Family Magazine

on Raising Children Who Follow Jesus for a Lifetime

By Lindsayleighbentley @lindsayLbentley

I haven't written in forever. But on Sunday night Jesus told me plain as day that I am to start writing again. I had been asked a lot recently if I was considering it, I couldn't shake the feeling these past few months that I was supposed to start again but had a million reasons why I couldn't right now, and then our Pastor walked up on stage, mid-worship set, pointed at me and said "You have something to say that the world needs to hear." Ah, gotcha...so I wrote a long boring post about why I haven't and what I plan to do and why I'm transitioning from a foodie/health blogger (still gonna be some of that too) to a focus on parenting/marriage and providing help and hope to others, specifically women; when HE told me to scrap all of that and gave me what you will find below. So, rather than wasting time, I'm diving right in. Partly out of obedience, but also because I'm closing my ears to the fears that have kept me from writing all these months. Here we go...gulp.

I've been thinking a lot about religion with regard to my children lately. It's caused me to try and nail now the core of what being a follower of Jesus really, actually means to me. It's brought about conversations, research, doubt, a change of church, and lots and lots of jumbled thoughts late at night while I'm vacuuming (anyone else do their best thinking while vacuuming?)

We've had a pretty hands-off approach with regard to Christianity and our children. We were both raised in very conservative evangelical churches where rules were pretty important and encountering Jesus on a personal level wasn't addressed. And while my husband and I both still follow Jesus (after some spiritual detours during our teen and early adulthood years,) the truth of the matter is that a large number of folks who were raised in similar circles do not have any religious affiliation now.

So, it's only natural to raise the question of why this would be.

I'm going to trivialize religion for a moment for the sake of making a point:

Take exercise. Almost everyone can give you the logical reasons that exercise is good for you. But probably only 1/3 (or less) of those same people regularly exercise.

They KNOW the truths. They can even back up the research and statistics. But they don't practice it.

Why?

Because the passion isn't there.
on raising children who follow Jesus for a lifetime

I would argue that the same is true for religion.

I know an awful lot of people who have read through the bible more times than I have that want nothing to do with it now. They did all the right things.

They are experts in a religion of moralism but they never encountered Jesus.

They never felt that hot rush of heat turning and twisting their very soul inside their body in a tangible, physical, can't-deny-it sort of way.

When you encounter Jesus in this way he's awfully hard to shake off.

I'm not saying I don't have moments of doubt and periods of time where I don't feel his presence. But in those moments, the thing that keeps me on this quest for Jesus is the fact that I HAVE felt him. I go back to those moments where I know that he spoke to me. I know that I was in his presence because I could feel him as heavily as if I were at the center of a mosh pit. I've seen him work actual miracles before my eyes.

That, I believe, is what keeps people following Jesus year after year, decade after decade.

If you only practice the moral law, sit in quiet discipline and joyless obedience, your "faith" may only last as long as a New Year's resolution gym membership.

Because rules and ritual and moral law don't inspire passion. Most people aren't disciplined enough to keep that up for a lifetime. And how tragic, really, if you were to actually become that disciplined, to reach the end of your life and realize that your "faith" was built on rules and not relationship; ritual and moral law and not a joy that made you feel free, without fear, and full of hope.

Like meeting an elderly marathoner who says that although they had run hundreds of marathons throughout their life, they forced every single step. They never found that "sweet spot" where they felt they could run forever. Every step was a struggle, painful, an effort of sheer will and discipline.

I'm not saying it's always a high, the excitement wanes a bit from time to time. There are periods, like I said, where I rarely read my bible and don't feel that closeness. But I haven't abandoned it.

For a few different reasons I haven't worked out in 2 months. But it's still a part of me. I've been working out consistently for about 15 years. It always will be an important part of my life. I don't feel like myself when I haven't worked out in a while. I remember how it feels to be strong, healthy. To not have aches and pains and to be able to do just about anything physically that I want to do. That memory is intoxicating and inspires me to continue.

So, when it comes to my children and Christianity, we are taking this same approach. Rather than mandating that they read their bibles a certain amount, make them go to church as a teen, or list out the "do's" and "don't's" by which we live and die, we are focusing on guiding them to encounter Jesus. I honestly don't care how many bible verses my children memorize if they never experience the presence of the Holy One. I'm not saying those disciplines aren't good, they absolutely are, but I don't want to miss the forest for the trees.

on raising children who follow Jesus for a lifetime

The other day I was putting our 7 year old's water bottle in his backpack and I discovered his bible, along with a biography of a baseball player, "Hank the Cowdog" and "Harriet the Spy."

I asked if his teacher had asked him to bring his bible to school. "No" he replied. "I just like reading it. I'm almost through the first book mom, I really like it. Did you know that...."

YES.

We recently stepped out of our comfort zone to join a church that is actively moving in the Spirit every single service. It's undeniable the passion the people there have for the Lord, and that is what I want for my children.

Passion. Relationship.

If my kids never wear a purity ring or go on a missions trip to another country, that's fine by me.

Because their heart is what I'm after. I hope they encounter Jesus in such a way that when they are tempted to do something contrary to what we have taught, the Spirit will be there to remind him of WHO they are and WHOSE they are. They will be stirred and emboldened to follow after Jesus because he is dear to them, because they don't want to miss out on the fullness of life that He has to offer; not because they fear punishment, shame, or loss of heavenly position.

These are the kids who don't have to hide from the world. Those are the ones you can send out to pagan places and not worry about being sucked in and changed or devoured. Because they have encountered and known and love the Holy One.

The rules fly out the window at that point because the behavior is a natural byproduct of the heart's passion.

I'm not saying a kid like this will never fail. They absolutely will and should. Some have to fail and make more mistakes than others - I was one of those. I just don't think that repeating and modeling a set of rules to your kids will do any more to keep them following after Jesus than it will make someone go for a run by forcibly putting athletic shoes on their feet. Those are guilt and fear and control tactics and they only last as long as your kids are under your watchful parental eye, which is a very, very short amount of time.

I don't want to raise "good" kids. I want to raise adults who love and passionately follow Jesus. Who understand that the mistakes they made along the way are 100% forgiven and forgotten and part of the journey. That failures do not define them.

I'm up for being wrong. I'm only just shy of 8 years into this parenting gig.

I'm always searching, learning, open to changing my approach, but I'm seeing the children of friends who are experiencing this kind of thing, and it's absolutely inspiring and beautiful. I hope to give my own children that same gift.

live well. be well.

Lindsay


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