One afternoon while cleaning out my bedroom, I discovered several old journals from when my first two children were young. I used them to record the funny things they said and did. I’d forgotten most of what was written, so I couldn’t wait to share these stories with my family.
Later that evening after reading through the journals, my daughter half-jokingly commented about their stereotypical “preacher’s kid” behaviors. After all, not every girl plays “church” with her younger brother and not every little boy serves “communion” (pieces of his sandwich) to his dog.
We regularly went to church, gathered with other believers, heard the word taught, and talked about Christ with others. These were normal patterns in our lives. So while we laughed at these anecdotes, it shouldn’t surprise us that their play, conversation, and thoughts reflected the primary influences shaping their little lives.
For what comes into our lives and hearts directly correlates to what goes out.
What Are We Feeding On?
It’s the same concept illustrated by the saying, “You are what you eat.” Our health and well-being is generally linked to our diet. Constantly filling up on sugary and fatty foods will keep our bodies from functioning as designed. But the intake of healthy portions of protein, fruits and vegetables, along with vitamins and lots of water gives our bodies and minds the energy we need. For good or for ill, we are what we eat.
In the same way, who we are generally reflects whatever is most valuable in our lives. How we spend our time, the way we invest our resources, and where we focus our thoughts speaks to what we worship. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
Children’s hearts often treasure the same things as their parents. Our example matters to them.
For instance, we may say to our children, “Eat your veggies so you grow strong and healthy.” But, if we aren’t eating our vegetables, they will notice. We can’t expect our kids to eat something we don’t feed on ourselves.
Research shows parents are the primary influence on whether a child becomes a young adult who walks faithfully as a believer. According to University of Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith, nothing else (youth group attendance, religious school or clergy) even comes “remotely close to matching the influence of parents on the religious faith and practices of youth.” Therefore, what we feed on and do at home matters. God can use us as a tool for the salvation of our children if he chooses.
Why This is Good News
While this parenting responsibility can feel weighty, it’s also encouraging.
Knowing our influence gives us purpose and motivates us to hold fast in our calling as a mom. Deuteronomy 6 instructs us to talk to our children about the things of God as we go about our normal activities. Right there we’re given a plan for weaving the gospel into the everyday. This means our days matter, even those mundane moments and repetitive conversations with our kids. But as we seek to reorient them around the gospel, it also helps us keep our eyes fixed on him.
God loves to work in and through families. It’s a normal way of bringing his people to himself. We see this beginning in Genesis when God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his descendants to be their God. In tracing this lineage to the birth of Christ, we see God’s faithfulness to his promise. While this doesn’t mean all children raised in Christian families will be saved, it does provide great hope, knowing he delights in bringing children to himself through the shaping influence of the family. But he’s the one sovereign over their faith, which frees us from trying to control or thinking if we mess up they are doomed.
When our family read through those old journals, my kids noticed their words reflected a life centered on the gospel. Not because they are preacher’s kids, and not because we’re perfect parents, but because they were shaped by our love and worship of Christ.
Since those formative days, our family’s regular pattern hasn’t changed. Going to church, gathering regularly with other believers, and talking about Jesus throughout our days is normal. Even though my children are now in high school and college, their hope in Christ still influences their choices. It’s not because anyone makes them. They live for him because they treasure him.
Kristen Hatton is the author of The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World and Get Your Story Straight. In addition to her own blog, she is a frequent contributor to the Rooted Ministry blog and enCourage women’s blogs, and recently started Redemptive Parenting on Instagram. She resides in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her pastor husband, and they have three teenage/young adult children. To learn more, visit www.kristenhatton.com
Briggs, David. The No. 1 Reason Teens Keep the Faith as Young Adults. (2014). https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/the-no-1-reason-teens-kee_b_6067838.html