As we observe the season of Lent, I’ve been thinking about how careful we need to be to not “leave Jesus hanging on the cross” as we talk about His death and resurrection with the young children in our lives.
I’ve hesitated writing this post because the last thing I want to do is make someone feel self-conscious or sad about doing this in the past. Let me be the first to say that I don’t always do this perfectly! And, if you are someone who has never thought about this issue before, please don’t stress about it. Here’s just something to think about going forward: Don’t leave Jesus on the cross!
Here’s what I mean:
In the Church, especially around Easter, we have a tendency to focus on our sin and on the sadness and sorrow of Good Friday and the crucifixion. Rightly, we want people to understand their sin and need for a Savior.
Talking about our sins and all the things we’ve done wrong and how Jesus died on the cross to redeem our sins.
Writing our sins down on a piece of paper and hammering them into a wooden cross.
But, we have to be careful with children to not “stay” in that zone, for two reasons:
Children don’t have the same time concept as adults. My 3 -year-old still can’t quite remember the difference between yesterday and tomorrow. She can’t always recall a conversation I had with her earlier today. While this will obviously get better, even elementary school children don’t have a superb sense of time, in the same way teenagers and adults do.
Until around age 12, children are not abstract thinkers. They need things concretely explained to them. When we do an activity like “nailing our sins to the cross” (by writing a sin on a piece of paper), they can’t retain that activity over the course of two days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. They’re not processing that symbolism the same way adults do.
So, here’s a general rule when working with children, I would say all the way up through age 12 or so:
Don’t leave Jesus on the cross. If you talk about the crucifixion, talk about the resurrection in the next breath. If you lead an activity about sin and death, wrap it up with a component describing His victory from the grave.
In our family, I try to make sure we always say something like, “Jesus died on the cross and rose againon Easter,” rather than simply talking about Jesus dying on the cross and leaving it at that.
After all, what’s the value of His death on the cross if we don’t remember He rose again on Easter morning?
I want the victory of Easter to be ingrained in the minds and hearts of the children I teach.
I want to be sensitive to any Catholic Christian readers of Faith Passed Down. I understand there are reasons for crucifixes depicting Jesus on the cross, and I’m not trying to demean that practice.
Just make sure that as you view a cross with Jesus hanging on it with your young children, you point out that He’s not on the cross anymore – we can remember our sins and also remember that He rose victorious from the grave!
As I’ve shared over the past few days, we’ve had a pretty low-key December as I’ve been in the midst of significant morning sickness, and there are many things we did not do this holiday season.
And yet, we’ve truly had a lovely December, we enjoyed a super-simple Advent season with our kids, and we celebrated a pleasant Christmas holiday with our extended family.
In hindsight, I’ve been thinking through some things that helped us this month.
I did not plan ahead for this month, but if we were hoping to have another super-simple holiday season, particularly one where I knew it would be extra-crazy, here’s some things I’d consider.
I hope that if you are looking ahead to a “survival mode” Christmas – maybe you’re anticipating a move, have a job that means the holidays are extra-busy, face sickness, or are expecting a new baby – these tips might help you, too.
How to Enjoy a Simple Holiday Season (especially in survival mode)
1. Identify what is #1 most important to you and your family members/loved ones.
Sit down and ask each person what is truly the #1 only thing that is most important.
For me, it would be singing lots of Christmas carols. For my 3 year old, she wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, but it’s been “decorating” (in her own way) by placing ornaments on the tree and also “decorating” our presents with ribbons. For the baby, it’s having not-stressed out parents. 🙂
Whatever the case, figure out what’s most important, and put those at the top of your list.
2. Similarly, identify what is not important to you or what is a big stressor.
Is there a holiday event you always go to, and it never ends well? The kids stay up too late, or you feel stressed out, or you have to provide expensive gifts for an exchange, or whatever? Consider skipping it (or just sending the people who actually enjoy it!)
For us, it’s sending Christmas cards. Growing up, my parents wrote the most clever Christmas letters each year, and it was a highlight of our celebration. Likewise, I’ve always loved reading Christmas letters/cards.
However, we now work for an aid organization where we already send out a monthly email update to most of our loved ones, and it seems that each year, sending even a simple family photo ends up taking hours as we try to take a nice photo and then stuff and stamp envelopes.
So this year, we finally opted not to send them out, at least not until the new year when life calms down a bit.
3. Pray and ask God to direct your plans to honor Him.
I don’t think everything on your December calendar needs to be religious in nature, but we do want to honor Him with all that we do, particularly as we celebrate the birth of Christ.
Is there anything on your list to remove?
4. Set yourself up for success.
Remember that list of #1 most important things?
Put any specific dates into the calendar (like, “attend church choir concert on December 10 at 2:00 pm”).
Make a list of other items that can happen anytime (like, “make cocoa and watch a Christmas movie”) and stick on your phone, refrigerator, or somewhere obvious, so that when you have a spare moment, you can make it happen.
Set a deadline for certain items, especially the “maybes.” Though we knew it’s stressful, we actually did intend to still send out some simple Christmas postcards… until, the week before Christmas, we crossed the threshold of “even if we do them now, they won’t arrive before Christmas” so I took it off my list. If you have something you might want to do, set a deadline for it: “If we haven’t made homemade gifts by December 15, we’ll just go buy storebought.”
5. Identify what is easy and set yourself up for impromptu fun.
This has been key in our family’s Christmas celebration. We already had a few Christmas craft kits and activity books, so I threw those in an empty drawer and my 3 year old has been doing a few over the past few weeks.
Because we’ve had a pretty open schedule (I’ve just felt horrible in the midst of it), we’ve had the freedom to turn on a Christmas movie on Netflix or bake super simple cookies. I gathered up a small basket of Christmas books from our bookshelves and the library, and we’ve been reading them periodically.
None of these activities were planned more than five minutes before we began doing them! But I’ve tried to stay open to a few simple activities.
Some other ideas for facilitating impromptu fun are:
make a list of holiday events in your community, and refer to it if you find yourself with a free evening/weekend.
So many of the things we did this Christmas happened as a result of other gracious people in our lives.
Family members provided tickets to two holiday shows and arranged all of the food/activities for our Christmas celebrations.
My sister baked cookies, made icing, and invited us over to decorate them, with zero effort on my part (except enjoying the finished product!) 🙂
Even participating in Christmas Eve church was the result of the hard work of the pastors, choir members, and worship leaders! It’s been easier for us to attend events that others have arranged, rather than trying to put it together ourselves.
What We HAVE Done This Christmas Season – some simple ideas
Despite all that we’ve skipped, here are the things we have done, perfect for our current situation, that have resulted in a meaningful December nonetheless. You’ll notice that many of these happened as the result of delegation/other people helping us, or as the result of impromptu, spur-of-the-moment fun.
We have done evening Advent wreath devotions at the dinner table about half the nights in December. This has been the #1 most meaningful thing this year. It requires virtually no preparation, other than having an Advent wreath with four candles. Most nights, we turn off the lights, light the appropriate candle(s), read one Bible verse related to the Christmas story, and then sing a verse (a capella) of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Often since we already have the hymnal out, we sing a few more carols – usually just the first verse of each one. Then we blow out the candles. That’s it! It usually takes about 5 minutes, and to be honest, several nights I’ve just stayed on the couch and hollered the songs from across the living room to my family at the table. 🙂 But it’s been so special to hear our daughter start to learn these songs, and I love singing as a family. (We have no future as the Von Trapp Family Singers. We’re often off-key and I inevitably start “Away in a Manger” too low so halfway through I can’t get the notes out. But it’s still fun, and I hope worships the Lord.)
We spread out all our Christmas ornaments on a table and let my 3 year-old decorate and redecorate our little two-foot (fake) Christmas tree. So far we’ve only broken one ornament!
We dumped all our kid-friendly nativity scenes into one tub together so the kids could pull out pieces and play with them.
My mom purchased a chocolate-filled Peanuts countdown calendar, and most days, we’ve pulled out a chocolate for our daughter.
We went to see the Nutcracker and Disney Frozen on Ice, thanks to extended family members who got tickets and made all the arrangements.
We strolled around a Christmas tree festival (where they decorate trees in different themes and people purchase them for charity).
Whenever Christmas comes up in conversation, we try to tie in Jesus as much as possible. We talk about how Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, and how some of the characters on the Christmas shows we watch don’t know Jesus yet.
I threw our children’s Christmas books into a box and have read them sporadically.
We purchased and wrapped gifts for our extended family members (about 10 people) + a gift to my daughter’s eye specialist and our apartment complex managers. Those are the only people we gave anything to, but this still felt like the most time-consuming part of our holiday season, especially since we opted not to buy gift cards but instead do pretty personal gifts. (But it ended up being fun to do this and feel a little accomplished. 🙂
We have watched pretty much every Christmas cartoon on Netflix. 🙂 (Seriously!) We’ve also enjoyed watching White Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
My husband and daughter made super-simple chocolate chip cookies in Christmas shapes.
We attended church on Christmas Eve.
We went to my parents’ house for the entire week of Christmas, where we were spoiled with food, cable television, presents, and child care. My parents and sister planned and provided all the food/merriment for our actual Christmas celebrations.
In the end, we’ve ended up with a nice Christmas season, where we were able to spend time together and celebrate and remember Jesus’ birth.
And it’s not over yet! There are still a few more of the 12 Days of Christmas left… I’m hoping we still might get out to look at some lights or sing a few more carols before the season officially ends. 🙂
**Leave a comment below. What tips do you have for a simple Christmas season, especially when life is especially crazy?
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It’s been a little quiet around Faith Passed Down lately. I published a guide to a meaningful Thanksgiving in mid-November, but since then, our house has been a little crazy.
We’re joyously expecting twins (!!!) and I’ve been dealing with your typical morning all-day sickness, a bit worse than in my previous pregnancies, which I hear is common for twins.
I am trying so hard not to complain, because I personally know several women (plus Princess Kate, who I feel like I know!) who have suffered from truly debilitating, hospitalizing pregnancy sickness… and that certainly hasn’t been the case for me!
But, it’s still been an adjustment to our typical life, and I have felt pretty stretched thin.
My definition of “tidying up” has changed to “maybe if I’m lucky I pick up a few of the Cheerios off the carpet before the baby eats them.”
Rather than checking items off my to-do list each day, I’ve been glancing at my calendar about once a week, only to notice that I’ve missed things like “library books due” and “Ava’s Baptism Birthday.”
All that to say, this Advent/Christmas season has not been “Pinterest-perfect” in our home. In fact, until I went to take some pictures for this series, I don’t think I had photographed a single part of our house so far this month, because there hasn’t been much to share!
There has been no daily holiday activity, no homeschool Christmas crafts, and certainly no wandering elf!
Though Christmas is over, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on this year’s Christmas in “survival mode,” in the hopes that it might encourage some of you whose Christmas seasons looked similar.
Celebrating Christmas when Life Is Harder than Usual
Even if you’re not dealing with morning sickness, perhaps you’re in a similar situation – maybe an extra-busy season at work, a child with special needs, a period of colds or flu in your home, a newborn, a parent or grandparent with a terminal illness, a home remodel – has made your holiday season busier, or more overwhelming, or has resulted in a pile of unmet expectations.
Over the next couple days I’d like to share some of the specifics behind our Advent/Christmas season in less than ideal circumstances.
I hope this might offer you:
comfort and encouragement (maybe you’ll be reassured to think, “Hey, at least we’re doing more than she is!”)
ideas for thinking outside the box regarding how to celebrate Christmas.
permission to cut back your holiday expectations for future years.
It can be so easy to pile up a list of expectations and hopes for the holidays.
We might think of our own childhood traditions and want to do every single one.
Then we look at our community’s fun calendar of events, or write down all the activities for our church/school/work/club. (Am I the only one who always thinks the local rec center/library activities sound like so much fun? I am so lured by the promise of “refreshments!”)
After that, of course, a quick internet perusal gives us ten more ideas to add to our mental (or written!) Christmastime to-do list!
This year, however, I’ve just been trying to do enough laundry that I have relatively clean clothes pajamas to wear each day, along with keeping my one-year-old from putting choking hazards in her mouth.
With those kind of lofty expectations, there has been little room for elaborate Christmas goals.
Things We Have Not Done This Christmas Season
I’m not saying I’m super proud of all these things – we would have loved to attend midweek church services or participated in a service project, and I wish we would have sent Christmas cards. But, here’s the reality!
We never took family photos.
We never sent Christmas cards.
We attended only one holiday party, skipping several others, including a MOPS craft day and a fun event at our vision therapist’s office. We even sadly missed my husband’s work party (though instead we went to the doctor and found out we were having twins!)
We made just one homemade gift total, though I originally planned to have my girls make something for each family member.
We did not decorate gingerbread houses.
We did not attend any midweek church Advent services.
We did not make homemade wrapping paper even though I knew my 3-year-old would love painting it (and we have all the supplies!!)
We did not purchase or make any gifts for our own kids. (We did wrap up a few gifts from our own childhood plus a few toys I had bought on sale long ago).
My husband and I did not purchase/make/give any gifts to each other.
Despite all the darling ideas online, we did not purchase or make any Christmas countdowns (Advent calendars). We did use a simple chocolate countdown my mom got for us.
We did not put up any outdoor Christmas decorations/lights, even though I would love for us to proclaim Christ to our neighbors.
We did not decorate a real Christmas tree – just a tiny two-foot one my daughter decorated.
We did not put up much Christmas decor inside our home. We stuck stockings on the wall with 3M hooks (we’re talking high class here!) and hung a couple ornaments/wooden wreaths on the wall. We have an Advent wreath on our kitchen table.
There are several doctors and helpers in our lives (for example, the library storytime leaders and some babysitters we use at MOPS) that I would have loved to give gifts to. It just never happened.
We did not do any service projects (beyond Operation Christmas Child, which was completed in November). In fact, we were even initially signed up to provide several dozen homemade cookies to a veterans’ dinner, and I was so relieved when someone else offered to provide pumpkin pies instead, so we were off the hook until another dinner in the spring.
We have not made hot cocoa or eaten candy canes.
We have hardly listened to any Christmas music.
I had hoped to read a personal daily Advent devotional, but I never got started.
We never did our family Christmas program, a time when we typically sing carols and act out the Christmas story.
We never had a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party (beyond singing the “Happy Birthday” song on Christmas Day.)
Tomorrow I’ll be sharing what we did do for Christmas, because, despite all that we didn’t do, we ended up having a lovely holiday celebration. I’ll also share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
“But I Like To Go ‘All Out’ for Christmas!”
If you are someone who did do a lot of these things, good for you! Truly – I am excited that you were able to have a joyous holiday season, and please don’t let this post make you feel otherwise!
I have friends and family members with beautifully decorated trees, delightful Christmas countdowns, and all kinds of fun enjoying the season and delighting in our Savior and King. I’ve been able to enjoy viewing these beautiful trees and eating delicious cookies at their homes, and I’m so grateful!
I’m not overly sentimental about Christmas, so things like a beautifully decorated tree, baking traditional cookies, or observing many traditions are not important to me (or my husband. Nor were they practical to us in this particular phase of life.
Just please know that I’m not intending to cast judgment on what you have done… rather, reassure you in case you haven’t done these things!
**Leave a comment below: What are some things you did not do this Christmas season? Are you sad? Relieved?
In the days to come in the Global Missions with Kids series, we’re going to talk about global missions with children and teenagers, like how to help them love the nations and practical ways to serve. But today I want to talk about our beliefs as adults to set the foundation for what we pass on to our children regarding global missions.
Re-Reading Scripture through a “Missions” Lens
A few years ago I realized that somehow I had missed one of the main points of my favorite Bible stories and Scripture verses, like:
Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
David and Goliath
Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.”
the Christmas story
the story of Paul
You see, I understood many of these stories as being all about me and my own faith:
I looked at Abraham and saw a hero of faith for my own life, a great example of following God no matter His orders.
I read the story of Joseph and his colorful coat and aimed to trust God even when circumstances seemed dire, just like Joseph trusted God when he was sold into slavery and later thrown in prison.
I imagined the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, grateful for a God who saves His chosen people, and who saves me too.
I heard the story of David and Goliath and learned that God fights for the underdog, and I don’t have to worry about being strong and mighty to serve Him.
I repeated “be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46:10 in stressful times, finding peace and comfort from those words.
I celebrated the joy of Christmas each December, glad that Jesus came as a gift to save His chosen people – including me!
I examined stories of Jesus’ miracles and appreciated how He saved and healed His chosen people.
I learned about the apostle Paul, transformed by God from horrible persecutor to faithful apostle, who wrote much of the New Testament.
Are all those lessons true? Certainly.
But we know the Bible is a miraculous book, full of meaning and able to studied over and over again, with the Holy Spirit granting us new insight each time.
Through some Bible classes and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I discovered something else about these stories and passages.
Did you know that each of these stories is also about global missions, or God’s redemption of the nations? In these stories, and many others throughout the Bible, God is making His name known among the nations and drawing all people to Him.
In fact, I believe in most cases, the purpose of God’s action in these miracles and people’s lives is even more about loving the nations than about me feeling peace and comfort.
Did you know…
that Abraham is the father of a nation intended to be a blessing to all the nations? (Genesis 12:1-3)
that Joseph’s story is a demonstration of God moving His people into position to bless Pharaoh and declare His name in Egypt, which was one of the most important civilizations in the world in ancient times?
Perhaps you knew all these things already, but I certainly didn’t.
In fact, I wrote a lengthy paper on short-term missions in college and struggled to find examples of missions in the Old Testament. I wondered whether missions didn’t exist until the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
Yet as I dug deeper and participated in some great Bible classes, I saw the examples above. Through these classes, my eyes were opened to His heart for the world as demonstrated in Scripture.
I learned that God never meant to save only His chosen people of Israel.
It was never God’s intent to limit salvation to an elite few. He always intended for Israel to be a blessing to all nations.
From the very beginning, His heart has been beating for all nations. One of His primary purposes for our very existence here on earth is to make His name known to every nation, tribe, people, and language.
God’s Purpose for Israel and for the Church Today
God bestowed His love and favor His chosen people, Israel, with the purpose that the whole world would see His power and glory through them.
But they missed it. They made their faith, and their God, all about them… with disastrous results. Over and over and over again, Israel missed their chance. They were blessed to be a blessing, but they skipped over the second part of that agreement.
Of course, our gracious God worked anyways. There are some bright spots in their history, like David and the other stories mentioned above. Israel was also a blessing by virtue of their genealogy – through them, Jesus was brought into the world.
But don’t you think they missed out? Instead of shining a light for God, they disobeyed, turned to other gods, and eventually were scattered among the nations themselves.
I fear the same for us. In our North American Christianity (I can’t speak so authoritatively for the Church outside of this area), we have a tendency to make Christianity all about me.
And when Christianity is all about me, then the Church is all about me, and my life’s purpose is all about me, too.
It’s hard for to fit in missions when all I’m focused on is myself.
And so we reduce missions to just a hobby for a few, rather than a key role of the Church here on earth. Missions is not a hobby, an interest, or one of many programs that the church offers.
Missions is the job of the Church on earth, and it’s a non-negotiable for Christians.
I want to be clear – I am not saying every person needs to move overseas and serve as a missionary. Remember our definition from Global Missions 101: “global missions is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ cross-culturally through words and actions, so that people from all nations will believe and follow Him.”
You can do this wherever you are – something we’ll talk about at length tomorrow.
How God is calling you to do missions is going to look different for each individual.
Over the course of the Global Missions with Kids series, I hope to help guide you through some ideas, and I hope the Lord will speak to you about His calling. Maybe you’ll walk away with a renewed love for the nations. Perhaps you’ll determine a new ministry you want to be involved with, or you’ll be affirmed by the Lord in the work you’re already doing.
In addition, the focus of this series is Global Missions with Kids. Now, if you are someone without children or teenagers in your life, please stick around! I hope you’ll learn something and be inspired for your own life.
But, I’m especially writing for those of you with children or teenagers in your life – whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, Sunday school teacher, youth ministry volunteer, foster care advocate, or another adult mentor.
I’m hoping you will be inspired not only to serve missionally as an individual, but also to lead your young people in missions, too.
It’s All About Christ
In closing, I want to be sure to say that the Bible is first and foremost the story of Jesus Christ.
In fact, I have a certain wonderful college professor in mind whose life’s message has focused on how the whole Bible points to Jesus, using a bow-tie as an illustration.
So I want you to know that absolutely, without a doubt, the whole Bible points to Jesus. It’s all about Him. If you’ve read The Jesus Storybook Bible with your kids, it illustrates this truth so well!
Alongside and interwoven with this message is the story of Christ’s love for all nations.
If we reduce Him down to merely a personal Savior, sent just to save and comfort me, and maybe the people in my church who look like me… then we’ve missed it.
It’s all about Him: Every word of Scripture. Every minute of our lives. Our greatest passion should not be missions… it ought to be Jesus Christ.
John Piper says that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
In other words, if the whole world was already worshipping God, there would be no reason for missions. Missions isn’t the end game… the worship of Jesus Christ is.
We already know the worship of Jesus by all nations is going to happen!Philippians 2:9-11 says…
“Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We never need to doubt God’s mission being fulfilled, because it is already stated as fact in this beautiful picture in Revelation 7:9-10 –
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
There will be no missions in heaven! Every culture there will know Christ already.
When I imagine passing faith down to my children, it’s usually an idyllic scene. I’ll wake up before my alarm, make homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then my children will sit quietly while we read the Bible and discuss Christian theology. We’ll have hours at home to act out Bible stories and do crafts, memorize Scripture, and spend quality time together. And of course, I’ll have the energy and enthusiasm for all of it!
Reality, of course, is a different story.
This week we’ve had two unexpected doctor’s appointments nearly an hour away, messing up nap schedules and using up much of our day. Our apartment complex is re-doing our roof so our home sounds like a bowling alley much of the day from all the crashing and thumping as they throw shingles off our roof. When we tried to get out of the house to go to library story time, we had an unpleasant experience with rude comments from some kids there.
I had a migraine and vision disturbance on Wednesday, and we have been dealing with a medical problem for our daughter that has been very frustrating and time consuming to deal with. It’s been nearly 100* out so there have been no homemade cinnamon rolls since we don’t want to turn the oven on… more like Starbucks pastries for breakfast and Papa John’s pizza for dinner.
It feels less like the charmed life I was hoping for and more like chaos!
I’ve been emotionally and physically drained, and as a result, our intentional faith-building this week has been pretty minimal. I don’t feel like doing Morning Time and God’s Little Explorers with my preschooler… instead, I’ve been handing her the iPad equipped with the PBS Kids app while I go peruse facebook.
So in the midst of this, I’ve been looking for some extra-simple ways to intentionally pass faith down.. These practices don’t require pre-planning, special equipment, or a lot of time or energy, but they keep our hearts focused on Christ.
Whether you’re just having a crummy week like me, or are in perpetual chaos as you renovate a house, care for a family member with special needs, or deal with a crisis, here are 5 things you can do today to build faith simply with your children:
Thank God! Name items you thank God for. With younger kids, I just hold up 5 fingers and say, “Quick! Let’s think of 5 things we are thankful for! Thank You, God, for… _____________!!” With older children, you could talk about your situation even some of the “bad” things, and then talk about thankful things in the midst of it.
Talk about God’s creation. Go outside for a walk around your block. Or, as you drive in the car, or look at nature books… name things God has made. There is something about remembering His majesty as our Creator that helps put our situation in perspective!
Read a Bible story together. If you don’t know where to begin, I like to flip to a story from the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – those books are pretty full of stories, not just historical records. Or just choose one from a children’s storybook. If you don’t have a Bible with you, go to BibleGateway.com.
Say a simple prayer before bedtime. Ask your child, “Is there anything you want to pray for?”
Listen to worship music. Turn on Pandora.com or your local Christian radio station.
+ a bonus idea: Enjoy bonding timetogether. I’m putting this as a bonus because it’s not necessarily “easy.” Like I mentioned, when I am stressed, I don’t always want to spend quality time with my kids – I’m much more likely to just turn on TV or have them play alone. But, if you’re up for it, during this chaotic time, seek to simply enjoy the moments with your child. Snuggle up while watching TV. Or make a picnic on the floor of your living room while you eat your chicken nuggets and french fries from Wendy’s. Or bring some favorite books with you to your doctor’s appointment to read in the waiting room.
In the midst of this chaotic week, I’ve been trying to appreciate the life I currently have, rather than wishing for my idyllic life. This life is definitely more interesting! It also gives a chance to practice a joyful attitude even when life gets a little tough, and thankfulness when it’s a little harder to find a way to be thankful.
I’m hoping that life calms down a bit in the days to come, but I’m trying to remember these 5 ways to help our family focus on Jesus in the meantime!
**How do you help yourself or your young people stay focused on Christ even when life is chaotic and crazy? Leave a comment below.
– You commit to saying prayers as a family each night before bed… and then your children run around the room, screaming and playing, during the prayer.
– You take your son out for a special dessert, hoping to have a chance for quality conversation and hearing what’s on his heart, or sharing some Godly wisdom with him… and instead, he spends most of the time texting on his phone, refusing to talk with you.
– You’ve spent years raising your child, praying for her and sharing Christ with her… and now as a young adult, she’s left the church and walked away from her faith.
– You have been discipling a young teenager, mentoring her to become a young woman of integrity and purity… and then she tells you she is expecting a baby.
Have you ever felt like a failure as you seek to pass faith down to the young people in your life? I sure have!
Whether it’s a day when my toddler declares “No! No! No!” when we try to say a Bible memory verse together, or the nights I returned from a youth ministry event feeling like I had made absolutely no difference… There are times when the situation feels impossible and we feel like we are not pointing them to Jesus.
Here are a few suggestions for what to do when you feel like a faith-building failure:
1. Remind yourself of God’s grace. Repeat after me: “This is not my fault.” You are trying to serve God and serve this young person! Way to go! Just because you are not seeing the result you want does not mean you are a failure, even though you feel that way. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Give yourself His grace, remembering that He works in weakness and offers grace and peace, not judgment, in your efforts to share Christ with the young people in your life.
2. Focus on your own actions rather than the actions of your child. You cannot control the behavior of your child. Of course, you can try to lead them in the right direction, but ultimately, your child is not a puppet but rather a unique person, capable of decision-making and free will. God is not holding you responsible for your young person’s choices – only your own. You can control your own actions – Do you respond with love? Do you act with integrity? Are you providing a good example in your own life? Rather than seeking to force your child into a certain behavior, seek to follow God with your own behavior, and trust Him for the outcome.
3. Pray, pray, pray.As you focus on your own actions (see #2), prayer is a wonderful place to begin. When you don’t know what else to do, you can always pray. Pray for your child, for yourself, and for wisdom in knowing how to proceed. Pray about the particular situation you’re facing, and also for your child in general (here’s a free downloadable prayer calendar with daily prayers for children and teenagers from Inspired to Action).
4. Keep an attitude of perseverance and faithfulness.Are you becoming discouraged after three days of attempting bedtime prayers? Your child may just need to get used to a new routine. You have the potential to establish a habit of bedtime prayers for many years to come… so don’t give up after just three days!
Simply focus on the good you need to do today, trusting that God will work in these little actions to bring about His good work over time. Whatever the situation, remember that you may need to invest for several weeks or even several years before you see the results of your efforts.
Be encouraged by Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 – I trust they are true not only for the Philippians but also for our children: “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
5. Consider an intentional break.On the other hand, if you find yourself truly hitting a wall, think about taking a break. Is your relationship with your teenager at a breaking point because you are trying to force him into going to church with you every week? Consider focusing simply on your friendship/relationship, rather than including explicit Christian teaching, for a season.
If you are in a broken relationship, particularly with a teenager or older child, consider backing off on any overt Christian conversation for awhile – perhaps a period of one week to three months, depending on the situation. If your teenager is resisting your efforts to bring them to church or talk about God – give them a break. It is worth saving your long-term relationship to not alienate them, particularly if you have already laid a foundation of Christian teaching in her life up to this point.
Use this season to pray, seek wise counsel, and make a plan for your next steps. In the meantime, seek to simply be “friends” with them – go out for a meal together, watch TV together (and resist using it as a time to teach morals or good decision making!), or participate in a hobby together.
Please note: I’m not saying to eliminate all rules, like curfew and behavior standards, and let your child rule the roost. I’m just suggesting that if your child is specifically having an issue with your Christian faith, this isn’t the moment to force them to attend church or participate in family devotions.
Together, work out a time frame for a break: perhaps a six-week period where he can skip church. Be sure to set an end-point, and reevaluate at that time.
6. Ask for forgiveness if needed.I know we said earlier that this isn’t your fault. 🙂 But, do consider your own actions for a moment. Have you genuinely made a mistake? As you examine your own actions in this matter, do you realize that you have sinned? If so, confess and ask forgiveness from the Lord and also from your child.
7.Seek wise and Godly counsel. Set up a meeting with a pastor, Christian counselor, or wise friend/family member. Ask if they can honestly see anything you should do differently. If so, see why they think this – just personal opinion? Or something Scriptural or backed up by statistics? Ask for advice, or share your plan and ask for any feedback. It may be helpful simply for you to have a chance to talk about your concerns and pray with someone about it. Be sure to ask for confidentiality, especially as you may be painting your child in a negative light.
8. Keep going! You are doing a great job. You are a parent or adult mentor who cares about Jesus and cares about the young person in your life. Keep up the good work! Don’t give up!Through His grace, you can do it!
**Based on your own experiences, what advice do you have for someone who feels like a faith-building failure? Leave a comment below.
Faith building is daunting. Teaching children about Jesus seems scary, especially with Scriptures like Matthew 18:6 ringing in our ears… “If anyone causes one of these little ones… to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the seas.” Yikes!!
Faith building takes time… and energy… and makes us feel awkward… and unsure of ourselves… and so we sometimes think, “I just can’t do it. Why bother?”
The enemy certainly wants us to believe that we can’t do it. When it comes to passing faith in Christ down to a new generation of children, he wants us to be discouraged. He wants us to give up.
He whispers lies like…
You don’t have the time.
You don’t know enough.
Your own background is full of sin. How can you possibly pass on a positive faith legacy to someone else?
You’re not very good with children. Remember how awkward you feel around them?
Your own faith is a little unsteady. Sometimes you have doubts. You might cause more harm than good… better not try.
Just leave it up to the Sunday school teachers and pastors at church… they know way more than you.
You always think about reading the Bible to your kids, but you never actually do… why bother? Just give up. You’ll never have the time!
You can’t do it.
It is so easy to let those falsehoods creep into our attitudes and our actions.
But we have One on our side who nullifies those lies! Christ tells us the Truth:
Let Me make time in your day for faith-building.
You don’t need to know “enough.” I am enough. Tell what you do know. Tell about your personal experiences. Read straight from your Bible.
Your own sin background is the very vessel that shows My grace and forgiveness. If you were perfect, how could I demonstrate My forgiveness?
You don’t need to be “good” with children. Far more important than feeling “cool” is showing a genuine heart of love and care for the young person in your life.
I don’t ask for a perfect faith. Your authenticity and admission of your own questions gives room for young people to feel free to discover their own personal faith in Me.
The Sunday school teachers and pastors get an hour a week with your child. Maybe two. You have much more time with them each week, in his own home environment. Your example and conversation is far more important.
Don’t be discouraged over your past failures to pass faith down. Live in the present moment and consider what you can do today to build faith in a young person.
As I dream about the possibilities for this “Faith Passed Down” blog space, one of my biggest hopes is that this would be a place where you experience grace, not judgment, regarding your faith-building efforts.
I fear presenting myself as a faith-building expert. As I share ideas, offer a bit of expertise from my youth ministry background, or explain how we do things in our home, I don’t want to make it seem like you are not good enough. I don’t want to set an unattainable bar to strive for, nor do I want it to seem like I have it all together.
I struggle with being able to convey that though I am sharing tips and want to inspire, I am not some faith-building master who perfectly lines up my children to pray and sing hymns each morning before our hour-long family Bible study at bedtime.
I do NOT have it all together. I’ll sheepishly admit my daughter was 2 and a half before I ever told her about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Can you believe that?
Sure, we have some kids’ Bibles that we read every once and awhile, and sure, we’re faithful in bringing her to church… but I had never sat down and talked with her about the very crux of our Christian faith until just a few months ago when we celebrated Easter. I found myself stumbling over the words to talk about Jesus with a two year-old… and wondered how I had wasted the previous two years without talking over this most essential part of Scripture.
I want you to know that a primary motivation for starting this blog is my own accountability and growth. I was feeling like I devote a whole lot of time, effort, and mental energy to many things throughout my day – cooking, cleaning, teaching the ABCs, watching the latest episode of the Amazing Race, checking out my facebook news feed – and very little time to thinking about my children’s faith. I hope this is a way to personally devote more time and mental energy to growing in the area of family faith-building.
As you read ideas or interact with others in the comments, please do so with the lens of “grace.” Please don’t walk away from here trying to do it all, or thinking everyone else has their act together more than you do. I’ll try to keep things real here, and I hope you’ll do the same.
Let’s join together in gracefully sharing ideas and focusing on passing faith down to the young people in our lives!