Spiritual formation is a total mystery. Maybe you’ve noticed. When it comes to our experience with God, no two stories are the same. Some of us can’t remember a day without God. We’ve had a sense of Him for as long as we can remember. Others discover Him later in life, through a startling and earthshaking encounter. Once we say “yes” to following Christ, our journeys continue to be wildly varied. For some, faith grows through crisis and struggle; for others the journey is sweet and steady. And no matter how much we might wish for a different story, one thing is certain – the road to faith can never be forced or predicted.
The same can be said for our children – much to the frustration of us parents. Wouldn’t we love to map out a timeline from birth through adulthood – the perfect path to perfect faith? Good luck. If you’re a parent yourself, you’ve already had to admit it. Your child’s journey is in God’s hands, not yours.
That said, one of the most demanding job descriptions in all of scripture was written for moms and dads about the spiritual formation of their children. Maybe you’ve read it:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
This is the role of the Christian parent. All other tasks aside, it’s this one that counts. Spiritual formation. Yes, our child’s story as it unfolds belongs to God. But in a sense, God hands us the pen and He says, “Start writing.”
So where do we start?
Love the Lord your God with all YOUR heart…
It starts with our own hearts – us moms and dads. And maybe for some this thought is overwhelming. What if my heart isn’t where it ought to be? What if I’m new to this journey? The good news is parents are not obligated to model perfection. Our task is merely to lead by example, a humble and simple pursuit of God. We’re showing our kids what it looks like to follow Jesus as children ourselves. We’re all on this journey together, since we’re all still growing in faith.
This “godly parent job description” includes another slightly daunting charge. The pursuit of God with our children is supposed to be happening ALL of the time. When you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. In other words, every minute of every day. GULP. How can this be? Is it even possible? Again, this is not a call to perfection. Rather, it’s a reminder to make God a natural part of daily life. It’s an organic pursuit. All day long you talk about God and you notice Him. You use ordinary life to impress images of God on your child’s heart.
But there are also times when you need to be structured. This is the “tie it on your forehead and write it on your doorpost” part of the job description. It’s the intentional part of spiritual formation when you set aside time and you practice habits to deepen your faith. This happens through prayer, reading scripture, serving, and worship. Spiritual practices meant to lead us to God.
There’s one more thing we need to see in God’s mandate to parents. It’s there in the opening phrase, and we could easily miss it if we’re not paying attention. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Who received these words from God? Was it just one mom or just one dad? No. It was thousands. Israel. ALL of God’s people. Which means, simply this: no one is meant to parent alone. We need each other.
We need the Church. Spiritual formation happens best in the context of our bigger family – our spiritual moms and dads and brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t miss this! You as a parent are meant to be part of a community of Christians who are all looking out for your child. We’re in this together.
Yes, spiritual formation is a mystery. Your child’s faith will unfold by God’s plans, in His time. But in spite of the mystery, God invites us to take part in this most precious process. He brings Christian parents and the Church together to nurture and cherish His kids.