This article was originally published in March, 2002. Ron & Linda’s four children are all disciples.
It has been a challenge to try to distill in a few paragraphs the experiences that most helped us in raising our four children to become disciples. Obviously, and of paramount importance, what contributed most to this great blessing is the mercy and grace of our very forgiving and loving heavenly Father. God would be totally justified in striking us deaf, dumb and blind if we didn’t give Him all the credit and honor He is due. Neither our kids nor we would have made it into the Kingdom without the rather obvious intervention of God on numerous occasions. With that foundation, there are several specifics that might be of encouragement to others who are in the process of raising their young families to become disciples.
As with most families, our biggest challenges in child raising came upon us when our kids were in the 12 to 18 age bracket. Prior to that, we were real experts in raising kids. We had all the answers, we thought. We taught classes and workshops and came across as though raising children was a piece of cake. Then came the years of adolescence. One after the other, our four began to question and doubt and struggle with the concept of God, of faith and of righteousness, with who was saved and who was not, and on and on. They questioned our authority and methods and everything about our life. Looking back on this period of time, we now realize how it was very necessary and healthy. Each of them had to experience this process to come out as mature, adult believers who had their own faith, based on their own struggles with God. In the middle of it, we went through periods of doubt, fear and heartache as to whether they would make it or not.
In talks with our adult kids (ages 29, 32, 37, 38) a few themes came up in answer to the question, “what helped you the most in becoming a disciple?” As you read these, listed in no particular order, remember paragraph one:
- Be sure your faith in God is attractive to your kids. Is it obvious to your children that you enjoy your life as a disciple? Greg, our oldest, said that he always felt that we truly enjoyed attending church services. He felt his positive attitudes were formed from years of going to be with his and our best friends. Our kids also need to see us enjoying our interactions with others. We always tried to include our kids when we had people into our home. The relationships within our family should be an attractive feature in the process of sharing our faith. Our kids have told us that seeing us go through trying times (health challenges, kid issues, etc.) and remaining optimistic and faithful have helped them to be faithful disciples as well.
- Both of our older kids related that the foundation of after school Bible studies with mom and family devotionals led by dad, have helped them all their lives to make right decisions and after periods of rebellion, to be drawn back to what is right.
- Linda and I became true disciples in 1987, when the San Diego Church was reconstructed. Our younger two kids were in their teens and they and the two older ones have related that it helped their faith to see us making changes in our lives. Meredith, our second child, said that seeing us become disciples later in life and making the changes that we did inspired her that she too could be open with us, and others, to get her life right with God and be able to change.
- We learned, often the hard way (through painful mistakes), that trying to control our teens bred frustration and rebellion in them. Through much discipling from many people, we came to realize that telling and demanding and lecturing seldom elicited the desired responses. The very wise apostle Paul told fathers to encourage, comfort and urge their children (I Thessalonians 2:12). Affirming and praising and encouraging a teen will much more likely get the behavior you desire and it will also make you friends for life!
- Teens are fascinating and bright and talented and altruistic and fun loving creatures. Parents who are worried and fearful and uptight about their kids often don’t see the goodness that is within them. We needed and we believe most parents of teens need, other disciples in our lives who are much more objective and can help us see and appreciate and enjoy our children.
- We strongly believe, again learned over time, that parents of teens must be very expressive of praise to them and about them. Our teens, male and female, need our hugs and kisses. They need to be held and affirmed and reassured of how awesome they are and how much you like them and love them and treasure them. The world may be telling them quite the opposite, but it won’t matter nearly as much if they hear all this good stuff from you.
- It was very important to us, to the point that we sacrificed having lots more “stuff” to have Linda home when the kids got home. A care giver, no matter how loving, can never take the place of a caring parent. An empty home or apartment for a teen to come home to after school is not as desirable as one where mom is there waiting to talk to. There is so much to be discussed after school and a mom or dad can do it best. I realize this may be a luxury that we enjoyed. I believe, however, that a lot more families could achieve this good thing for themselves if there were a greater conviction as to its importance.
- Gretchen, our third child, felt that one of the things that helped her the most to become a disciple and to stay faithful was the efforts we expended to insure that she had abundant time with her friends at church. San Diego was a smaller, growing church where the families were fairly well spread throughout the county. She had no other disciple kids in her high school. So, we had strong convictions that we needed to do every thing we could to get the kids from church together, a lot. Before they could drive by themselves, this meant that mom and dad did the taxi thing. We were absolutely happy to oblige as we knew how important relationships were for our kids (and to us as well).
Besides the items mentioned above from our four children, our youngest, Matthew, wrote the following. We hope it helps.
“When you break down our walk with God, it is really about gratitude, isn’t it? It is not a matter of do’s and don’ts. As a child in the kingdom, it was hard for me to distinguish this because, while I was under my parents control, my life, as it should have been, was a series of do’s and don’ts and their consequences (rewards and punishments). So, as I started to work on a personal relationship with God it was very difficult for me. My rebellious nature made me feel like I was being deprived by what I ‘wasn’t allowed’ to do as a disciple. In reality, if I had had a grip on all the incredible gifts I had and the ultimate sacrifice God made for me, I would have had a different outlook on being a disciple. In short, I would have been more grateful.
The greatest help in my life as a disciple has been seeing the gratitude of my parents for God and what he has done for them. Through the hard times I never saw my parents complain or worry about what was in front of them spiritually or physically. Believe me, regrettably so, I gave them plenty to worry about. Instead I saw them face adversity with faith and humility. Of anything in my walk with God, this has been the greatest example.
During times of spiritual challenges, I’ve seen my parents mature, and, respected as they are, get humble and ask what they can do to change, instead of getting prideful and depending on themselves to figure it out. When I walked away from God a few years back, my parents asked what they did wrong or what they could change, instead of listing off the NUMEROUS things that I was doing wrong and needed to change. This had an incredible impact on me and was one of the strongest outside influences on my being restored to God.
In times of physical trouble, I’ve watched my parents stare in the face of death and be able to say thank you to God for what they have. I remember talking to my dad the night before he had open heart surgery. I never heard him once complain about his situation. I didn’t hear a fear of dying but rather sadness in the possibility of leaving behind the people he loved the most. (I think I was more scared that he was). Dad’s attitude was due to the security he had and still has in his relationship with God. Having a father that is able to live life with that kind of security with God has been a great example for me. I’ve enjoyed being able to brag about my dad. I think kids need to be able to brag about their parents, as to how they live their lives.”
Linda and I feel like the most blessed people in the world! When we started on life’s journey together some 41 years ago, we began praying to God that He would bless us with healthy, faithful children. We prayed that He would make up the difference (rather huge at times) between what our kids needed from us and what we were able to give them spiritually. He has always been so faithful. As we look on our 38 years as parents we have concluded that a house filled with love and gratitude and joy and faith doesn’t have to be (and never can be) a house that is filled with perfection.