Are you a mother or father trying to usher your kid through the world as a citizen of Heaven? Today I wanted to toss out a couple things my family does to help our kids maintain their identity without hiding out in a holy bomb shelter. It's a hard job, but it's not too hard.
Here's a quick sketch of one way we help our kids process the way the world acts while also upholding our identity as people who don't act like the world (It's a work in progress, but I figured even a work in progress might be helpful).
Before we share that one way, it's important to note that you can't help your kids hold onto their identity without first instilling a strong sense of identity. For our family that looks like actually living as people of light. We try our best to be the people God wants us to be. We read the Bible together. We pray together. We serve together. We forgive each other. We post scripture all around our house. We worship together. We're committed to a community of Saints. We call this community our family. Our kids find connection and identity, purpose and a sense of personal mission here. We tell our kids that this is where they belong, that their identity is entirely wrapped up in God and His Kingdom.
We want our kids to have a strong sense of their citizenship. Are we getting this right all the time? Nope. (In fact, at lunch today I asked the girls, "Where is your citizenship?" And Eve said Heaven but London said Texas.) Still, we're trying.
This understanding of who we are shapes the way we talk about things outside the parameters of what God wants for His people. When our kids observe the world and identify behaviors that don't line up with what they've experienced, here's how we most often handle it as a family:
1. We don't freak out. We live in Austin, TX. These girls see all kinds of crazy and that doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother us because it gives us the chance to help them process it. We look forward to these moments, viewing them as opportunities to help our kids identify the forces of sin and death from within the safety of our home.
2. We don't point it out. We let them. Over the years We've built up a lot of credibility with our kids. They know they can ask us about anything and we won't act like it's weird. Our kids have asked us about rape, about why two guys are kissing, about why people get divorced, about why people are homeless, about why a girl isn't wearing more clothes, about why so and so lives with so and so even though they're not married, about cuss words, about sex, about child abuse. BUT we wait until they ask us about it, because (1) We want to give them space to do some processing on their own and (2) because sometimes they didn't even notice. (This only works if you and your kids talk a lot and if asking questions is a part of your relationship)
3. Once they ask us about something (like one of the things on the list above), we respond with two questions:
A. What does God think about that?
Sometimes they don't know the answer. Usually they have a good gut impulse. Still, we take all the time they want to talk about it. We talk about it until they run out of questions. We try to let them discover the answer instead of handing it down from on high. Then we ask the next question...
B. Does this person (or character) follow Jesus?
This question is important because if the answer is "No," and it almost always is, it ends the discussion in a way that makes all the sense in the world to our kids: Why did that person act like that? Because they're not on the same path we are. So, if a character in a movie is a jerk to his parents we ask "What does God think about that?" And they say God doesn't like that. Then we say, "Is this character from this show a follower of Jesus?" And the answer to that, that "No" reminds them that this character is playing by different rules. You can't be like that because you're a different kind of person. You pledge allegiance to a different Master.
4. The last part of the conversation involves guarding against being judgmental jerks. The Apostle Paul says that while it IS our job to keep our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable for their behavior, it's NOT our job to judge the world or expect the world to conform to our values. Often we'll end a conversation this way: "So, is it your business to go tell Anthony that his parents shouldn't live together if they're not married?" My kids always say a quick and passionate "Nooooo."
This practice I outlined above has been one of the healthiest in helping our kids understand why things are the way they are in a fallen world. They're able to interact with that world without judgment but with discretion and a strong sense of their own identity and values.
That's it. I hope maybe this practice inspires you to come up with one of your own (or reinforces your current practice). Leave a comment if you have questions or if you have practices/conversation guidelines of your own that are blessing your kids in their walk with God.