Peas, Christian Activities, and all the Little Saviors that Don’t Save

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There are a lot of moments in parenting that send us spiraling, moments where we believe that if our kids don’t follow a certain path, they’ll end up in a “van down by the river,” in the good words of Chris Farley.

I remember introducing my first born to baby food. My plan was to give her vegetables first, thinking that this would cause her to love veggies and thus eat healthy for all of her days. As I excitedly moved the peas to her lips, she opened her mouth… and then she winced. She did the same thing with carrots, and she just spit out the green beans.

I stared defeatedly. What if she doesn’t like veggies and never eats them? Will her brain even develop appropriately? Great. She’s going to have a hard time in school, and will she even get into college?

For the love of peas.

More recently, I had a spiraling moment with a child who hasn’t been attending a campus ministry like I hoped and prayed he would. In my plan, he would get plugged into a Christian ministry, grow profoundly in his relationship with Jesus, meet a Christian girl, and all the things would fall into place. Because of the campus ministry.

Needless to say, I’ve recently been convicted that much of my motivation for pushing my kids to be involved in Christian activities over the years, such as youth group or other ministries, has only (partially) been for the right reasons.

Playing the Role of God Leads to Disillusionment  

To be clear, I will be one of the first to cheerlead any parent who seeks to encourage and even exhort a child to attend any church-related event, service, or group meeting. We encourage this because God tells us in his Word that church is important (Hebrews 10:24) and that having relationships with other believers and mentors is essential to our faith (Acts 2:42; 1 Thess. 5:11).

The danger comes when we push our children toward these Christian activities because we assume that salvation will result. It’s equally dangerous to suppose that plugging into a ministry will surely keep our kids from straying from or doubting the faith.

Why is this dangerous? Because believing that there is a formula to ensure that our children will follow a path that we deem “good and right” is to think of ourselves, even unintentionally, as little gods that know better and broader than the One true God—the One who knows all things and is in control of all things.

Our plans for our children are often narrow-minded, but we tend to hang onto them with confidence and surety. Because of this, we become easily disillusioned when a child takes a different path, acts contrarily to what we imagined, or chooses activities that are not a part of our well-intentioned plan.

And when we’re disillusioned, we easily spiral due to fear and uncertainty. That fear quickly turns to discontent, and we subtly begin thinking of our own child as a disappointment. Pushing our kids toward good things for the wrong reasons causes frustration and distress, and it can even hurt our relationships with them.

Trusting in God’s Hidden Ways Leads to Peace

The alternative? Trusting completely in the hidden ways of God. Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”

 In the same way that we don’t fully understand that which we cannot see, we also cannot understand comprehensively how the Lord works.

A professor at Covenant Seminary tells the story of sharing the gospel with his unbelieving father-in-law. For years, the professor tried to share the love of Jesus with this man who was hostile toward Christianity. One day, he discovered they had a common interest in a unique kind of plant that only grows in certain parts of the world. This shared interest led to a softening in their relationship, which led to a willingness to attend a church service where the professor was preaching. At age 80, after hearing the gospel message for the first time, the professor’s father-in-law gave his life to Jesus.

And the Lord used a plant to do so.

We might have well-thought-out plans, but the Lord’s hidden ways are greater than ours. Might the Lord use a Christian group or activity to draw a child to himself? Absolutely. And in many cases, he does. But he might also use something entirely different.

Each time we urge a child to be involved in a Christian organization, we should stop and pray. Pray that God will do his work as they attend and hear about Jesus. But pray also for your own heart. Ask the Lord to help you trust in his unseen ways. Pray that he will loosen the grip on your well-intentioned plan so that you can feel the peace that comes from clinging to a sovereign and loving God who is at work, even when you cannot see it or understand it.

Pointing Them to the Gospel Leads to Humble Submission

Sometimes, we rely too heavily on Christian ministries to do the job that we need to be doing as parents. Deuteronomy 6 reminds us of our responsibility to share the love of Jesus with our children. While that job can feel daunting, it doesn’t usually happen in a single moment or conversation, but in the regular, mundane moments of life—like walking, standing, sitting, or lying down.

Philippians 2 tells us that as believers in Jesus we “shine as lights in the world.” That light is not something you have to conjure up; you stand out because of Christ in you. The gospel message is evident when you thank the Lord for something that goes well in your child’s life, when you apologize to a child for sinning against them, when you forgive their wrongdoings, and it’s seen when you show them love unconditionally.

While it’s our responsibility to share the good news of the gospel, it is Jesus who saves by his lavishing grace. This takes the ultimate burden off our shoulders and allows us to humbly submit our children to their Creator, the one who loves them infinitely more than we do.

And it’s this truth that keeps us steady when our well-designed plans that we deem are “saviors” don’t work like we thought they would.

Don’t spiral, parent, but trust in Jesus. He is the Savior your child needs.

Katie is a writer, teacher, and speaker. She is married to Chris, a PCA pastor at Trinity Church in St. Louis, MO, and is a mother to three wonderful kids. Katie works as the Director of Music Ministries and Special Events at Trinity, serves on the Women’s Ministry Committee, and writes for several Christian ministries and organizations. Katie is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Theology from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. More information can be found on her website at www.katiepolski.com.

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