I’d want them to know my love was so strong that no matter how bad it gets,
how far down they go, who leaves them and abandons them, I won’t.13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Looking at a newborn is a pretty overwhelming reality. It is the age we are in. Vickie and I were sitting outside in the
waiting room, getting more anxious by the moment for our daughter and her husband and a little one. Being born is
dangerous, not guaranteed, and full of anxiety, no matter what reassurances we are given. In fact, the greatest advice from the OB to our daughter the last two months was, “Don’t Google.”
We don’t know how to know what to do with all the information. In the old days, they took the mother, the father paced outside, and the baby arrived. It was the first inkling of what you had—boy or girl. No paint colors until you knew.
Now, you have more knowledge about this infant than the NSA has of your cell phone. But what to make of it? Truth is, there is still a place where we cannot intrude with knowledge, and it is the miracle of life itself.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s great to know. And here’s how we got the word. We’re sitting there, grandparents, waiting, worrying, praying. Getting texts from our kids and friends—praying for you, hoping, let us know, that sort of thing. And we occupy ourselves by answering these as we wait. Naturally, we are watching the other occupants of the room. A waiting room is pure democracy. Rich, poor, well-dressed and barely dressed, country and city, every demographic comes through. You know who roots for Bama and who for Auburn. Random and everybody is anxious. Coming and going.
And then I got a text. I used to have a little tone that notified me that I had a text that was the sound of water gurgling, but I changed it. I kept having to go to the Men’s room when it went off, so I changed it to a simple sound of a bubble popping. So the twentiteth bubble of the morning went off. I casually looked at the screen and there was a picture of my daughter smiling with joy and a little red face screaming her lungs out. And no words.
I jumped a foot off my seat. “Hey,” I told Vickie, “She’s HERE!” The miracles of God are like that. No matter how much preparation, they come like a hammer and change your life.
I’m not raising children today. I’m part of the “support troops.” I’m in the capital funding division. But if I were, I would be giving my children every chance to know about God.
If I WERE RAISING CHILDREN TODAY…I would be having fewer frantic activities and make more careful and deliberate choices. I wouldn’t buy them whatever they ask for—that’s for grandparents to do. I would be more present when they’re trying to talk to me.
I wouldn’t lecture as much and I would listen a little more. I wouldn’t worry so much about being their friend and more about keeping their respect as well as their love. I think I would listen for signs of God in their life and, like trying to start a fire, do everything I could to blow on it, but not too hard.
I would make sure they were around all ages of people, not just peers. I would pray for them with all my heart, and take most of my criticisms there. I would provide consistent discipline and accept that they will not always like me and know that the world won’t end if they’re mad.
I think I would teach them to deal with disappointment and not being part of the cool group instead of working so hard to get them in it. I would fight for them and protect them when it matters. I would give them opportunities to try things and help them deal with it when they’re not good at it. Nobody is good at everything. Not everything has to be fun. Hard work is always part of success.
I would always be there for them, but I would also challenge them to try hard things. I wouldn’t laugh when they disrespected others or me. I would keep a little parent distance there, something for them to aspire to have one day. I think I would let them know when they got it right, and I wouldn’t mince words when they didn’t, but never cause them to doubt my love and loyalty.
I would remember that prejudice and hate and all other bad and good things can be learned and unlearned, but most powerfully by what they see. I would always speak with one voice with their mother, and never let them play us off against one another. If she said it, I support it.
I think I would anticipate that my heart and hopes will be broken from time to time and so will their’s. I would teach them to think for themselves, like Jesus said, so that what everybody else says is less important than Jesus’ great question, “So what do you say?” And I would model that by living it myself. I wouldn’t try so hard to keep up with the Jones’ and instead try to know how to discern what is really of God from what is fluff or tradition or just whipping us into shape.
I would not wait so long to talk about important things. I would protect them from the desire of everybody around to get them involved in what they think matters. I would teach them to pray and how to be still and be alone with themselves. I wouldn’t rescue them from every problem, but sometimes let them hurt from their own decisions, because I love them and that’s the way it is.
I would use Jesus’ teaching method, not mine. Sometimes I’d give them tougher questions instead of easy answers. I’d just give information if that’s what they ask for, but if it’s deep stuff, I’d push them to answer it for themselves instead. I would tell them the answers I had found, but honor that terrifying truth that each of us seek in order to find.
I would remember that there is no cookie cutter for children. Even three children in the same family are as unique as a snowflake from each other. I wouldn’t cram the mystery of life into a box to hand out like a tract. I would help them to see the same thing—that whatever ways they are different as the world around them defines it can wear you down, beat you into lying about yourself if you aren’t careful. Be true to the divine imprint, I’d say.
And I would remember, at last, that only God can give some things to them, especially grace. After all that I can do, they have a journey that God gives, not me. I can teach them that finding that out is more important than belonging to the right fraternity or friend group or making the right connections. It’s about knowing who you are, why you’re here, and what your life is about. But if you look for it, it can find you.
I don’t think I’d teach them that money doesn’t matter. Of course it does. But God matters more than money. Way more. And people matter more than money. Those two truths can tell you what to do with your money. Otherwise you’re liable to waste your precious and short life absorbed in getting it, keeping it, and taking care of it instead of using it for good and giving it away.
I would make sure they knew that faith is not just something handed to you. You have to find it yourself. And it isn’t just thinking a thought about God now and then. You have to say it and do it, and feel it, and live it in front of the world.
I’d want them to know my love was so strong that no matter how bad it gets, how far down they go, who leaves them and abandons them, I won’t. God didn’t leave me, and I believe in God. I won’t leave you either. I’m here.
And then, ever so gently, I’d watch to see what God will do in this life. It wasn’t mine. It came like a miracle text, popping into my life. I’ll do all I can to help and not get in the way. But I also will remember that I’m not all God has to work with. There’s a church, and family, and friends, and people God will bring in their lives. So I won’t live in a panic that I have to hover over them every minute. I wouldn’t be a helicopter parent—I’d be an aircraft carrier, so they can fly solo, but land when they need to.
I help them know–It’s not all up to me and not up to them alone either. I need to let go and show them how to let go. They’ll need it some day.
I’d show them how to die with faith so they can live with faith. And I can only do that by discovering God for myself.
So Moms and Dads, give your children the Bible. Teach them. Take them to church. Speak of the Lord in your house. Model the faith by your living. Let them see consistency in your relationship, in your treatment of others. God IS conveying the gospel through you to them—sometimes invisibly, in ways you don’t even know.
But remember that ultimately, this is “given,” too. When Peter gets it right, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” This may cause us despair as families, but perhaps it should give us great relief. I know I have worked to guarantee happiness to my children as have most of you, and we see how that turns out. We have our dreams and plans, but at some point, we must relinquish them. God has dreams for their lives that are not ours. Or maybe they are. We don’t get to say everything about it. You can’t make a child believe. And you can’t keep them from believing, either.
Anne Lamott grew up in a house where her parents dismissed religion and insisted that their children be free of it. And she grew up always knowing there was a God and longed to know God.
So do what is yours to do. First, do it yourself for yourself. They’ll see a lot in your powerful example about what matters in a life. I think it’s great to take kids to church because they need it, but you need it more than they do. S But finally, accept that each of us must live to God on our own. Second, give them exposure to it. But finally, accept that each of us must live to God on our own.
This is why the work of nurturing children, teaching them, providing them instruction, living before them, is our most important work. From rocking them in the nursery to going along to camp in the summer, we are helping together to do God’s work. But it is only the prelude.
“Trust in God” is beyond our control, in one sense. It can be humanly anticipated and experienced—church, acquaintance with the things of God, learning the Bible. But under our fervent efforts at spiritual formation is a subtle truth—it like walking on a path for a very long time, through forests and by rivers, stopping to explain what this and that is.
One day, though, you come to a place in that road where there is a crossroads, a place where there are two paths to choose. And we stand back and say, with all the courage we can, “Which way do you think you should go?”
Of course, I can’t go back. I’m done with that time. But since I can’t, I can live that way now, for my children’s children, and other people’s children, and all the children of the world. I can live into these great truths Jesus gave us and know that the answers take us where we need to go.
I want them to hear the great questions of all time, and wrestle with them. Whatever all the others say, “What do you say?”