Greatest Fear of Parenting

Sometimes I have nightmares about my kids. Like I get really scared. Everything from nap schedules to choice of schooling, to bumps and bruises, to developmental milestones and appearance, are cause for me to worry. But they don’t bother me as much as my worst nightmare.

My greatest fear is my kids won’t make the same life decisions I have. Its not about economic status, educational attainment or even morality and personal happiness. I worry they will not walk with God. My nightmare is that 20 years from now I’ll have adult children who are successful, well-educated, upright professionals who have no affection for Jesus.

Judy and I can drag our kids to go to church (and we do), make them pray with us before bedtime (check), talk with them about God (yup), and even study the Bible with them (alright – sporadically) but the abiding decision of trusting Christ is up to them. It is a choice that is ultimately their own. And that is a scary thing. We can influence which God they follow and model for them what God is like, but we do not control their decision to trust Him.

And yet there is a blessing in not having that control. It means it is not all up to me. It means God values our freedom to choose. After all, the most important decision in my life was my own. I don’t doubt the Holy Spirit compelled me to believe but I take full responsibility for my choice. More than that, I delight in the story of how Jesus pursued and won me over. I love being a first-generation Christian.

And I want my kids to have the same opportunity to choose. Steve Korch once told me his parenting goal was to give his children the experience of being first-generation Christians. I don’t know exactly what that looks like but I know freedom is a vital ingredient. We guard and protect their freedom to choose. So although household faith activities may not be optional, ultimately I want them to know faith in Christ is their choice.

I recognize the contradiction in that statement. How can I force them to do things and yet allow them to choose? I’m not exactly sure but I do know as kids mature, their choices become increasingly important. In the beginning, I may choose for them but as they get older, I’m more interested in helping them think through how they make their decisions. In this way, raising children in the LORD highlights the tension between law and gospel. How do you transition a child to adulthood? How do you teach a child what is right and then tell him that he gets to choose?

I see a parallel with how God raised Israel as His child in the book of Exodus. Their rescue out of Egyptian slavery was only the beginning. He gave Israel the Ten Commandments and the law revealed their sin and need not only for salvation but also transformation. They were constantly reminded in the midst of law that God had rescued them by grace. Israel’s failure to follow the law demonstrated how dependent they were on the unconditional love of God. It prepared them to meet Jesus. So in the midst of rejecting God (as the Israelites did with the golden calf), children can respond to Christ and receive forgiveness, hope, worth, and acceptance. Or not.

And that’s the beauty of the gospel. As Don Carson has said, the gospel is caught not taught. May we not stop tossing out His love. And may God work in the hearts of the receivers.

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