It’s the beginning of a new week, which means my husband and I will sit down to review the upcoming days for our family of five. Who will take the two younger kids to soccer practices; who will run our son to cross country? We’ll divvy up AWANA and small group, two birthday parties, a handful of meetings, a doctor’s appointment and a partridge in a pear tree. There are unlimited options to what my kids can do in our small town. A new permission slip comes almost daily and all I need to do is write a check to get the t-shirt and a list of practice times. And isn’t that what I should do? They’re good kids, it’s fun to see them try new things academically and athletically, and I want them to have opportunities to discover who they are.
Often, though, I realize that when my focus is on doing things for my kids, I lose my perspective on what really matters—cultivating their souls. As they mature, I realize just how high the stakes are in this post-modern-social-media-driven-more-is-better world. As a mom, the task of raising children can seem insurmountable. When I get overwhelmed, I must have the courage to ask the hard questions: “What will break my heart more? If my kids don’t end up loving me? Or if they don’t end up loving Jesus?”
In a society of excess, it’s easy for families to forget what really matters. We get tricked into thinking that our job is to make our kids happy… so we end up loading up on activities, objects, and experiences because we want to be the best parents to our kids. We just want them to be happy. If there’s a chance that they might struggle, all we have to do is recruit a tutor, coach, or mentor to make up the gap between where they are and where they should be. Want to run faster? Expand the voice range? Memorize the books of the Bible? Get better test scores? You got it, kid.
Before we know it, the squares on our calendar are overflowing, the gas tank seems to be on empty all the time and our souls feel the same way. It’s a dangerous path, as we scramble from one thing to the next. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up with kids rich in experiences, but lacking in spiritual formation. My kids begin to think the world revolves around them and miss that the cause of Christ is bigger than any of them.
Reggie Joiner says it like this: “Whenever we define a child’s happiness as our ultimate goal, we settle for something far less significant than what God has designed for them or what He has designed them for.” (Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, p. 83)
John 3:30 says, “He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease.” And what does this mean in my role as a parent? How can my life—the way I spend the time I have with them today—communicate to my children that our mission is bigger than shuttling them to the next event? Is this perpetual exhaustion just a part of the job of being a parent? Or is there another way?
We’ve all seen it—the exodus of college students from church. Statistics show that many of these kids who grow up in nice, comfortable, church-going homes where family is idolized walk away from the church once they turn eighteen. In many of these cases, the kids love their parents, but they don’t love Jesus. Could it be because we as parents are buying the lie that what we do for our children or what we give to our children is more important than what we leave in them?
If you’re a parent, chances are you’re nodding along with me. Because the truth is, we really don’t know what we’re doing (just don’t tell our kids, right!?). Intentional parenting takes a whole lot of wrestling, praying and relying on Christ. It takes the courage to say no to another activity, especially when those things are good. Often Jesus reminds me to look at the big picture—to imagine the end. Ten, twenty, forty years from now, what do I want my kids to value? When my daughter Kate receives her high school diploma, when her older brother William gets his first job, when my youngest, Eliza, becomes a Mama, what do I want for their souls? We as parents are raising little people who will spend the bulk of their life as adults. Altering our perspective from right now to someday, allows us to focus our priorities on what matters the most.
Of course I want my kids to be happy. It gives me great joy to watch them interact with teammates and discover the talents they have been given. But even more, I want them to know they were created for something much more significant than endless practices and activities. When I imagine the end, my deepest desire is for them to know they are created in the image of God and to love Him with all their hearts, minds and souls.
Today may you look with fresh eyes at the ones God has put in your care. May you parent them with wisdom as you imagine the end. May you guide them gently into the arms of Jesus, because your most important task is not what you do for them or give to them. May you have the courage to fight for their hearts above all else.
Sarah Damaska is a regular contributor to Soul Care Collective.