Even though his mother had spent years doing all that a faithful momma should do, Stephen Colbert still quit on God by his early 20’s.
“I had lost my faith in God, to my own great grief,” said the now famous comedian and host of The Late Show. “I was sort of convinced that I had been wrong all this time. That I had been taught something that wasn’t true.”
That is, until a guy handing out Bibles on a cold street corner in Chicago one night caught Colbert’s attention. Colbert took one, and while standing right there reading from the Gospel of Matthew, his mind was changed. “For the first time, I understood the real meaning of the phrase, ‘it spoke to me’…like the words of Christ just read off the page,” said Colbert.
Stories like Colbert’s encourage us parents who are worried about our kids’ relationship with God. Worry is tough to resist. Here are three tips to nourish parents as we try.
1. When our kids’ faith walks look messy, don’t panic.
When Paul wrote to the Galatians that they should not resume clutching and striving in the flesh when it was in fact the Spirit who gave their faith its start, Paul cited Abraham as a case in point for them to pay attention to. (Gal 3:6)
Paul did not point to a rule, he pointed to a role model, whose faith was in God and whose faith walk was, well – messy – to the tune of pawning Sara, his wife, off as his sister to get in good with an ungodly king. Sure the king might have otherwise killed Abraham, but still. This was not a God-is-my-shield-my-very-great-reward kind of thing to do. (Gen 12:10-20, Gen 20:1-13)
Maybe cracks are inevitable in any character and start to show after a long and exhaustingly faithful life. Except it happens by page ten. And Abraham did it twice (Honest Answers, p. 98).
The Bible divulges messy faith walks as a recurring theme in its characters. We parents may do better to lean more into conversation with our kids about messy, rather than panic over it.
2. When our kids look in over their heads, don’t panic.
In the story of Gideon, God approached by calling Gideon, “you mighty man of valor!” This was not because Gideon was showing signs of pluck or nerve or some inherited biblical bravery of any kind. Gideon’s family was in hiding, his situation was dire, and Gideon was the last born which made him absolutely not a guy who fit an ancient era typecast for might or valor.
However, God had reliable intel on Gideon that Gideon had not yet come to know about himself.
Plus, God was with him. (Judges 6:12)
Like Gideon, God is with our kids. Like Gideon, God has reliable intel on our kids they have not yet come to know about themselves. Meanwhile, like parents from every generation since the beginning of time, that gives us a bird’s eye view of a struggle that makes us want to bawl.
Seeing our kids run the race that God has set before them usually comes via hard circumstances in which our kids can look…pitiful, like hope is lost if it’s on our kids to develop the skills that are theirs to contribute to the kingdom.
However, God does not see their struggle that same way.
“Go in the strength you have…” God told Gideon. God tells our kids likewise: go with what you have, which is enough to do your part.
“These archaic [Bible] stories have something to say to you. They say life is uncertain…but, you still have to stand on it,” said clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson in his lecture series on the psychology of the Bible. That is a tall order that proved tough for one Bible character after another – tough, but not too much.
“Individuals are way more powerful than they think,” said Peterson. That’s true about our kids, too, until they try.
And God meets them there.
3. When our kids’ seeds of faith show diminishing returns, don’t panic.
We parents do what we can to keep a finger on the pulse of our kids’ current state of faith. When that runs more opaque than usual, we’re tempted to squeeze our kids for insider information, sensing that this data is paramount for us to close a deal between our kids and God.
Which is not our jurisdiction.
That is in fact between our kids and the Holy Spirit.
But these are our kids. Our kids. Ours. We say they belong to God, but we say those words out into the air so they keep heading the opposite direction of our own ears because…parenthood. It’s the most impossible love.
Which circles us back to where we began. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” Paul asked the Galatians. (Gal 3:3)
Right. So, parents, let’s…not do that.
With God’s help, we can mitigate worry by believing God is at work with our kids in ways we do not even know. That will galvanize us to do what is ours to do as parents, which is keep on planting and nourishing parental seeds into our kids’ faith, rather than freeze in parental panic over it.
He wishes we would.
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has written for Christianity Today and RELEVANT online pubs. Her first book, Honest Answers: Exploring God Questions With Your Tween, preps parents on how to tackle hard questions with their tweens using pithy Q&A’s and can be found here.