Hard, unexplainable things are happening in this world, in our world, every day. Violent things that grieve this mother’s heart for other mothers. Unjust things that make me feel powerless to influence change. Dark things that I struggle to understand. Just terrible, hard things. And really, if it’s up to me, I don’t want to talk about them. I don’t want to think about them, and I certainly don’t want to talk to my innocent kids about them. But guess what I’ve been learning over the last 14 years of being a parent: very little about parenting well is about what I want. It’s about what they need, and they need us to have hard, awkward, sometimes scary conversations.
Guiding Hearts and Minds
As parents, one of our greatest responsibilities is figuring out how to guide our children’s hearts and minds as they come across tragic news and the terrible realities of living in a sin and self obsessed world. Guiding their hearts looks like us teaching them to love what God loves, hate what God hates, and value what God values. Guiding their minds is teaching them the absolute truth of the Bible and how critical it is that they uphold the Bible as their filter for how they view this world and everything in it. Guiding their hearts and minds means conversation, and a lot of it.
Deuteronomy 6 commands parents that from a very early age we cultivate a culture of conversation in our homes. Conversation about anything and everything with the Bible as the authority. Nothing is too sacred or too uncomfortable. We are commanded to diligently teach God’s commands and His words to our children in just about every posture of life…sitting down, walking around, lying down, and getting up. But we don’t just teach them our theology, or what we believe about God, we teach them how to apply God’s words and commands to their actual lives. How to live and walk out the truth of God’s Word in this 2018 culture in which they are finding themselves.
So, we have to find ways to talk about the hard things, the uncomfortable things, and the scary things. This is how we, as parents, stay relevant in the lives of our children. Not just as a vending machine for things they need, a taxi-driver, or laundry service, but for developing a solid biblical worldview in their thoughts, reasoning, and value system. This is how we give them confidence in our ability to help guide their growing formation of ideas and beliefs: by teaching them about hard things before the world does, by giving them freedom to ask questions, and then giving honest, age-appropriate answers.
As my husband and I try to live out this biblical mandate for a culture of conversation, there are two MUST-HAVES that I believe have been and will continue to be critical as we aim to raise kingdom focused Christ-followers: sensitivity and intentionality.
I have found that practicing sensitivity when anticipating a hard conversation is vital to my connectedness and effectiveness as a parent. Specifically sensitivity in two areas: my child’s unique age and personality, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The day after the tragic school shooting at Douglas High School in Florida I was in the car with my 11-year old daughter, when she wondered aloud why a flag was flying at half mast. I responded that there had been a tragedy the previous day in Florida and the lowered flag was a show of respect. She didn’t ask any more questions and I didn’t offer any more details. After a brief moment, we simply changed the topic.
It wasn’t that I didn’t feel it important enough to discuss, my heart was heavy with grief over the loss of life. But I didn’t want to weigh her down unnecessarily with darkness that’s too hard for her young spirit to hear and process. I didn’t want to rush in and act insensitively toward her young age and tendency toward fear. So I left it alone for the moment until I could give it the prayer and consideration it needed.
I later asked the Lord for His specific wisdom and insight into the profitability of giving her any further information. He knows her fears and vulnerabilities much greater than I, and I trust Him to lead me to do exactly what is right and profitable for her today. It is an incredible relief to know that I don’t have to guess at these things, I just have to be sensitive to let Him lead me. His leadership means that sometimes we address and talk through current event situations and sometimes we save her the weight of that knowledge.
My son, on the other hand, turns 14 this week and we have already entered the zone where it is necessary to talk about the hard and uncomfortable things. And not just once but really taking any opportunity to re-enforce the truth of God’s Word as it applies to everyday events. At this age it would actually be extremely detrimental to him for us to shy away from hard and awkward topics. Why? Because you better believe the enemy has several willing parties just waiting to have those conversations. His two goals being to promote a spirit of distrust and irrelevancy about the parents in the mind of the child, and ultimately, to twist and distort the truth.
One strategy that is a beautiful and natural way to go about being intentional with conversation is to read the Bible together. We typically read separately, take notes, and then come back together to discuss our thoughts. The beauty of this strategy is that the Word provides the topics, I just have to read and then show up. Over the past few years we have dug into Proverbs to see what God has to say about the path of the righteous and the path of the foolish. We’ve read through some of Psalms together to see David’s desperate heart for God and how he worshiped.
Most recently, I challenged him to read through the New Testament with me in six months. In just one of our readings this week we discussed Matthew 19 that deals with divorce, gender assignment, God’s divine design for marriage, and what it means to be a eunuch. Whoa is right! Trust me when I say that none of those topics were on my radar that evening, seriously, or I would have studied up. But God brought them about in conversation because of our intentional reading. I didn’t have to get all weird and sit him down and make us both uncomfortable (which I’ve absolutely done before). I just had to address the topics as we read them and do the best I could with what I knew.
This concentrated time with our son in our home, it’s growing short. Our parenting job now is moving beyond us guarding his heart and mind to teaching him how to guard his own heart and mind. This is us trying to create and sustain a culture of conversation, of honesty and trust, because he knows his parents will give it to him straight so he doesn’t have to go looking for answers anywhere else. It’s messy and uncomfortable and a lot of days I just want to stick my head in the sand and live in the bliss of ignorance. But on the days when we follow through with our intention to be open with conversation, I feel like we’re parenting and discipling well. Not perfectly, but sensitively and intentionally, and I think that’s all God asks from us.
So this morning, I sat across from my son and daughter, over giant pancakes, and we talked about the tragedy that occurred this week in a school in Florida. I didn’t get into the specifics for my daughter’s sake and because my son already knew the details. But for about 10 minutes we talked about the importance of kindness to others and how small acts of kindness can be so powerful in the life of one who is hurting. We talked about how difficult and dark life is when there’s no belief and new life in Jesus. We also talked about the role they play in school safety being never joking about harming others and taking it seriously if they ever hear it being discussed, even jokingly.
Ten minutes were about all my daughter could handle so I wrapped it up and moved back to lighter topics. But, honestly, I felt good. I was glad it was over and felt peace that I had been sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and then intentional with the conversation.
Listen, this parenting gig is hard and a lot of the time we feel so ill-equipped to disciple their hearts. But the thing we have to remember is that God, in his infinite wisdom, gave these precious people to us for a very specific purpose. There was and is nothing random about it. So instead of checking out of the hard stuff, we have to decide we’re going to be intentional about obeying Deuteronomy 6.
Then, we must rest in the sovereignty of God. That He made us parents to these particular children because we are what they need, that we are God’s best for them. We decide that our history, our experiences, and our relationship with Jesus must be exactly what our kids need to hear. No one else’s, ours. Then, we pray like crazy for wisdom every day, and then we talk, and we talk, and then we do a lot of listening, and then we talk some more. We talk about hard things, and stupid things, and funny things and we, their parents, become their most trusted source of information. Not their school, not their friends, not their snapchat, and certainly not google. This is how we do our jobs well. And God says when we do, it will be life for them and righteousness for us.
God help us.