Although the memories are fading, I can still picture my children when they were babies sleeping soundly in their cribs, blissfully unaware of the challenges of life and filled with potential for a lifetime of success. I can remember holding them in my arms, feeding them, protecting them, and creating an environment in which they were free to thrive, even at a young age. I prayed fervently for them even before they were born. Today they are teenagers, and I pray for them even more. They still sleep peacefully, and they still have the potential for a lifetime of success. However, soon they will be gone from our house and on their own. Have I done enough to prepare them for all they will encounter in a life full of ups and downs, full of joys and sorrows, full of both confusion and clarity?
There’s no doubt about it: Children are the future. They are the future of the family, the future of the professional world, and the future of the Church. As adults, we have the sacred responsibility of helping our children grow and develop into mature men and women who will lead all aspects our world in the days to come. It is a huge task, and not one that should be avoided or taken lightly. As the adults of today, it is our duty to train the younger generation in such a way that they will lead us well when their time comes.
How can we do just that?
1) Model a life of commitment to Christ.
More than listening to what we say, children observe what we do. One of the most effective ways to help them grow and mature in their faith is to model a life that clearly demonstrates what it means to follow Christ. Show them a commitment to the Word of God by reading it regularly, both on our own and along with our children. Demonstrate what it means to serve others by getting out there and helping those in need with the love of Christ. Model a life of integrity by being honest in every interaction. Take every opportunity to put on display what it means to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. Show your children, and they will follow. It all begins with you.
2) Recognize that their world will be different than our world.
In many ways, those of us who are adults today were brought up in a simpler time. Our children today will face enormous challenges brought about by the development of the world and the melding of cultures. Technology has brought us closer together but at the same time has created problems we would never have imagined a generation ago. As parents and as mature adults seeking to cultivate maturity in our children, we must realize that the world they’ll face will be different than the one in which we grew up. We will not have all the answers, nor all the solutions. However, we can assure young ones that we will stand by them no matter what life throws at them, no matter what challenges they have to face. Refusing to force them into our generation’s mold will show them that we love them and are open to exploring new life scenarios with an attitude of uprightness that glorifies the Lord.
3) Foster an environment where questions are welcome.
Our children must know that it’s okay to ask questions. Their curiosity must be welcomed. They must know that they are free to search for answers that make sense to them in a way that only they can understand. Even in issues of faith! As adults we can ensure a setting where open dialogue is the way of life, where discussion is encouraged. The upcoming generation should feel safe and secure in their relationships with us no matter what they ask, even if they question ideals that we hold dear. They will only learn the deep issues of the Christian faith by reading the Scripture on their own and by discovering what Christ means to them. Helping young people find their own answers will reassure them that they can trust us, both with the simple things of life, as well as the more arduous issues they face.
4) Let them wrestle with issues.
Many times, if not most times, we care for our children and want to remove them from situations of struggle and pain. We want to help them in ways that assure they do not suffer. However, as they get older, it is imperative that they be able to develop their own coping skills as they grapple with issues that cause them confusion or hurt. While still helping them to avoid danger, we must encourage them to experience all their feelings, whether they are feelings of joy or feelings of sorrow. Learning to cope with both the good and the bad will help them to develop a deep maturity that cannot be cultivated through mere observation. Yes, it will be challenging for us as adults whose first instinct is to protect them and prevent them from struggling. However, allowing them to wrestle with issues of life on their own will produce a rich harvest of character that will cause them to thrive long into the future.
5) Remind them that you’re in it together.
Above all, our children need to know that we are on their side. They need to know that we will be there for them in all of life’s scenarios. They need to know they can trust us and rely on us, even when times get tough. Let your children know that you don’t know all the answers, especially when it comes to matters of faith. They will learn to respect you deeply as together you face trials and tribulations. They will come to depend on your life experience and wisdom when they know that you are also wading through the complexities of life and faith right alongside them.