I am a checklist junkie. I make lists and place them all over my desk, the house, and the car. If I get something accomplished that I hadn’t written on the list, I add it and then cross it off. Did I mention I’m a little OCD? But raising children to love and follow Jesus doesn’t work that way. I learned that I can model, I can teach, but ultimately the choices are up to them.
When I brought my first child home from the hospital I was hit with a sudden bout of panic. What do I do now? How do I make sure that this child grows to love Jesus the way that I do? What if I screw him up? I even told the nurse she should reconsider whether it was a good idea to send this baby home with me. I started reading all the literature on raising godly kids that I could get my hands on. I figured with enough ammunition, I may just pull this off.
I did the devotions, the Sunday school, the praying at bedtime, the praying at meals. We had discussions, we modeled to the best of our ability what it looked like to live out a life for Jesus. We got them Beginner’s bibles, Toddler Bibles, Adventure Bibles and Student Bibles. I checked each of these things off of the checklist and figured everything would be amazing, and then reality reared its head. These children have wills and choices of their own. And it may not be the choices we would make for them.
When my son turned 18 we had a huge reality check when he came to us and listed in detail all of the ways that he had rebelled against us over the years since he had turned 16. He had been partying, engaging in sexual activity and keeping an entirely different set of friends, all without us having a clue. And before you think that we were just being naïve (which I admit, we may have been a bit, but not to the extent you would think to miss something this big) the news came as a surprise to all that knew him as well.
We had followed all the rules and checked all the boxes; what could we have done differently? What did we miss? So often I come across Christian parents that are lamenting their children’s choices and they ask this question. While I’m sure mistakes were made (I know we made some) ultimately we don’t have control over what our kids do with the information and the modeling that they are given. I had to learn that while teaching behaviors was my parental responsibility, heart change belongs to God.
This revelation was all at once freeing and terrifying. As the OCD, list making control freak, I felt fear at releasing what I saw as my responsibility. As a Christ follower, it reminded me of how amazing my God is, and how he wants us to rely on Him for strength and peace.
Thankfully, my son has grown and come back around to a place where it seems like he’s drawing nearer to God. We try to talk about his faith, his doubts and his questions in an open and non- judgmental atmosphere. I think I see his heart softening and changing towards Jesus. But ultimately I know that it’s not my call to decide that one way or the other. And really, that’s okay with me.