been blessed by having her come in and pray with them. She had simply prayed, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you, Satan, to leave this child alone! Lord Jesus protect this child from further attack and give your peace.” Instantly, the child had experienced the peace of Christ and freedom from nightmares.
This woman asked the girl if she could pray with her right there. She eagerly accepted. After praying for her, she reminded the girl of 1 John 4:4 “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” She also reminded her of the power of the name of Christ.
The next week the girl initiated conversation. She told how she had needed to pray that on her own one night. But since then, she had been nightmare free. The woman now tells of how this girl she didn’t really know, and still doesn’t really know, has a special bond with her. Because one-time comments have lasting impact, they share a special greeting each time they see each other at church. She knows the girl feels the certainty of being a part of the Body of Christ with her.
Sunday School teachers have special opportunities.
In talking to friends lately about our faith journeys, I’ve realized how many of us remember something an adult said to us decades ago. Just once. I remember being struck by my Sunday School teacher telling her fifth graders that God had no grandchildren. To adults, that may seem obvious. But to me as a young child, it was striking. She challenged us that we were not automatically part of God’s family just because our parents were. We needed to make our own choices.
Though I’m sure my parents tried to convey this same idea many times, no memory of it stands out. But Mrs. Bruizeman’s fervent conversation with us struck a chord. I’ll never forget the earnestness in her voice. I knew it was important to her personally that we each take God seriously and accept Jesus as personal Savior. It changed me.
A friend has a similar experience. She remembers her Sunday School teacher telling a class of eleven-year-olds that each person had to make a personal decision to accept Christ, not just assume it because of parents. And she told them they were old enough to do that for themselves. She also challenged them that they were old enough to read their Bibles daily on their own. My friend felt surprise. She also felt the challenge and a sense of responsibility she never forgot.
I pray each of us seeks these opportunities and remembers that one-time comments have lasting impact.
Out-of-season blooming of flowers and people.
Bringing my out-of-season blooming columbine into the house in October blessed me. I love this columbine’s pluckiness, determination, and ability to continue to bring joy when its time should be long past. It also reminds me of my parents. In their times of increasingly difficult dementia, they somehow managed to bless those who cared for them. They loved the Lord deeply, and it showed in their love for each other and in their love of those around them. Even in the nursing home they had fought going into.
Giving patience a chance to bloom.
In most of his life my dad was not a very patient person. He wanted broken systems to be fixed and to be fixed now–so not a process person. He was very goal-oriented and expected those around him to be goal-oriented as well. Like me, he needed to learn patience through difficult things. Amazingly, however, we saw his patience continue to grow in the final years of his life.
He needed daily care and grieved the fact that he couldn’t go out and minister to people as he had done most of his life. Yet his prayer each time I prayed with him included, “Lord, we wait on you. We wait on you to show us what work you have for us today.” He did not understand that his work at the time was simply showing God’s love to those around him and expressing gratitude. But he did it through God’s spirit in him, and people noticed.
Giving trust and peace a chance to bloom.
My mother’s most evident spiritual struggle was with anxiety and worry. The family joke was that no road trip was truly underway until Mom had figured out what she had forgotten. Seriously. She had some sort of almost superstitious sense that once she figured out something minor she had forgotten, it would mean she hadn’t forgotten anything important. We all needed to be quiet till she figured it out.
Her worry found almost endless topics. What a joy to see that as her mind deteriorated, her spirit found more and more peace in her Savior. In her final years she was able to relax and laugh more. She even accepted my husband’s joke about all the “servants” she had helping her with her daily tasks. My daughters saw in her a peaceful, joyful Nana they had never been able to fully see before.
Out-of-season blooming of my parents where they were planted
Sanctification continuing even in dementia.
As I shared with my students the prayers my parents were praying for them at the time, they expressed amazement. We rejoiced together in seeing that God’s work in us does not stop when our minds stop functioning well. I used to tell my parents that they sweetened with age like fine wine. (I know that true wine connoisseurs would disagree with me about sweet wine.) But I felt joy and encouragement as I saw my parents’ relationship with the Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives grow stronger–even during their final downward spirals. I pray that someday God will also allow me times of out-of-season blooming.
Children Questioning Why
Thinking back to my years of children questioning why, I remember wondering if their questions would ever end. But they always did. Because their “But why?” always led me to the only final answer: “Because that’s the way God made it.”
With my first child, I remember thinking she would not be satisfied by that answer. And she did always initially ask why God had made that choice.
But when I told her that I didn’t know and we could ask him when we got to heaven, that seemed to satisfy her. Until she thought of her next question.
The pattern repeated itself with my other two children. Always curious. Always wanting to know why. And always wanting to know why about the answer.
Each child repeated the pattern of questioning a surprising number of times .
“Why can’t we see the end of the lake? If there’s land on the other side, why can’t we see it?”
“Why does it get dark at night?”
“But why do I have to sleep at night?”
“How do you know candy is bad for me?”
“But why do dogs bark? And why are they so loud?”
“Why do the leaves turn different colors?”
I started thinking my children questioning why were a sign of the God-shaped vacuums within them.
When Pascal said that each person is created with a God-shaped vacuum within, I don’t think he meant only adults. Our children’s questions also demonstrate their need to know who God is and what he is like.
Their native curiosity demonstrates their growing intelligence, but their willingness to accept God as the ultimate answer is powerful.
They know he is the prime mover. They couldn’t tell us that. But they know its truth instinctively. They know the truth is bigger than us as human beings.
Our need to tell them this truth is just as important.
We need to explain that we don’t know why some fish are created to live in salt water, some in fresh water, and some in both. Because our children need to know we don’t know everything. We may want them to think we know everything. But they need to know we don’t.
And our need to acknowledge that God knows so much that we can’t possibly know fits with our own God-shaped vacuums. We may not always feel the need to tell our children that we are limited.
But it’s an important part of our modeling dependence on him.
And, when we think about it, don’t we as adults constantly have questions we can’t find answers to?
I used to think I had so many questions I planned to ask God as soon as I got to heaven. Then I started thinking I wouldn’t need to ask him when I got there. I would already know. But now the more I learn about the new heavens and the new earth, the more I think learning will be one of the continual gifts of eternal life.
Learning is one of the prime gifts God gives us on earth, so it makes sense that our process of learning in heaven might be even more magnificent.
[photo by joshua-alfaro-353879-unsplash]
What is the best thing you’ve done for your children so far? How about for their knowledge of Jesus?
Many people know that James Dobson famously told fathers the best thing they can do for their children is to love their children’s mothers well. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t give the matching advice to mothers.
But do you know that one simple, regular action is reportedly 99% effective in keeping that marriage love alive? That marriage love is just as important for our children as for ourselves. And their understanding of the love of God for them is greatly aided by seeing godly love in family members.
General estimates put chances of divorce in general as about 50%. Unfortunately, other studies show that married people in the church do only slightly better.
Various studies indicate the staying power of marriages where people pray together as between 95 and 99%. Staggering data.
Simply going to church together seems to have little impact on the duration of marriages—according to surveys. Though my own experience is that attending church together strengthens marriages.
But prayer together out loud makes a dramatic difference in protecting marriages against the enemy.
That may seem impossible.
But what happens when we pray together? If we are sincere as we turn to God, we find the Holy Spirit working in us as we pray. I’ve had many times when I was irritated with a friend, yet praying for her caused me to see life from her perspective in unexpected ways. Even when I was not praying about the conflict.
It is true with our spouses as well. Often it may be too awkward to express all that we are feeling in our prayer. That’s okay. Any effort to go to God together unites us. God draws us closer to himself and closer to the person we are praying with.
My husband and I started praying together before bed for an embarrassing reason. Someone my age had brought up casually something about their prayer time as a couple before bed. I immediately got defensive and thought, “She’s not closer to God than I am! We should do that too!”
Obviously, that was totally the wrong motivation. A sinful motivation. But because my husband and I did come to God sincerely, he blessed us and our marriage tremendously.
For most people praying out loud with children feels less intimidating than with other adults. So if praying as a couple scares you, start with your kids. But remember how our marriages are strengthened when we pray out loud together regularly.
Maybe the easiest way to start praying out loud together is by praying with your children together.
When we think about wanting our children to experience the power of prayer in their daily lives, isn’t the best thing seeing it modeled by parents who talk to God regularly together?
What are some of the things that motivate or stand in the way of prayer with our spouses?
Who needs tradition?
It’s boring to do everything just like our parents and grandparents. Besides, it will make our children think that Christianity is just a bunch of empty habits, and they’ll reject it. Right? Or is creating good traditions possible?
At one point, our girls went through a period of rebelling against church attendance. And Satan certainly did his best to reinforce their rebellion. Lost shoes, people not feeling well, hair that seemed to snarl worst on Sunday mornings. General crabbiness.
Then we countered with a special tradition a pastor had suggested: a yummy, sweet breakfast only on Sundays.
Coffeecake actually helped. Who would have guessed? One friend calls it “Fighting Satan with cinnamon rolls.”
How can we choose our family’s habits—or traditions—intentionally—to establish what my friend Jeff Fisher calls “the scaffolding of our faith”? And how do we choose actions that will reinforce in us and our children our love for the Lord Jesus and his centrality in our lives?
As we think about building this spiritual scaffolding, we need to remember that scaffolding is not fun, nice-looking, or desirable in itself, only in what it allows us to build. We don’t want our children unhappy. Still, habits—even excellent habits—can be uncomfortable at times, until we grow into them.
For example, family devotions after dinner with very young children can make everyone crabby at times. As can prayer time with the entire family before the first person goes to bed, delaying bedtime. And asking a child for a prayer request each morning before school may feel pointless when a child’s daily answers sometimes hardly vary—“I don’t know. That I have a good day.”
Sharing some of our fears and inadequacies with our children and asking them to pray for us is scary.
Because we may not want them to know that we are feeling emotionally fragile that day. Or that a parent’s job is in danger. It might even seem likely to limit their trust in us as parents.
Yet God calls us to share with our children and others around us the ways he is working in our lives.
He is not terribly concerned that we might not like feeling vulnerable.
But he is concerned about our showing him as the surpassingly awesome Lord of our lives!
And he wants us to share with our children how he is answering our prayers. As we think back over ways God has grown our faith one stone at a time, we are called to be intentional in choosing our family’s traditions in ways that help grow that faith.
Creating good traditions is good for each family member.
If, like me, you grew up in a Christian household, you may have traditions that blessed you. You may have already adopted them. Or you might plan to start once life feels a little less hectic. Or you may not have spiritual traditions to choose from. No matter our history, God calls each of us to be intentional about faith with our children.
I encourage you to choose one new spiritual tradition to establish in your household.
When I was a child of maybe ten, I heard a sermon about the sin against the Holy Spirit.
I don’t remember my response to it in the moment. But evidently the horror of the idea sank deep into me, creating a nightmare. In the middle of the night I rushed into my parents’ bedroom crying and asking for their help. In my dream, I had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. I was sure I was going to hell for committing “the unforgivable sin.” I needed my parents to remind me of God’s unshakable love.
Both my mom and my dad comforted me, assuring me that I was going to be fine. They kept explaining that it was not possible to commit a sin like that while sleeping. I was not convinced! Finally, they explained it in a way that made sense of my fear. If I had committed the unforgivable sin, the Holy Spirit would no longer be working in my heart. I wouldn’t care if I’d sinned or not.
My fear of having sinned unforgivably showed that the Holy Spirit was in my heart and working.
Their love and the love of God comforted me greatly in my parents’ room that night. I learned that nothing in heaven or on earth could separate me from the love of my Father in heaven. Jesus had expressed this love in his sacrifice for me.
What I did not learn until perhaps a decade later is that I had rushed in on my parents in the heat of a very intimate moment.
What I had thought was the middle of the night had only been perhaps 11:30 p.m. Talk about committing the unforgivable sin! My parents’ loving response to me despite my more-than-awkward interruption of them turned out to be a wonderful analogy for me of how much our God loves us. Even when we do really stupid things, really inappropriate things, or cause others lots of pain, he will not leave us:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39 NIV)
How do we convey this powerful love of God to our children? I’m guessing most of us will never have our children interrupt us in such a moment.
Do you have a memory of an incident that gave you a special opportunity to share the powerful love of God with a child? Or did your parents share such a moment with you?