I am not responsible for my child’s salvation. Likewise, you are not responsible for your child’s salvation. Do those statements bother you?
Creating Perfect Christian Children
Some time ago I ran across an older article from Christianity Today entitled The Myth of the Perfect Parent: Why the best parenting techniques don’t produce Christian children. It’s been on the back burner as other things have demanded my attention.
The CT article is really very encouraging and worth the time to read even though it is long. It was freeing and confirmed some of the conclusions I’ve drawn over the past several years. Contrary to what anyone will tell you, there is no formula for raising children who love the Lord. There is no guarantee in the Scriptures that your child will become a Christian if you only do such and such.
But we live in a culture obsessed with getting ahead, cutting our losses, and ensuring a win. We have no tolerance for failure.
And we live in a Christian culture obsessed with someone telling us the “right” way to do something. We have books and speakers and bloggers and conventions and podcasts and retreats and gurus on and on and on. We want guarantees on everything, including raising our children to follow Christ.
Parents Become An Obstacle To Christ
It distresses me when I see how many children raised in Christian families trying to do it all “right” end up as atheists. I’ve lost track of how many blogs I’ve come across written by people (primarily women) who were raised in homes doing everything “right” and now have no faith at all.
In many cases (though not all), it was the actions and attitudes of the parents that drove their children away from Christ. The micromanagement and control became a stumbling block. In trying to guarantee their child
loved the Lord grew up to think just like them, the parents became the biggest obstacle.
Our children are not miniature versions of us. They are unique individuals from the womb with likes, dislikes, gifts, callings, and more. Our privilege as parents is to help our children understand who they are in all their individual wonder and show them how God created them to be that amazing individual. Our privilege is not to make them just like us. It is to make them run to Christ.
Pointing My Child To Christ
I have no idea how Caroline will turn out. I am not going to sit here and tell you she will accept Christ and follow Him faithfully all her days. I hope and pray that is true. I pray to that end. I have prayed to that end before I was married and for almost ten years before we were blessed to become parents. Many others pray for her to that end. I do believe in my heart of hearts that she will follow Christ because of the way I have seen God work in mighty ways in our little family as well as the lives of our parents.
But do I know it as a fact? No.
David and I are doing the best we can. We don’t have all the answers. We are trying to avoid mistakes we’ve seen others make, but in the process I’m sure we’re making our own new ones. We are trying very hard not be a stumbling block to her knowing Christ.
We don’t want to be hypocrites. We want to be honest with her. We always strive to give her a truthful answer. We take every question she asks seriously so she will never be afraid or embarrassed to ask us about anything. I’m trying to learn how to take my faith that tends heavily toward being expressed in the cerebral and model it in loving, concrete ways. This is hard for me in many ways, but I am trying to do it for her sake since she is less about the cerebral and more about the engaging activity than I am.
Hope For The Challenging Child
I’ve written often about the fact that Caroline is a spirited child. We joke that we brought this on ourselves because one thing we prayed over and over again for her before she was even born was that God would make her a strong person with strong convictions.
Yes, He answered that prayer!
Because of that prayer, I found this piece in the article interesting:
Jay Belsky of Birbeck found that the child most likely to adopt his parents’ values is not the mellow, compliant child, as one would expect, but the fussy, difficult child. The fussy child is genetically wired through the presence of dna variants to be more sensitive and attuned to her parents and surroundings. The mellow child is more like Teflon; good parenting, and even bad parenting, tends not to stick.
Now whether this DNA thing is real or not, I don’t know. And DNA is not the Holy Spirit. But even though it is very hard and very emotionally exhausting to have a child who pushes back, asks questions and has a mind of her own, I will take this every time over a quiet, compliant child who questions nothing and simply does as he or she is told. I would rather she push back and engage us with what she really thinks than have her do as we ask but seethe with anger or frustration that has nowhere safe to be vented.
My Child Belongs To God
I said in a comment on another post about this article:
I frequently remind myself God had plans for my life that my parents could not comprehend. And yet here I am today. God worked with willing but imperfect parents and a willing but imperfect child/young adult. I can see His hand all over my life. It is the same for my child. God gave me this particular child at this particular time. I have every confidence He was wonderful plans for her life. I want His plans for her life. I know she belongs to Him and I’m just a steward of her life until she is ready to launch on her own. If He can create her as the unique person she is, then He can work through willing parents to get her where He wants her. I have every confidence God knows our frames as parents. If we are willing and seeking Him, we have nothing to fear. He’ll lead us even when we don’t realize He is doing so.
So even though I pray for my child, I love my child, and I am doing my best to raise her in the fear and admonition of the Lord, if she chooses not to walk with Christ it is not ultimately my responsibility. She belongs to God. It is up to the Holy Spirit to call her. I can plant the seeds and water, but it is the Holy Spirit who harvests.
Just as I refuse to define my worth by our schooling choices, I also refuse to define my worth as a Christian woman and mother based on how Caroline decides to live her life. I will do the best I can do each day, ask for forgiveness when necessary, and trust the results to God.
I couldn’t save myself so why should I think I can save my child?
The bottom line from the CT article:
We must assume, then, that there is serious error in our beliefs about parenting. We have made far too much of ourselves and far too little of God, reflecting our sinful bent to see ourselves as more essential and in control than we actually are. It’s also our heritage as good Americans, psychologist Harriet Lerner observed in her 1998 book, The Mother Dance: We believe that we can fix every problem, that we are masters over our fate. The root of much of our pain in parenting, she writes, is “the belief that we should have control over our children when it is hard enough to have control over ourselves.”
Love, love, love! I love this, Sallie! I keep telling myself over and over.
It’s clear from the beginning of the book to the end that environment is not the key to righteousness. The garden was a paradise, yet Adam and Eve still sinned. The millennial reign will be the perfect environment with the most just and loving ruler. Yet there will be those who rebel against Jesus. We can only do our best, pray for our children and trust that however it works out God is on His throne and he loves our children far more than even we do.
Ashley – I’m glad you found this encouraging. 🙂
Heidi – Excellent point. I agree that God loves our children more than we can even fathom. That’s why I’ve come to think it is a waste of time to agonize over everything we do with them. If we want to do the Lord’s will and we are seeking it, of course He will be leading us. We may not see it in the moment, but He will respond to our requests for wisdom and help. Now I do think there are parents who don’t care and then they do need to fear how they harm their child. But I would highly doubt anyone reading this blog post falls into that category. 🙂
It is so freeing knowing that our children’s salvation is in the hands of God, not ourselves! Sallie, it sounds like you and David are doing wonderfully. I think one of the worst things one can do to drive children away from the Lord is for the parents to be hypocrites.
Wow, this post is really great. I wish more Christian parents would understand this. I was one of those girls raised in a patriarchal home, and I was also the quiet, mellow type. Partially because I’m just contemplative and introverted, and partially because I found that pushing back and asking questions was a great way to make your parents frustrated and tense, and you would leave the conversation feeling like you were the jerk somehow. I’ve managed to come out of this still holding on to faith, but barely. I’m trying to read blogs like this to remind myself that not all Christians are like my parents (even though they are really sweet and loving people, I can’t be just like them). Thank you for your words.
I very much needed this tonight. In fact, I googled “I feel responsible for my child’s salvation” and your blog popped up. I know that I do not and can not make that choice for both of my son’s (15 and 14). I feel I walk that tight line of leading them and not pushing them. You throw in a dose of autism for good measure and there you have it. Sunday in church as I worshipped my Lord, He whispered to my soul that He is in control. I am to trust Him….He alone saves. It is actually a very freeing realization that all I need to do is live righteously, pray, and trust (I know, much easier said than done).
Tonight Satan is working it! I decided to be vulnerable and share my this with husband. One thing lead to another and we’re arguing. We rarely have moments like that. I wasn’t looking for an answer, I already was given the answer and was sharing. I felt like Satan was trying to drag me right back and blame me and my lack of parenting skills. He’s trying make me feel I need to continue to try and control my boys salvation. I’m letting go of that fear and anxiety that is controlling me. My God is Sovereign!!!
PS. My husband is a good man that carries his own guilt about being on the road and feeling the need to help hundreds of miles away. He just missed the point I was trying to make. He heard me but he didn’t listen. We’ll work it out.?
I’m so thankful you found this post when you needed it. 🙂
Perhaps coming to accept Christ later in life has made this easier for me to understand. Great article.
I think as long as we keep this point you made in the forefront of our minds, we do our best:
“We are trying very hard not be a stumbling block to her knowing Christ.”
I think you are correct that when you come to Christ can impact how you view this part of parenting. I think the circles you run in also impacts it. There is a lot of pressure in certain Christian circles to do everything right and make sure all your kids are saved (as though you truly have any control over it).
Not having grown up in the faith, and salvation coming at 32 with a 1.5 year old I panicked. I didn’t want her in the depths of the sin I grew up in. I was going to do all I could to save her and my husband. As you might imagine, this just added to my brokenness—and showed me how young my faith still was. The day I realized I could pray, teach, admonish, encourage, display Christ, and leave it with God (salvation of children and husband)—where it belonged!— was so freeing. God has done a work in each child’s heart. Time will proof out those changes and we still wait and pray on hubby. Thanks for reposting!
Thank you so much for sharing your story! I know it will encourage other people who read these comments. We can leave it all with the Lord to act.
This is a discussion that my 21 yr old daughter and I had just recently..I was 40 before I became a Christian with many years of confusion and sin . Having birthed my 2 daughters at age 37 and 39 , I was very determined to keep them from some of the horrible things I had fallen into, and to raise them as Christians. Actually I am quite surprised and pleased to find just plain explaining honestly and being somewhat careful of the company they kept I was able to steer them from Some of my worst sins . However being new in the faith , i SLOWLY realized that even the best of Christians cannot produce Christian children! Oldest daughter is now in a Bible college , sat me down and told me she had only become a Christian in the last 2 years . She waited for me to faint, and when I didn’t react , she said she thought WE thought we had made her into a Christian! I told her WE knew we couldn’t. Then she looked like she was going to faint!! My younger daughter wants nothing to do with Christianity it seems , but has most of the moral values we taught her…which , when I think about it , might actually make it harder for her to see that she needs a savior when the time comes.
I love that story of you and your daughter! It is fantastic that your daughter knows that GOD called her to him, not that she’s simply doing what you raised her to do. That will be such an anchor for her throughout her life. She may be the best witness of all to your younger daughter over time.
This is a WONDERFUL article, Sallie! I agree wholeheartedly. I think this idea becomes much more easy to see as we and our kids get older. What once were compliant little children who we could pretty much control (and so we pat ourselves on the back for being good parents) eventually become people with opinions of their own, making choices that aren’t what we would want of them. And yet we’ve done everything “right”! My parenting does not affect my child’s salvation or sanctification. My parenting affects MY sancitification — I should in obedience to God try to be the best parent I can be, so I can bring glory to Him. But my child’s heart is in HIS hands. Good stuff! 🙂
Thanks, Ann, for your kind and encouraging words!