Talking about Jesus

We’ve received bad news. My stepson’s grandma was in a car accident. There’s nothing the doctors can do. At 11, Sam is meeting that brutal intruder, death, for the first time. It’s hard.

His dad and I remind him that Grandma is baptized, that Jesus died and rose for her, that heaven is a great place. Then we pray aloud. It’s a messy, disjointed prayer, but that’s okay. Jesus hears the words beneath the words.

At times like this, when eternity creeps close, it’s natural to talk about Jesus. Other times we’re less comfortable. Why is that? I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses.

I think some of us were raised in families that are more reserved. Faith is a private matter, and talking about Jesus—or even calling him “Jesus,” as opposed to “God” or “the Lord”—seems disrespectful, glib.

Some of us were raised with sturdy, American self-reliance—so sturdy, in fact, that asking God for help aloud feels like unattractive weakness.

Some of us were raised to see faith primarily as a tricky theological system, with deep ditches and doctrinal potholes to avoid. We don’t want to say anything heretical, so we don’t say anything at all.

Some of us were raised knowing only a transcendent God, powerful but unapproachable: all burning sulfur and high expectations; no manna, no mercy.

Some of us were raised without positive male role models, so it’s hard to imagine a heavenly father and brother who are kind and trustworthy.

Thing is, these excuses might make talking about Jesus a little harder, but they don’t give us a pass. God doesn’t say in Deuteronomy 6: “Tell your children about me if you’re comfortable.” Nor does he say, “A few words at meals and bed, and we’ll call it good.” He says, “Talk about me when you sit, when you walk, when you lie down, when you rise”—pretty much all day.

But before that—interesting!—he says he wants his words “on our hearts.” We first take in the Word—in worship, Bible study groups, personal devotions—and it fills our hearts with the goodness of God, the nearness of God. Then from our hearts it flows naturally into our speech.

Seems the power to talk about God comes from God.

Some people recall their childhood Christianity as an onerous system of rules they couldn’t ditch soon enough. Others view Scripture as a loosy-goosy text, open to any interpretation they please.

The first view crushes the spirit, erasing the “Good” from “Good News.” The other recasts God’s thoughts and words into a reflection of our own.

My childhood Christianity wasn’t like that. My parents didn’t present Jesus as a squinting judge, noting slip-ups on his blackboard in the sky—nor, on the other hand, as a backslapping buddy who wink-winks at sin.

When it comes to talking about the Savior, I wonder whether it’s less important to teach kids Christian values than to teach them they’re valuable.

They’re so valuable Jesus would have died just for them.

They’re so precious that when the Father looks at them, he doesn’t see dirty, undeserving sinners he’s compelled to love. He sees his bright, shiny, holy children—and he delights in them.

They’re so loved it’s safe to be openhearted, to confess their sins. The Father is there at the edge of the road, hands shading his eyes as he scans the horizon. As soon as he sees them, he’ll run out to meet them and give them the news: “You’re forgiven. Yes, yes, I’ve seen all your screw-ups. But it’s all forgotten. Come home. I want to throw you a party!”

Finally, because they’re loved, because they’re valuable, their lives count. God is excited about the opportunities he’s got on the calendar for them. What they do for him today and tomorrow matters, and he can’t wait to spend eternity with them.

I’m not saying that when one kid whacks the other in a living room melee we just tousle their hair and tell them how awesome they are in God’s sight. There are times for law, its curbs and consequences.

But the goal—and I’m offering this timidly, remembering all too clearly the times I failed to show the kids Jesus—the goal is to nurture the children into adults who know God is good and they are loved, who can relax because errors of the past have no hold, who can live intentionally because each hour is full of potential, who can walk with a spring in their step because the future is bright. Because of the Good News, life is good.

BC (Before Children), I had this vision of family devotions: Bright-eyed little cherubs with chubby hands folded. Broccoli eaten, candles burning, Bach playing. Pfft.

I didn’t foresee fidgety legs and droopy eyes (mine!), not to mention lessons and practices that cut supper short. Our home devotions were sporadic at best, although the older kids say Advent was generally a good time—with candy-filled calendars buttressing the effort. Then January came, and we skipped a night or two, and the habit lapsed.

But that’s okay. We can talk about our Savior anywhere. In the car: I liked that sermon. Did you? After school: You heard about Jacob wrestling with God today? That story always confused me when I was a kid. In the kitchen: God really answered our prayer, didn’t he? In the middle of a hug: You’re forgiven, kiddo. Will you forgive me? And at bedtime: Jesus loves you, and so do I.

With Jesus in our hearts, on our lips—and in the room—the line between sacred and secular disappears. It’s all God’s world. We’re always talking to him and about him. And eternity—that exciting prospect—is always close.

How can I help train my children?

Our kids attend a Lutheran elementary school where they hear the Word of God every day and see it applied in all aspects of school. Sometimes I find myself getting a bit lazy when it comes to fostering spiritual growth in my kids or creating opportunities for the Holy Spirit. The Lutheran elementary school does such a good job already! However, I’m pretty sure Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it,” was not written solely for the teachers at school, but for me. It’s my job! So how can I help train my children?

The first thing that came to mind was to have a nightly family devotion. I searched and read reviews about devotion books. I made my selection, and one night I pulled out my new devotional book. The kids said, “Oh, that’s the one we use are using at school.” Not fair! I started reading it anyway. It was obvious that my kids were listening in school (good thing) because after reading the title of the devotion, they’d say, “This is the one where . . .”

Experiences like these have really led my wife, Kelly, and me to focus on discovering new and varied ways of helping our kids grow spiritually. We are always searching for different ways to complement the exceptional work done by our pastors and teachers.

Nightly blessing has been an important practice in our home. Every night we spend time singing our bedtime prayers, talking to God, and then blessing one another. That regular time of prayer and blessing has become a cherished time.

How about the morning? Since I leave for work at the crack of dawn, I’m not home to help send everyone out the door. My grandfather always said, “Never leave the home without prayer and Scripture.” So I printed out about 50 different passages, and I attach one to the door before I leave. When Kelly and the kids leave they read the passage together or take it along and read it in the car to help focus their hearts on the Lord for the day.

One more idea. A friend of mine recently wrote a devotional “book.” It’s not a traditional devotional book but more of a family thanksgiving journal. Our family is now coming together at some point during the day and sharing what we are overwhelmingly grateful for. We are recording this in a thanksgiving journal, and it allows us to intentionally focus our thoughts on God’s blessings. There is plenty out there that is negative, and I know it clouds our appreciation for the abundant blessings of each day. We are finding a way to train ourselves to watch for blessings, record them, share them with one another, and allow this process to lead into a casual discussion of thankfulness. We don’t do this at the same time every day. I’m less concerned with making a “devotion time rule” and more concerned with using this as a casual but consistent way to demonstrate the love we have for our Lord with each other.

Making our faith the center of our family’s life

My husband and I pray daily that our family will glorify God with our lives. The habits we have established in our home reflect that desire. We pray as a family, worship and sing praises at every opportunity, and study our Bibles frequently. Our hope for our children is that they will continue in faith and enjoy an eternity with their heavenly Father.

Here on earth, the devil is always working to lead us away from Jesus. Recently our three-year-old shockingly insisted, “I no want to pray to Jesus. I pray to Pete the Cat!” A few days later our nine-year-old confided to us that she feels that our family puts Christ on the back burner at times and it bothers her.

I was a bit stunned by each of these incidents. My inner pride wondered how the children in my Christ-centered home could say or feel these things. I wondered if we are pointing our children to Christ with every breath? I pondered the ways that we can do a better job of this.

The Bible doesn’t share a recipe or a daily schedule for Christian parents to follow, but it is full of guidance and reassurance.

Isaiah 55:11 says “. . . so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Incidents like this are a prompt to refocus and change what we are doing, but the Holy Spirit is at work in my children’s hearts even when my parenting and Christian example are imperfect and when my family life becomes unfocused.

We want our children to have a true love for the Lord and a focus on him. We are always mindful of this as we put household routines into place, but routines are not necessarily born of faith. True praise and worship come only from the knowledge that Jesus died in our place. Thanks to Jesus, heaven is ours. When we keep our own joy about this amazing sacrifice at the forefront of our lives and live our days proclaiming that joy, our children see and hear us. We do make mistakes, but God says that his Word does not come back empty.

We guide our families with God’s Word and with an example of faith in God’s promises. Then we can rest in the assurance that God’s Word is powerful. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. We have a faithful God who loves our little ones more than we do. As we learn in Matthew 18:12,14: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? . . . . In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

Permission to forgive ourselves

Thanks, in part, to my Christian education at Wisconsin Lutheran College and Martin Luther College, I approached motherhood as a privileged time to teach God’s Word diligently to my children (Deuteronomy 6:7).

With a background of various teaching experiences in schools and congregations, I knew how important it was to “walk the talk” with my own three personalized miracles. One goal was to have consistent home worship and prayer times with our little ones. But as my family morphed into having different school and activity schedules, even mealtimes together were irregular. Those hectic yet wonderful years sped by, while I inherited the parenting guilt of “not doing enough” for my children’s spiritual welfare.

It hit me tearfully hard the day I dropped my baby daughter off for her freshman year at an out-of-state college. Anna and my two sons were no longer living in our home. How many Jesus sharing opportunities had I missed with them? Why hadn’t I made formal devotion times a higher priority?

Recently I asked my daughter to edit a short book I wrote called Developing a Devoted Family. Now a married 24-year-old, she graciously shared the following:

“What I appreciated most growing up was you and Dad incorporating God’s wonder into everyday life. Casually praying before trips and on the way to school, etc. didn’t seem forced.”

You can imagine how grateful I am that she chose to share those thoughts. It’s a reminder that God works faith-growing miracles despite my (and anyone’s) parenting inconsistencies. He even gives us permission to forgive ourselves.

Sue Fink