After eight years of homeschooling, this year, all four of my children strap on their backpacks and head down to our local public school.
Aside from the schooling comments that inevitably hit the comments section—I tell you this because, from the minute a doctor slaps them on the bottom—our children are increasingly outside of our own bodies. Our control diminishes (though admittedly, we still love them as if they were within us, attached and growing there). In a series of baby (then middle-schooler) steps, our goal is to launch them. And this step is just increasing that radius a bit—releasing them more and more into God’s care, His unrelenting direction of them.
How do we help our kids tether themselves to the one, still, small voice that won’t ever fail them?
A few ideas.
1. Create space. I’m actually talking space on the calendar. One of the positive takeaways from the recent studies on mindfulness indicate that we need time in our days to—get this—simply let our minds wander.
And that’s just the beginning of some of the beautiful reasons for margin. We can better seat our sense of value in not working for God, but “a deep interior life with God,” as Peter Scazzero writes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
If we don’t create space for our kids to process emotions and circumstances—to meditate and contemplate (more ideas for that here)—it’s a lot more difficult to hear the Holy Spirit in the “noise” of their brains!
2. Model spiritual disciplines. Practicing spiritual disciplines as a family can help create room for the Holy Spirit, inviting Him to work in us. Richard Foster writes,
A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain … This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.
I hope to hand my kids the tools to cultivate God in their lives; to sow, waiting for Him. Follow this link for several practical posts on spiritual disciplines for real families, including prayer, simplicity, and fasting.
After some consideration, I chose to add “time with God” to my kids’ list of pre-screen-time activities. I explained that this wasn’t about checking off a box—but just about creating time and habits to speak with God. Honestly, I can’t control whether they begin that relationship. But we can move toward that as our norm, and they can witness its genuineness in my husband and me.
3. Perhaps the most critical discipline: Knowing God’s Word. I think of the basic analogy of my own kids hearing my voice when I call them from downstairs. They’d know my voice anywhere, because we talk frequently.
If God’s voice will never contradict Scripture, they’ve got 66 books to help them hear exactly what He’s said—no conjecture involved: The precise words of God. If they can learn those, they’ve got a significant head start on knowing the mind of God in any situation.
4. The “duh” reminder: Step by Step. Author Rick Lavoie outlines the Learning-Teaching cycle for any skill a child learns:
5. Do it for him. This is when I talk openly with my kids about how I make Spirit-filled, wise decisions. I can’t hear the Holy Spirit as He trains my kids’ hearts toward His voice. But I can invite them into my spiritual thinking.
6. Do it with him. This is when I have great conversations with my kids about what they might do in my situation. Seigel speaks of parents operating as an external “upstairs brain” for younger kids, whose cerebrum isn’t yet developed; we help them show self-control rather than throwing toys; share, rather than hoard. Similarly, I can help my kids externally process how the Holy Spirit may be working in any given situation of my own.
7. Watch him do it. This is when I talk about something my child is dealing with. One of my children was recently contemplating being baptized! Though I definitely want each of my children to reach this decision on their own, their motives for doing it—or for not doing it (like fear, one of my child’s current obstacles)—are important to me. I asked a lot of “why” questions, praising the “God-ness” I see, and probing a bit in areas, like fear, that I feel the Holy Spirit would speak into.
A critical thought on this: In his experience in lay counseling, my husband has found that people experience 100 percent more ownership of ideas they discover themselves. Rather than pushing my child ahead out of my own fear (what if they don’t get baptized?!), I can ask probing questions (not thinly-disguised, leading ones!). This helps my kids have ownership of their own relationship with God…rather than piggybacking on mine.
8. Have him do it. Trust that as your child grows, God will complete the good work He’s begun (Philippians 1:6).
9. Keep an eye out for the heart. Remember it’s normal for kids to want to impress us. In the eyes of kids, the voice of the Holy Spirit might be translated, This is what it’s really wise to do. Or, This is what I really want to do. Or, I feel very emotional about this—all with a big extra “God told me so” rubber stamp. What we don’t want our kids to do is invent the voice of God. Grant it—this is something us big people struggle with, right? Adding clarity to “God’s voice”? (Or maybe just this big person [me]!)
Tedd Tripp writes wisely in his book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, “A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? … Yet this is what we often do in childrearing. We demand changed behavior and never address the heart that drives the behavior.”
Rather than raising and praising kids who speak the right Holy-Spirit lingo, let’s ask good questions about how they hear God’s voice. Let’s probe the heart, encouraging their relationship with God toward genuineness rather than appearance.