When my girls were little and I dropped them off at a playdate or to spend time with their grandparents, my parting shot was always, “Be good and have fun…in that order.” I naturally wanted them to have a nice time, but never at the expense of appropriate behavior, the specific parameters of which we’d inevitably reviewed on the ride over to the event. I hoped my last-second gentle admonition would stick in their minds throughout their stay. And, based on feedback at the time as well as the fact that my girls still report always remembering my little rejoinder, it seems – thankfully – that it worked far more often than not.
But I remember wondering if I was doing quite the right thing. The simple phrase did remind my young, concrete-thinking children about an important priority. But, of course, I knew the spiritual reality – i.e., that no one of any age can ever be consistently “good” in his own strength – and I didn’t want to communicate a myth that might mislead my daughters into believing they could conjure up “goodness” from the force of their own wills. Yes, they could choose to wear self-fashioned masks of short-term, socially acceptable “goodness” for limited periods of time. But I knew I really shouldn’t encourage them to be “good girls” in that way. Instead, they actually needed to be God’s Girls, infused with the Holy Spirit of Christ so that any goodness they displayed was a supernatural overflow from His fountain of grace within them.
Of course, that wasn’t actually possible unless each of them accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior; until that happened, any “goodness” really was just learned outward behavior. And it takes time for most children to truly grasp their need for a Savior in a meaningful way, so we have to train them to exhibit appropriate, “good” behavior in the meantime. However, we must concurrently guard our own minds and hearts against accepting the idol of human-driven “goodness” as an end in and of itself.
That’s the “danger” of raising kids in Christian homes. We want that stability for them – because we know God’s grace saved us from the chaos our lives would have been without Him, enabling us to give our kids emotional and relational security. But we must remember that each child also needs an individual, personal encounter with the Lord – that they cannot ride our spiritual coat tails or live authentically as “good” people on their own.
We want to raise “good” boys and girls. But don’t forget they really need to be God’s Boys and God’s Girls to make their “goodness” real. We can’t force any child to make a personal commitment to saving faith in Christ. But we must remember that no child’s salvation is automatic just because we chose Christ for ourselves. So we have to share with them their individual need for Jesus and let them know they can – and should – make the personal commitment.
When’s the last time you reminded your “good” but not-yet-saved child of that?
Photo Credit: amanda tipton