"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." -Proverbs 22:6
A few weeks ago my mom decided to take my 4-year-old daughter on a little date. She picked her up from preschool, they had a little treat, and went to the local library. Home came two new library books and one that Alena was particularly thrilled about. The title is innocent enough:
The very first time I read it to her, a red flag went up in my heart, or as my pastor would say, my "crap detector" went off. The book is well-meaning in trying to teach kids how to have good manners and be nice. But the word "perfect" is used repeatedly, specifically in talking about "being perfect" and "perfect people." This page in particular bothered me toward the beginning of the book:
Really? What kind of crap are we teaching our kids, our daughters?
There are two things wrong here: the aim to be perfect and the aim to look perfect.
No, absolutely not.
I do not want my daughters to think that this is what the goal is. Yes, I want them to have good manners, to have good hygiene, to be nice people. But if that is my end goal and I have the bar set high for them to try to be perfect in these ways, this will be destructive to their souls.
This was an amazing opportunity to talk to my kids (in 4- and 2-year-old language) about how nobody is perfect and we all sin and fall short, so very short. We talked about how the only perfect person who ever walked this planet was Jesus, who was both a human and God. And about how we need Him because of this, because he was mysteriously both of these things and died for us and then defeated death by rising from the grave. I'm thankful to have that opportunity so easily come as a response to this book.
It's one thing for society as a whole to have this view, trying to look perfect and be perfect and incorporate this into children's books without knowing Jesus. It's another thing as Christian parents to not be upset with this, knowing the truth we know.
In that familiar analogy of a ship being off subtly by only 1 degree and then completely missing its destination by miles because of that slight deviation, this kind of language spoken into the hearts of our kids may steer them to a destination we are blindsided by. As Christian parents, we cannot let this kind of language slip into our children's hearts to the best of our ability. Of course we will mess up and they will hear and see so many things that we can't control. It's completely by the grace of God that I daily parent my girls and I say all of this very humbly, but with conviction.
Shortly prior to reading this children's book, I had started reflecting on a different aspect of this topic: am I teaching my kids to be fans or followers of Christ?
I am currently reading the book Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman (which I highly recommend) with my small group and the general premise is this challenge: are you a fan or a follower of Christ? Am I doing all the right things (fan) without the heart, without the true relationship and passion for Christ, my Savior (follower)?
And I started thinking about this with parenting. Am I expecting the outward spiritual perfection of my children, such as wanting to pray, wanting to sing at church, etc without focusing on their hearts? Without cultivating their inward growth and passion for following Christ?
It's something hitting me afresh and deeply humbling my heart.
Alena almost always refuses to pray out loud. She's 4 1/2 years old. This bothers me.
But what should bother me more is that usually when she does decide to pray out loud, I have an inward relief and satisfaction, like somehow we've arrived and I can breathe a sigh of relief.
Yes, we need to celebrate the small steps, the small victories. We couldn't do this parenting thing if we didn't. And the daily disciplines such as prayer are the stepping stones for growing a healthy relationship with Christ. But it can't stop there. I pray that as long as it depends on me, I can raise children who don't simply go through the motions and learn to be the "perfect Christian," but that they will grow into girls and women who are deeply in love with Christ and look to Him in everything. That of course then brings the conviction full circle that I need to be daily modeling that too. Ouch.
Praise God that He is the ultimate author and perfecter of Alena's faith, Nora's faith, and mine too.