In 1996 Hillary Clinton wrote It Takes a Village. She argued that children aren’t only the products of their immediate families (for good or ill) but also of the society and community around them (again, for good or ill). Without a healthy “village,” so the argument went, there could be no healthy children.
There is truth to this. Many parents have thought that if they could just wall their children off from the world until age eighteen, they could guarantee happy and productive members of society. Instead, they forgot that they brought their sin into the family compound with them, much like Noah and his family could not leave their rebellion behind when they got on the ark. Once the waters receded and God opened the door, sin began to do its dirty work.
I’d like to borrow Clinton’s phrase and change it a bit: it takes faith to raise a child. It is incredibly tempting for parents to think that if they can just implement the right tactics in their household, then everything will be ok with their kids. You don’t really need faith, you just need the right bedtime schedule, diet, school, athletic involvement, tutors, church, youth group, summer camps, mission trips, family devotion plan, with a seasoning of playdates, vacations, and museum trips to top it all off. Then, voila, you have your healthy, Christ-loving kids.
These things, of course, do and must have their place. But the Bible is conspicuously thin on mandated methods of child-rearing. Instead, we read things like, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) and “Impress them [God’s commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
The focus of the Scriptures when it comes to parenting is to tell your kids about Jesus. But you can’t tell your kids what you don’t know. Therefore, the non-negotiable, most important factor in Christian parenting is faith.
If you pin all your hopes for your children on methods, you don’t need faith. You can just yell at their kids to get them to do their homework, take out the trash, dress the way you like, and go to church. Or guilt them, or manipulate them, or bribe them. Force them somehow into the plan you’ve created for their childhood. But you don’t need faith.
However, if the ultimate goal of your parenting is to point them to Jesus, the Jesus who can only be known through faith, that won’t work.
It takes faith to believe that God is doing his work in their lives, because so often it won’t look like that at all.
It takes faith that God is at work to keep taking them to church every Sunday, when all they do is wiggle and squirm while the preacher seemingly drones on and on.
It takes faith that God is at work to come home from a long day at the office and play with your kids, when all you want to do is crash on the couch and watch the game.
It takes faith that God is at work to apologize to your kids for getting angry with them, when you’re afraid if you do they’ll wind up walking all over you.
It takes faith that God is at work to allow your kids to be themselves and do all of the non-sinful but often annoying things you wish they wouldn’t do, when you think that if you don’t step in and micromanage their lives they’ll turn out to be really weird.
It takes faith that God is at work to tell your teenagers “No, you are not allowed to go there, because it displeases God,” when they stomp out of the room saying, “You never let me do anything! I hate you!” and it really sounds like they mean it.
It takes faith that God is at work to keep reading the Bible to your children and praying for God to put his love in their hearts, when after years and years it seems like nothing has changed.
But if you trust Jesus, you’ll have faith to do all this because you’ll know, at the end of the day, your children’s hearts are all that matter. You’ll know you can’t change their hearts, any more than you could change your own heart. But the God that so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son can, and he loves your children more than you do.
So you’ll pray, and you’ll love, and you’ll do what you can do, but you’ll also wait on Him to do what only He can do. It takes much faith to raise a child.