Parents want our kids to experience a life characterized by freedom, as described by Paul to the Galatians, “For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)
Paul went on to say that dodging that yoke of slavery means living freely a la the Spirit, not the flesh.
That sounds really nice and holy, except for the fact that our kids’ day-to-day life is managed by hands and feet, brains and bodies and, well, flesh – flesh that can feel brokenhearted; flesh that can mourn.
Secular philosophers call it a “stomach-level sadness,” that contemporary novelist David Foster Wallace said looms over postmodern generations. In fact, a few years after making his comments, Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself.
Life today does not feel very free.
Downloading Paul’s freedom in the Spirit message into our kids’ 21st century experiences is not an easy task. Using Paul’s appeal to the Galatians, here are three tips for parents as we try.
1. Expect a journey, not a destination.
Today, kids get a lot of destination-type words thrown at them as if they have already arrived somewhere definitively. We say they should have faith or they should be confident.
What do they have to be confident about? They are kids, barely getting started. It’s a lot of pressure to ask that they assume premature confidence in an untested person (themselves) or an untested system (their faith). (Honest Answers, page 105)
God is not looking to quickly close a deal with our kids; God longs for relationship with them.
How will our kids know how to grow in that relationship? One small step at a time. They’ll make mistakes. They’ll get course corrections from the Spirit as they do.
That’s not a destination kind of process; it’s more of a cue mom’s stomach acid kind of process (because, honestly).
However, if we parents (at least act like) we’re not panicked by the movement and motion of their journey, our kids might approach the process with less fear as well.
2. Expect to be in good hands.
We parents can remind our kids that living a life in freedom is not something they need to drum up. It is already at work and underway all around them. It takes trial and error, but mastering freedom is not the point. Knowing the one who called them to freedom is.
Just ask New York Times columnist David Brooks said, in today’s secular circles when kids ask where wisdom is found, “We say, ‘Look inside yourself! Find your passion! You do you!’ but the ‘you’ is exactly the thing that hasn’t formed.”
That’s not freedom. That’s leaning on a reed that’ll splinter and pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. (2 Kings 18:21)
That does not have to be our kids. We can remind them, as Paul did the Galatians, that after beginning with the Spirit, they need not go back to leaning on themselves (Gal 3:3).
That means we need not attempt to balm our own broken hearts. We need not comfort our own mournful tears. That’s not on us. It’s the responsibility of the one who called us to freedom to handle. (Is. 61)
And, he will.
Paul tells the Galatians a lot in his letter to them. The letter lasts only a few chapters and yet Paul covers love and faith and Christ and law and many, many truths. Understanding and distilling the truth takes, well, the gift of freedom.
Meaning what, exactly?
During Jesus’ ministry, at the dramatic moment in which Jesus stood before soldiers who had come lumbering into the Garden of Gethsemane asking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus said, simply, “I am He.” (John 18:4-5)
In the following days, Jesus was beaten then killed, then raised from the dead, then ascended to heaven. In the face of raw political power on earth and the dominion of darkness below, Jesus stood between all of humanity and evil itself and was excruciatingly pressured to cower.
And, he didn’t. This world conspires tirelessly to untell that story to our kids, yet truth cannot be untold.
That is freedom.
Now and forevermore, thanks to Jesus, the arc of the moral universe is “bent toward justice”. We parents can encourage our kids to behold what manner of love that is.
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.