Be still and let go of these things

This past Sunday my morning started like many Sunday mornings do for me. The alarm went off and I hit snooze because I was exhausted from the previous day’s activities. After sleeping a good 30 minutes later than I should have, I finally woke up and went to check on the kids. They were leaving right after church to spend a few days with my mom, so they had been given explicit instructions the night before that upon waking they were to start packing for their trip and once that was completed to start cleaning their rooms. Of course, none of this had happened. I was bombarded by whines and complaints the moment I opened my bedroom door. My eldest was completely outraged that her brother had just woken her up by bursting in her room and yelling “time to get up and pack!” My son  was running around in circles yelling “I have no clean clothes!” And my youngest daughter who, to her credit, had at least attempted to pack, showed me her packed bag which consisted of 5 shirts, one pair of leggings and a dirty pair of shorts. We had 50 minutes until we had to leave for church.

snooze button
Image source: Shenandoah Country Q102

In fairness to my kids, they had all gotten to bed late the night before because we’d been helping the school they attend pack and move equipment and only finished about 9:30 p.m. with the last load. And because I had spent my entire Saturday helping to move the school and running my kids to a birthday party, I had neglected to do any laundry. But at this point, all I could think was how I needed to be at church early today because it was my job to set-up for communion and if everyone didn’t hurry up and get their act in gear I would never get three kids dressed, fed, packed, and teeth brushed, let alone shower and dress myself in 50, no wait only 45 minutes now! I should mention at this point that my husband had already left for church because he’s in the praise band and has to be there 2-hours before service, so I was on my own with this one. The next hour was a blur of over-cooked frozen waffles, yelling “did you brush your teeth” 500 times, putting hair into ponytails, time-0uts, and pulling clothes out of the hamper that looked “clean enough” to be sent with them to Nana’s house (every mom out there knows, if it passes the sniff test and has no visible stains, it’s perfectly acceptable to dress your kids in dirty clothes).

We loaded into the car 10 minutes later than I wanted to and I felt every bit of tension and frustration that had built up that morning. I started to list in my head all the reasons I was stretched too thin and something had to give. I started to resent the school and my church for the time they were taking (for things I volunteered to do, mind you) and for turning me into crazy, grumpy mom. By the time we pulled into the parking lot I had reached the point where one side-ways glance from someone would have sent me into a full-blown emotional meltdown. Thank God I go to church with the most amazing people and when I walked in I was greeted only with smiles and hellos. No one commented on my being late, and in fact, as if they could sense my stress, two other friends said they’d been having a difficult morning.

Lake Holiday
The lake in our community where we live and worship.

Those of us on the worship team typically gather to go through the service plan and pray about 30 minutes before service starts. Usually we meet in a small boardroom, but this day our Pastor had us follow him outside. I live in a community that has a 240 acre lake nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and we are blessed to be able to hold church service in the community club house which is situated right on the lake. So we walked down to the fishing pier and our Pastor told us he had called us outside so we could take a few moments to just be at peace and let go of whatever we were carrying that morning and have a moment with God. I stared into the clear ripples of the lake and felt the frustration of the morning come flooding back. My eyes welled-up as I was hit with guilty feelings. Guilt for having yelled at my kids, guilt for hitting the snooze button when I knew better, and guilt for feeling resentful of my commitments to serve the school and church when I knew I had asked to do those things. As the hot tears slid down my cheeks I heard God gently say to me “be still.” Two little words, but they washed over me completely. Then I heard it again “be still, my child. Let go of these things and just be in My presence.” I felt such an immediate rush of relief and release at that moment, and I almost laughed out loud because it was such a simple statement, but just the exact thing I needed to hear.

I realized how bringing all of my negative “stuff” in the door was a distraction and could have kept me from fully receiving the day’s message and feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. And I wondered, how many Sunday mornings have I entered the doors like this? (too many) And how often was the enemy using these every-day stresses to get in the way and prevent me from just being still and being with God? (more than I realize, I’m sure)

That night I happened to see a blog post from Christian author Jon Acuff that humorously addressed the fact that right before church was the moment of the week he and his wife were most likely to get into a fight. As I read his blog post and then read through the comments I realized that I’m in good company and Sunday morning conflict and stress is a pretty common occurrence. Well, duh! Of course the enemy is going to try and get in our way and do whatever he can to muddle our hearts, cloud our perspective, and maybe even prevent us from going to worship.

Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” But, as my Pastor reminded us during the sermon that day, God has already given us all the tools we need to fight and defeat the enemy; and I believe forewarned is forearmed. There are things we can do to impede spiritual warfare, or at least lessen the impact. For me, I know my number one issue is time. By cutting my time too short I’m giving the enemy more ammunition to use against me. I realize I must start getting up earlier on Sundays so I can ease into the day and allow time for all of the things that might go wrong. Then, maybe, just maybe I can walk through those doors and leave it all behind. I can come in and “be still” and be truly present.

What about you? Do you find yourself consistently stressed, frustrated, angry or in conflict on Sunday mornings? What is one area you can change and give the enemy less ammunition? I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

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My daughters and the dreaded bikini talk

I have two daughters, aged 11 and 8. Still young, tender-hearted little girls who play with My Little Ponies and love going to the playground. Yet, in this world where children — especially young girls — are growing up faster and faster, my husband and I have found ourselves dealing with issues we didn’t expect to address so soon. One of these that has reared its ugly head in the last few weeks is the bikini issue.

Last month we went bathing suit shopping.

At Costco.

Yep, that’s right, because I’m cool-like-that. And because I have found that now that my girls are wearing size 10 clothes, finding age appropriate bathing suits is very difficult. For the last several years I ordered them online, but had to exchange sizes almost every time which is a royal pain. So this year we had the joy of buying a case of granola bars, a lifetime supply of sugar-free gum, a tent, and bathing suits all in the same trip. Don’t you love Costco?

But as we approached the bathing suit table, which had at least 10 one-piece styles and only two bikini-styles, my girls quickly honed in on the bikinis and asked if they could get them. I said no.

“Why?”

“Because you’re too young and it’s not appropriate.”

“But little babies wear bikinis, why can’t we?”

“You’re not a baby and you’re not an adult. When you turn 18 you can make your own decisions about what you wear.” Said in my best “because I’m-the-mommy-and-I-say-so” tone of voice.

OK, so maybe that was the lazy answer or coward’s way out. But truthfully, I didn’t feel like the middle of Costco was the right place or time to have a discussion about modesty and sexuality and all the real reasons I’m not a fan of bikinis for young girls. They finally let it go and chose some cute, practical one-piece suits. I thought the discussion was over. Wrong!

beach fun
Fun at the beach building sand castles and just being kids.

Three weeks ago we headed to the beach for our annual family vacation. Each day we went to the beach my kids sought out other kids their age to play with and almost without exception the little girls they found to play with were wearing bikinis. These new friends ranged in age from 6 to 12. As soon as we got in the car on the first day I was hit with the question: “why can’t I wear a bikini? Everyone else is!” Ah, my very favorite rationale to argue as a parent. If you ask my kids they will tell you they are the ONLY ones who have to adhere to the school dress-code policy, don’t have TVs in their rooms, don’t have their own phones, etc., etc. Such depravity! I’ll include the link to donate to their future psychiatric fund at the end of this post.

So this time I decided I would try and nip this in the bud and address the question head-on. I had recently read a number of articles and blog posts by young women (teens and 20-somethings) who explained why they choose modesty when it comes to clothes and swimwear. I had been hoping to find one I could share with my girls, but they all went to some topics that I felt were a little too grown-up. So I knew I was going to have to suck it up and tackle this one on my own. Deep breath.

“Here’s the thing girls…when a girl dresses in a bikini they are no more covered than they would be in their bra and underpants, right? So when boys, and later men, look at girls dressed like this they are seeing a lot more of her body than they normally would..and um…(palms now sweating)…well…when that happens they are focused more on…um…the girls body than her personality or how smart she is and…(oh I’m losing them, I can feel it)…and well, you don’t want boys to only look at you for your body, do you?”

“But I don’t get it! Little babies wear bikinis!” (oh geez, this argument again?!)

“Yes, that’s true, but you’re not little babies. You’re young ladies; and while you might not care if boys notice you (and let’s face it this was really more for my 8-year-old than my 11-year-old who is already way more interested in boys and very close to getting herself home-schooled if she doesn’t cut-back on her talk of boys), if you dress in a bikini people will notice and they will look at your body, and…and…the Bible teaches us that we should dress modestly!” There, phew! I said it! They can’t argue with the Bible, right? Wrong.

“But why does the Bible say that?” Oh gosh. How do I break this down for an 8- and 11-year-old? And why is my husband just sitting there quietly not saying anything!! Maybe if I glare at him hard enough he will jump in here. Nope, not working. He’s looking straight ahead, pretending he’s all focused on driving the car. Who does he think he’s kidding?!

I can’t tell you exactly what came out of my mouth next, but it was a very painful, PG-rated explanation of guys lusting after girls, and how it might make their girlfriends or wives feel, blah, blah, blah. And it ended with my eight-year-old son saying “yeah, I don’t want to see girls in their underwear!” God bless that boy.

The girls finally stopped asking. That day. But I’m pretty sure it’s because they didn’t want to hear their mom’s uncomfortable explanations any longer, not because they really got it. And I was left wondering, once again, where the heck that damn parenting manual was.

The thing is, I believed every word I told the girls. I was trying to give them honest, real answers, in a way that would make sense to their young minds. I do feel like learning modesty at a young age is important. Both because it’s what the Lord wants for us and because I don’t think a girl’s identity should be tied to what her body looks like. And as much as I want to protect my impressionable young daughters from things like body-image issues, and worrying about what other people think of the way they dress, my 11-year-old has been known to come out of her room, hand-on-hip, saying “Do I look cool in this?”, and my 8-year-old has said the dreaded words “I look fat!” (which has now been deemed as a “bad word” in our house).

So obviously, despite my best efforts, they are already thinking about what they look like and how they are perceived by their peers. To them wearing a bikini is a way to be like “the other girls” and be noticed. And even though my girls are being raised to know the Lord and follow His ways, the importance of modesty is a difficult topic for them to grasp. And me…well, I don’t have the magical answer on how to explain it to them. If you were reading this post hoping it would be one of those “and then I said this and everyone nodded their heads and smiled and we all went out for ice-cream. The End.” kind of posts, sorry to disappoint. But my truth is I’m making this parenting thing up as I go along. I’m pretty sure my sad attempt to explain the no-bikini rule in our house did not fully satisfy my daughters and this will definitely not be the last time I hear the question “but why can’t I wear a bikini?” I can only hope that with time, prayer, and practice I will get a little bit better at explaining the answer, my palms will sweat a little bit less, I’ll stop shooting daggers with my eyes at my husband while he sits there silently, and maybe, one day, they will get it. And by “it” I don’t just mean that “this is the rule, get over it.” I mean that they will understand that modesty represents beauty and confidence. That being noticed for your laugh and kindness is more important than being noticed for your tanned belly. And they will make the choice to dress modestly and appropriately for their age, and be happy with that decision.

 

I survived the canoe disaster of 2014

Let me set the stage for you. It’s a sunny, beautiful June day in Chincoteague Island, VA. My family and I are here on our annual pilgrimage for a relaxing vacation in our favorite  beach town in the world. We’ve hauled our kayak and canoe the 5.5 hours from our home in the Shenandoah Valley in anticipation of some fun paddling adventures and decided today is the day. We’re not amateurs, mind you. My husband is an avid kayak fisherman who has spent many days on lakes, rivers and saltwater bays in his kayak. I grew up canoeing at summer camp, spent a week canoeing down the Shenandoah River when I was 13 and in college took canoe as one of my P.E. courses (seriously, Appalachian State rocks). Of course, it was during the final trip in that college course where my partner and I ended up flipping on a damn dam-controlled river, right as the waters were released, and our canoe got wedged under the rising water and we had to finish the trip sitting in the middle of classmates’ canoes. Five days later our instructor and some other people from the University went back to the river to rescue our canoe, which still had my trusty Jansport backpack tied to it. But I digress.

The point is my husband and I aren’t novices when it comes to paddling on water and we’ve taken our kids out on the lake where we live a number of times, so a day of paddling the waters of Oyster Bay seemed like a good idea. The afternoon started well enough. The house we rented is right on a little channel, so we boarded our vessels from the back yard and started our adventure. I was in the three-seater canoe with my two girls and my husband and son were in a tandem kayak. We exited the little channel that empties into Oyster Bay and, except for some very shallow areas where we skimmed bottom, we had no issues. We headed for an area across the bay called Morris Island in hopes of finding a sandy spot on the shore to dock and hunt for seashells.

Canoeing in Oyster Bay
The girls and I, before things took a turn for the worse.

As we got further out into the bay and closer to the island the wind started to pick up and so did the current. Pretty soon I was noticing the ripples in the water were looking more like small waves and the canoe was rocking pretty hard. This is is where the story starts to take a turn for the worse. As I tried to steer our canoe north (the wind was blowing south-east) I was met with serious resistance. The wind was turning us sideways, which meant the waves were hitting the side of the canoe and rocking us pretty badly. I started to get very nervous at this point and decided it was best we start heading back. But for each stroke of my paddle it felt like we were getting pushed further back in the opposite direction.

I’d like to tell you that this is the moment where I rose above it all. I stayed calm for the sake of my girls, said a silent prayer, put all my trust in God and a gentle breeze blew us across the little bay to the safety of the canal. Yep, I’d like to tell you that, but it’s not how things went down. Instead, I started to yell at my girls to paddle harder. I looked up at my husband floating in the kayak beside us; he seemed apathetic to the whole situation which totally frustrated me and so I said through gritted teeth “I don’t like this.” To which he responded “what do you want to do?” What did I want to do? I wanted to get the hell out of there, that’s what I wanted! And then a familiar thing happened, my fear turned to anger. And I directed all that anger at this man because he didn’t have the answer. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe he would magically produce a trolling motor? I knew it was not rational, but somehow this was all his fault, I just wasn’t sure how. Maybe it was because when I suggested the current looked a little fast before we embarked he said he thought it looked fine. Maybe it was his fault because he had been kayaking in these waters before and should have known what would happen. Or maybe it was just because he was in a kayak that in that moment looked like an aerodynamic engineering marvel while I felt like I was trying to navigate in a cement block. Then I noticed he had his little Go-Pro camera on his head and I yelled at him in my you-better-not-have-the-wrong-answer voice “are you recording this?” The poor man. He said nothing, but he did press the button to stop recording.

At this point my arms were burning and I started to panic a bit. I was having visions of the Coast Guard having to come rescue us. And my voice started to crack as I yelled at my girls to keep paddling. Then my eight year old started to cry and I felt like the absolute worst mom ever. How could I let them see my fear and worry? How could I bring them out into this bay without having explored it first myself? How could I yell at these little girls to paddle harder? The wave of humility and conviction hit me so hard I could barley breath past the lump in my throat. At that point I managed to steer us to the side of a marsh area that would keep us from being pushed any further back by the current so we could rest our weary arms. I told the girls it was all going to be OK, we just needed to rest and wait for the wind to die down a bit. After about 10 minutes I said “OK girls, we can do this!” and we started again. We got a little bit further, but the wind was pushing so hard that I had to constantly steer to keep us pointed in the right direction. This meant I was doing little paddling and my poor girls just didn’t have the strength in their strokes to make much progress against the current. So my husband yelled out he was going back to the house to get a rope so he could tow us home, and he and my son took off through the channel in their kayak cutting through the water like a hot knife through butter.

Somehow my girls and I managed to paddle our Yugo-of-a-water-vessel a little further and hit a shallow area covered in oyster shells and bottomed out in another effort to give us a rest. I started to consider getting out of the canoe and pulling it back to the canal. It was low tide and the shallow waters were knee-deep at best through a good bit of the bay. But we continued on, getting stuck a little further ahead on a sand bar. Then we saw my husband and son paddling toward us like the cavalry coming to our rescue. Eventually my 11 year old, who had been dying to get out of the canoe to play in the water and shells, and my husband, pushed the canoe off the sand bar and we were able to paddle the last little bit of bay into the safety of the canal.

Needless to say, it was not my finest moment. Not as a mother, wife, or believer. I let fear take over and that turned to frustration, anger, humility, and shame. Although I channeled it at my poor husband, the person I was most angry with was myself. Angry because I felt I couldn’t get us out of this situation, frustrated that I couldn’t be that mom you read about in news articles who stays calm in the midst of a crisis for the sake of her children. And humility and shame that not once during the entire situation did I try to let go of control and give it over to God. Why do I still forget to do that? How can I have been a believer for 25 years and still not get that one essential thing right?

Pslam 91 14-15 says “‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” And Proverbs 3:5, 7 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…Do not be wise in your own eyes.” This is a pretty common theme throughout the Bible, and these are just two of the verses that remind us to put our faith and trust in God and not in ourselves. I know this, of course, but I still struggle with it. In so many areas of my life I try to keep it all together. Be the super-mom, perfect wife, shining-star employee, most thoughtful friend, etc., etc. But usually I’m doing those things to glorify myself and not God and as a result I almost always fall short. Today was a humbling reminder that I’m neither a super-star canoe paddler, or a model of grace-under-pressure. It was also a reminder that I can’t fix every situation. Some things (ok most things) are just out of my control and no matter how hard I paddle, if I am relying on myself, the wind and the current are going to push me back and I’ll just end up tired and frustrated.

As I finish writing this, my eight-year-old, whom I’m pretty sure I will not be able to convince to get into a canoe ever again, comes over and says “thanks for encouraging us today, mommy.” Me, with a baffled look on my face: “How did I encourage you today?” “You kept telling us we were doing a good job and to keep going.”

Next time I’m going to silent my fear and ego and listen for the Father so I can hear Him telling me I’m doing a good job, and to keep on going.

There’s just something really special about Caroline

For most people, referencing home or where they “grew-up” means a house or maybe even a town or neighborhood where they lived as a child. For me, going home to where I “grew-up” means going to an unassuming, but beautiful place hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp. I was a camper there for 7 summers when I was a child. I met my dearest friend there; I met the Holy Spirit there.  I learned how to paddle a canoe, build a fire, and take a shower in under 2 minutes. And there is no place in the world that feels more like home to me. Now my children are campers at Caroline Furnace and a new generation is getting to experience a week of living in the woods, creating masterpieces out of yarn and Popsicle sticks, singing songs about yodeling ostriches and that one tin soldier riding away, and collecting slag.

The truth is I could probably write a hundred blog posts about Caroline Furnace, my summers there, and what it means to me. But today I want to share with you my most recent visit. This weekend was the annual spring work weekend at camp where volunteers are recruited to do much needed work around the camp grounds and facilities before the busy summer season. I waffled for a few weeks on whether or not we could attend because my midterm for my capstone is due tomorrow and I wasn’t sure I could really spare any time this weekend. On Wednesday I said to my husband, “do you mind if we go to Caroline Furnace on Saturday for work weekend?”  Don’t you like how I said “we”? Of course being the amazing man that he is, he didn’t hesitate at all. Even though he was never a camper there, he gets it about Caroline.

So we decided to go down for just the day. Like good little campers we filled our water bottles, put on our I-don’t-care-if-this-gets-dirty clothes and got on the road only slightly later than I intended. I knew from emails and Facebook that several old camp friends of mine would be there, including a friend whom I hadn’t actually seen since the last time we were at camp together — over 20 years ago! As I drove the familiar curves of the back-mountain road a little faster than I should have, I felt my heart quicken with excitement and couldn’t help but smile as memories came flooding back. It happens every time.

When we arrived, many people were already off doing their assigned morning tasks, since a large number of the volunteers had come up the night before. We were greeted by one of my former counselors, who is now on the camp’s Board of Directors and the driving force behind work weekend. After sharing a few hugs we were quickly sent to our assigned areas. The kids got to be on the “kid brigade”, I was put to work helping clean in the kitchen, and my husband was ushered off to help with work being done at the camp director’s house. I felt a small twinge of guilt and worry because I knew my husband wouldn’t really know anyone and it might be awkward for him. But I silently prayed he would not feel too out-of-place.

camp friends
Shannon and I, together again after 20 years. It was like no time had passed.

As I walked in the kitchen I found my friend Shannon, the one I hadn’t seen since we were kids. We immediately embraced like long-lost sisters and I felt none of the awkwardness you sometimes feel when you run into old high-school friends you haven’t seen or talked to in years. We caught up quickly, as I was aware I was there to do a job. There were a few other people I knew or recognized, and many I didn’t, but within moments we were all working side-by-side like we’d been scrubbing kitchens together our whole lives and it was the most natural thing for us to be doing at that moment. As I chatted to some of the other folks I found out some of them had been former campers, some former staff, others were parents or spouses of former campers or staffers. But everyone was there, gladly giving up their Saturday, because Caroline Furnace had touched their lives in some way.

I later found out there were over 70 people that came throughout the weekend to get dirty, sweat, and share their camp memories. Some of us knew each other before the weekend, others didn’t. But you wouldn’t know it looking from the outside in, because we all seemed like old friends in moments. We were only there for 7 hours that day, but by the end my kids were begging me for playdates and sleepovers with the new friends they’d made and worked alongside, my husband was laughing and shaking hands with several guys he had just met that morning, and I was hugging tightly onto many friends, knowing it would not be soon enough until I saw them again.

As we pulled away I told my husband how much I appreciated him coming with me and spending his Saturday working on a place that was not his childhood home (or even childhood camp). And he said “are you kidding, I loved it! I may not have gone to camp here as a kid, but our kids do, and I get why this place is so important to you. There’s just something really special about Caroline Furnace.” Yes. Yes, there is.

Children and worship: how do we create life-long church-goers?

I recently joined in on a debate on Facebook  that was discussing the value of having children attend worship service with their parents instead of offering a separate service or Sunday school for kids during the same time. While, as a general rule, I try not to engage in debates of any kind on Facebook, in fairness it started more as just me commenting on a friend’s status about the topic and then seemed to snowball from there. I didn’t realize until reading through the responses on Facebook that this is a sensitive topic that is dividing congregations. It surprised me because it seems to me it should really be a choice made by the parents, based on what’s best for them and their children at the time.

Since having our first child 11 years ago, my husband and I have attended churches that offered a “children’s church” or Sunday School during the main worship service, churches that only offered a nursery, and even one church that had children’s church only for pre-schoolers, so I think we’ve had a good sampling of the different methods and we know what works for us and what we want for our children (more on that later).

praying childWhen I was engaged in this “friendly” Facebook debate, one of the points I made was that I wanted church to be a place where my children wanted to be, not something they had to do every Sunday. The response I received from a well-respected Pastor friend of mine was that “have-to” isn’t such a bad thing. As he put it: “Have to do is not as evil as it’s cracked up to be in modern parenting circles. You have to stay out of the road as a toddler playing with your blocks. You have to practice the piano if you want to take lessons. You have to eat food that’s good for you, you have to get that cavity filled, you have to learn to share, and on and on. Kids catch on really quickly that they ‘have to’ do the things that their parents value, and isn’t parenting our shot passing on what we value most?” Fair point here. Sometimes as parents we make our kids do things because we know it’s what’s best for them. Certainly if you are raising your children to be Christian this should include regular times of worship. But if it’s our job as parents to make sure that our children are experiencing worship and time with God’s word, what is our role as church leaders?

Recent studies tell us that one in three young adults are unaffiliated with a church. This doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God, just that they’re not real interested in attending church.  According to Focus on the Family, 22 million Americans say they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church. There have been numerous studies and reports on why people are leaving the church or aren’t interested in attending in the first place and most of them report reasons along the lines of : church goers are judgmental and hypocritical, churches rebuke anything secular, Christianity is too closely linked to certain politics, etc., etc.

Whether these opinions have been formed by personal experience or by reputation…either way the church has a big problem on its hands. The reality is churches are not immune to sin. Some churches (regardless of denomination) have judgmental people sitting in the pews; they have ministers in the pulpits who are leading double lives; they have fundamentalists that will tell you your music is evil, or your politics are sinful. These things happen and they happen because churches are made up of and led by people. Loving, well-intentioned, flawed, sin-filled people! So how do we keep today’s youth from becoming part of that number in a few years? I believe it comes back to a personal relationship with Christ.

I have attended churches with the aforementioned problems and left churches with lesser problems. I have seen politics and back-stabbing, extra-marital affairs between church leaders, and mismanagement of church funds. So what keeps me from losing faith in church all together? What makes me seek out a new church when I see too much sin infiltrate a place that has been an extension of my home and family? What is keeping me from becoming a part of that 22 million Americans? My relationship with Christ.

I was very fortunate that in my high school and college days I developed a very personal relationship with Christ. This relationship developed through Bible studies, service and missions work, friendships with other Christians, and some amazing worship experiences. Like any relationship, my journey with Christ has seen its ups-and-downs, but throughout the last 23 years of my life it has been there, this burning desire to have a relationship with Christ, to know Him, to be closer to him. And so, I continue to attend church.

Yes, I have been angry at church, I have taken long breaks from church and I have questioned if there is such a thing as  the “perfect church” (reality-check: there isn’t!). But each time I’ve been hurt or disappointed and felt I could not continue where I was, I have laced up my shoes and started the “church shopping” experience again. Because I know that in order for me to grow closer to God and continue to be strengthened in my faith, I need church. I need people more experienced and different from me to share their thoughts and perspectives. I need to participate in live worship with singing and praise. I need to be surrounded by friends who will pray for me when I ask and even when I don’t ask, who will help keep me accountable and lift-me-up when I’m feeling down.

So, now to get to the point and come full circle. As a church leader, I believe our responsibility to children is to cultivate relationships with Christ. To teach our children what a relationship with Christ feels like — the joy, the grace, the love. To create in them a desire to be in relationship with Christ so deeply that even when (because it will happen) they are let down or disappointed by a church, they won’t give up on the church. And I believe the best way to do this is to reach the children on their level. Speak to their young, immature hearts about God’s sacrifice and Christ’s love for us in a way that they can comprehend. Create in them a desire for the Lord and to be in relationship with Him.

If your church can do this during a single service, that’s awesome! I personally don’t think that my young children will get the same out of the sermon that is shared during the main service as they will out of the children’s service our church offers. However, when one of my kids asks if they can sit with us for a change, I usually say yes. I want them to try different ways to hear God’s voice and experience the Holy Spirit. But most of all, I want them to love the Lord with all of their heart and I want them to want to be at church because of this love.

So while I agree that “have to” is an important element of parenting, and I may find myself telling my kids they “have to” attend church at some point, I know that one day they will be out of my care and will have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to go to church. It is my prayer that the choice will be easy.

(And should that Pastor friend of mine happen to read this little blog post, I want him to know that while I might not entirely agree with, I completely respect his thoughts and experience on this topic, both as a pastor and a father.)

 

Romans 8:38-39