A couple of weeks ago I invited readers to send me examples of the ways they've found to pass their faith on to their children. Here is a very thoughtful response from the father of two adult children, emphasizing the need to teach children about forgiveness, but in a way I had not considered.
"I’ve appreciated so much the comments made by other parents on this website about the problem of passing along the Christian faith in raising our children. I hope some additional thoughts may be useful.
Passing along the faith is ultimately something much more than teaching Bible verses, habits of prayer, family devotions, and so on. Of course, all those things are vitally important. We Christian parents try to bring up our children to lives of virtue and integrity, and we are right to do so. We knock ourselves out to make everything right for them, as right for them as we possibly can.
But we should never forget that our efforts can never be enough. There’s no getting around the need for each of us human beings to have his or her own convicting encounter with our frailty, failings, unrighteousness, lack of virtue. Which also means that we parents shouldn’t blame ourselves if we have tried our best to do everything right, and yet don’t see the results for which we so ardently wish. Was it something I did wrong? we compulsively ask ourselves. But that’s probably the wrong question.
"I think . . . painful experiences can also present us with a golden opportunity to show our children what is distinctive about Christian love, and how it can uplift the life of a family made up of radically imperfect people."
Even the best parents can’t pass along a saving faith in Christ, the way that they pass along their family ties. God doesn’t work that way. Each generation has to do it for themselves. And sometimes the strongest believers come out of the worst backgrounds! The best that parents can do is prepare the ground for their children as faithfully and thoroughly as we can, and then pray, remembering that the work of conversion belongs to the Holy Spirit, not to them.
But I think there’s something else we can do. One of the chief things that sets our faith apart is that it is a faith of forgiveness and redemption. In fact, that’s at the very center of it. Our God has given us a high moral code, one to which we are accountable but that we cannot possibly meet on our own powers. Hence the need for confession of sin and forgiveness and recognition of our fallibility as a constant element in our daily lives. Our children learn this when they learn the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But how much do they get to see that precept in action?
" . . . a vibrant Christian family has the capacity to make its members’ inevitable failures into sources of an ever-stronger shared love."
I think there is nothing that more powerfully models it for children than to see their parents engage in acts of forgiveness—especially toward one another. Of course, you won’t want to do this around young kids, who may find parental friction especially disturbing. In most circumstances, it’s important to keep a united front, and not to air your minor grievances in public. Kids need your authoritative presence, even when they rebel against it!
But it’s inevitable that there will be moments of breakdown, negligence, or lost tempers, times when husbands and wives hurt one another, in ways that the whole family witnesses. There’s a natural desire to fall silent about such moments, and just hope everyone forgets about them. But I think such painful experiences can also present us with a golden opportunity to show our children what is distinctive about Christian love, and how it can uplift the life of a family made up of radically imperfect people. We all strive for virtue and integrity, we all fail in that, and we all stand in constant need of redemption. That’s our condition. But a vibrant Christian family has the capacity to make its members’ inevitable failures
into sources of an ever-stronger shared love. In this, as in all things, the parents have to be willing to take the lead. Done in the right way, it will enhance their authority rather than diminishing it. And children who grow up in an atmosphere of such love will be led to seek its sources later in life. The Holy Spirit has much to work with in them."
Isn't this excellent? I could not have said it better, which is why I continue to invite you, my readers, to share the wisdom you've gained in your parenting journey. We will all be strengthened by your contributions!