Conversations With My Daughter

I’d like to share a conversation I had with my daughter, our oldest who is now a first grader, that took place two weeks ago. I was putting all three kids to bed and decided we would try something different to pray. I got us all in a circle and said we were going to pray for the person on our right. Then I showed the boys which direction was right.

The boys prayed silly prayers, imagine that, but when it was Addi’s turn she said she didn’t want to pray. Thinking she was just too nervous, I offered some encouraging, fatherly words that would surely convince her she could pray.

Then she said, “I can’t pray… I did too many bad things today.” That got my attention, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. Then she looked at me and said, “I want to feel clean inside.”

That floored me. Instantly, my heart was both full and broken. I was a mess of excitement and nerves. This was the kind of conversation starter pastors live for, and here was my little girl opening that door.

I pulled her over to me, sat her on my lap, and gave her a big hug. I said a couple of things to her, then realized we needed to be able to have a real conversation. So I put the boys to bed, grabbed my Bible, and we sat on Addi’s bed and talked.

I read 1 John 1:9 to her: “If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I explained that to confess simply meant to admit to God she had done bad things, which she had done. I told her because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are clean on the inside. I desperately wanted her to understand that this is what grace is all about, that she didn’t need to do anything, that because of Jesus she is forgiven and clean.

She said she understood. I prayed, and she repeated what I said. I asked her if she understood what she had prayed, and again she said she understood.

I wonder how much she did understand. I wonder how deeply a six-year-old can grasp amazing grace. I’m not sure how deeply I grasp it! I constantly find myself slipping back into old ruts of approaching God based on what I’ve done lately rather than because of what Jesus Christ did for me 2,000 years ago.

And I remember when I was about Addi’s age I prayed the sinner’s prayer to receive Jesus over and over and over again. I couldn’t tell you how many times I prayed it, but I know I had it memorized.

My constant fear was that I had not prayed all the right words, that I had left out a part, or that I had not been 100% sincere. Ironically, in my prayer asking Jesus to save me from the eternal fires of hell, my focus was completely on my own efforts to be saved. I did not get grace. My faith was pretty weak; I wasn’t able to simply trust in Christ alone.

From a developmental view, maybe I was unable to mentally and emotionally grasp the concept of grace at that young age. Maybe the same is true for my daughter. Less than a week ago, again at the end of the day, Addi said she did not want to pray. Then she said, “I think I need a new heart again.”

She felt bad for something that had happened earlier, and I love that she feels bad about being bad; I hope she never loses that! We had another conversation, and I explained how in a relationship it is important to say sorry when you recognize you’ve done something wrong. Then we prayed together.

I think her statement is also indicative that she doesn’t get grace yet. As we go on from here and have more conversations, this is what I want to try to bring down to her level: that she is saved by grace and that her “job” is to believe that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” it really is.

As Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” Faith is believing that God’s grace is real and is for me. That’s what I want to be convinced of in the depths of my soul, and what I want for my kids as well.

I do believe that God is hearing the heartfelt cries of my little girl, and it pleases Him to extend His Son’s righteousness to her. She might not fully get it, but in Christ she is forgiven and clean. She is His.


Can I Trust You?

Photo credit OdeToJoi

Sometimes my kids can be irrational. There have been times when they were convinced that they couldn’t do something (say, for instance, that even though everyone else in their swimming class is happily jumping into the pool, they can’t). Times when they were convinced that something was going to happen (say, for instance, that over and over again, night after night after night, they are convinced that the blinking light on the smoke detector means that there’s a fire). And there have been times when they stubbornly refused to do something no matter how much we pleaded (say, for instance, refusing to drink anything even though they’ve thrown up ten times and are dangerously dehydrated).

From their perspective they are being rational. The way they understand the world makes sense to them. If only they could trust what we say, especially at those times when it conflicts with what they think they should do.

I read a parenting book recently in which one of the key points was that while it is important that a child prove to a parent that she is trustworthy, it is much more important for parents to prove to their child that they are trustworthy. A child who knows that she can trust her mom and dad grows up in an environment of security and stability that she needs for healthy development. In addition, imagine the pain and troubles that could be avoided if our children trusted and obeyed us even when they did not want to! How heavenly those teenage years would be!

If only life were that easy.

Have you ever been on a ‘Trust Walk’ where you’re blindfolded and someone else is directing you? With each step you take you’re sure that you’re about to step into a hole or bang your shin against a boulder or get run over by a semi, but the person keeps telling you to step forward. Are you able to fully trust them, or do you have to take a peek and reassure yourself that you’re alright?

It is extremely hard for us to place total trust in someone other than ourselves. It’s just the way we’re wired. And we bring this inability to trust into our relationship with God… at least into those situations in which our perception of what is best for us differs with what we hear God calling us to do. But isn’t that the very definition of trust?

Think about Abraham. Good old Father Abraham. Over 100 years old and doting over his son, Isaac. The child of the Promise. Then one day God says to him, “Take your son up the mountain. Build an altar and sacrifice Isaac upon it.”

How do you imagine Abraham responding? “Hmm, well yeah, ok. I was kinda already thinking I might do that this weekend, so I’m glad you’re telling me to. No problem, I’ll get right on that.”

Of course not! He’s thinking, “What?! That’s madness! What will my wife say?! I can’t kill my son. What about God’s promise about my descendants through him?” But Abraham believes that God will raise his son up from the dead, and so he trusts God and he obeys God, even though I’m sure everything inside him was screaming at him to stop. That’s trust.

(In case you don’t know how this story ends, God stops Abraham right before he kills Isaac and provides a ram as a substitute sacrifice.)

Trust and obedience are joined at the hip. They are tied to one another. Trust is proven real by our obedience. In some things it is easy to obey; in others it is much harder. There have been and there will be times when following Christ seems like madness. But the path of following Christ, the path of discipleship, is simply obedience. To trust and obey.

And if anyone has proven himself trustworthy, it’s God. So keep the blindfold on, keep listening, and keep walking!

So, Parents: How do you know when your kids are ready for more independence? When is it time to let them sink or swim? And what is the best way to do that?

Quotes for Parents of Teenagers

On Parenting:

We can view adolescence as either “an age of opportunity or a season for survival.”

-Paul Tripp

My friend Ethan says that being a parent means you go through life with the invisible muzzle of a gun held to your head. You may have the greatest joy you ever dreamed of, but you will never again draw an untroubled breath.

-Anne Lamott

On Adolescence:

There are no well-adjusted adolescents. Adolescence is, by definition, maladjustment. And getting adjusted is a strenuous and often noisy process.

-Eugene Peterson

Adolescence is an in-between stage determined not so much by what it is but by what it is not. Adolescence is not childhood, and it is not adulthood; it is the period in between those two stages.

-David Walsh

On Being a Teenager:

What’s the greatest problem facing teenagers today? Sin.

-Walt Mueller