Two Tethers for Spiritually-Stretched Families
Please don't judge me.
For two days, my wife and I walked around with one of our kids on a stretchy leash.
You've probably seen these human fishing lures. I imagine one day it'll become how an entire generation describes their messed up childhood.
"I know I have boundary issues. I was a leash kid."
"Me, too. Pass the hummus."
On one hand, safety harnesses can keep a small child from getting lost in a crowded place. That was our motivation for using one.
On the other hand, these tethers often become free entertainment for spectators - not only because of how the kids look when strapped into one but also because they're tricky trip wires. (My personal self-defense maneuver when encountering a leash is a mix between "the Limbo" and "eighth-grade-martial-arts-training-I-still-vaguely-remember.")
Still, as my family headed into Disney World a handful of years ago we hooked my daughter to a cord that was attached to her backpack. The crowds weren't that bad and we figured she could run wild while I herded her like a suburban cowboy. I saw other families busting out their version of this parental bungee cord, too.
We eventually let my daughter roam free on the third day. I don't mean that we let her run around the Magic Kingdom alone for the day--she was never so far away from us that she couldn't feel my presence or hear my voice.
She didn't have her leash.
Welcome to an analogy about your family's spiritual journey.
I sometimes talk with parents who feel they're losing their kids spiritually. Other times I hear about a spouse or other adult family member whose beliefs (or lack of beliefs) become concerning to the whole household.
Whether it's kids finding church boring, or others questioning if they even believe in God anymore, spiritual doubts honestly break my heart, as I'm sure they do yours.
These questions and complaints can make us feel like the tether our family has to faith has snapped.
So how we respond?
My friend, Rick Lawrence, observed that parenting in general has taken on more of a horizontal landscape versus a vertical one. These days parents are more inclined to say, "Well, I have to do what my kid wants. I can't force God on them."
I understand where this reaction comes from, but we really don't believe it even when we say it. Imagine if your kid only wanted to eat what they enjoyed most for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You wouldn't let them, right? If my wife and I let our kids do that we'd eat Ramen Noodles, Lucky Charms, and Ranch Dressing at every meal.
Or imagine letting your one-year old kid run around Disney World without keeping an eye on her.
Maybe that's why God's entrusted you to understand what your family needs in addition to what they want. Think about all the times you've helped your loved ones face something they were whining about. How many times have you said about school, practicing an instrument, or playing a sport, "I know you don't want to do this anymore, but I'm not going to let you give up on it. I'll be with you every step of the way, but we are stepping forward on this, okay?"
What if we love and lead them the same way in their spiritual journey? It circles back to those two other "tethers" I mentioned I had with my daughter on our trip. Think of them as two bungee cords for spiritually-stretched families:
- Tether #1: Be Relational. Sometimes when family members ask spiritual questions what they're really asking for is a relationship with you. They want to know that it's safe to explore these things without you yanking them with a rope of tradition. Instead, practice extending grace to them even if they're grumpy or critical about things you hold dear to your heart. You don't have to tolerate disrespect, but you can choose to see through it, not take it personally and realize this may be a season of frustration or indifference that paves the way to them owning their own growing journey with God.
- Tether #2: Be Directional. Being graceful doesn't mean being passive. Let's lead our family members into anything that helps them genuinely encounter Jesus. We get to be the ones who say, "This is our faith. I believe it's healthy for you to take part in it. There may even be something sweet about it." Get creative along the way, perhaps with service projects and mission trips. (If you're looking for something around the dinner table, check out what my son and I wrote together to help your family.)
Remember, we're all "learning to walk" in our faith and have a Father who is looking out for us.
Let's take our cue from Him:
"I myself taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him." (Hosea 11:3-4)
Did you catch that? Even if you and I do everything right, our kids may still wander off spiritually.
But if we, through God's example, establish the intangible tethers of a grace-filled relationship that is accompanied with directions, perhaps they'll never be so far away that they can't feel our presence and hear our voice so that they might better feel God's presence and hear his voice.