Hello, my name is Dana, and I am a listaholic.
It’s a hot day, way past lunchtime, and my children are waiting for their daily PB&J sandwiches, the lunch of summer. They are also waiting on their mom to unglue herself from the computer and stop muttering—but the sandwiches are first priority.
“There’s some cheese sticks on the top shelf of the refrigerator!” I yell over my shoulder. “Help yourself to some yogurt too!”
My children grumble about all the dairy in their diet, and I stay glued to the computer. I am printing out lists. Lots of them. Here are some titles:
Fifty Easy Bible Verses for Your Kids to Memorize about Cleaning the House
Fifty Easy Bible Stories to Read to Your Kids about Being Nice to Your Brother or Else
Fifty Easy Bible Activities to Make Your Children Really Spiritual
How to Take Pictures of Your Super-Spiritual Children for Social Media
Summertime is a blessing. It is full of lazy afternoons at the pool and baseball games and late bedtimes. It takes our regular schedule and turns it on its head, and that’s fine by me. It is fine by everyone else in our household too because summer means some serious rest and relaxation before my boys return to the grindstone known as elementary school.
So, of course, I decide to FIX my children this summer. Because, there’s time.
Granted, we didn’t tackle any of these lists during the first days of summer. The lists waited for us, all neatly printed and stacked on our dining-room table. And, since this table also seems to be the receptacle for all the Legos in our house, as well as Legos from the rest of the kids in this town, the lists were quickly buried. There was also a trip to see family, and we had to get the garden planted, and there was a new Wii cow-racing game (yes, you really saddle up a cow and race him, and yes, it’s awesome). For some reason, my lists just didn’t seem as fun as those digital cows.
Before I knew it, it was mid-June when I found the lists, stained with something that looked like nacho cheese and layered with cat fur because Steve the Cat likes to nest amongst the Legos. I looked at them and started to feel overwhelmed, especially by the Fifty Ways to Teach Your Kids to Love Jesus More Than the Wii list.
It has occurred to me that 90 percent of parenting is feeling overwhelmed. The other 10 percent is a mixture of winging it and wiping things off. Accepting the overwhelm is key, but I usually respond to it with overcompensation that eventually results in tears. First, I looked over the lists and thought, Well, I could start small and just attempt one of these, maybe at dinnertime, and that would be good. And as soon as that thought floated innocently by, it was followed by, Nah. I will do ALL these lists! We just need a large whiteboard, two hundred stickers, and a Strong’s Concordance. They make a children’s version, right?
Cue the crying.
I became a follower of Jesus when I was twenty-eight years old. I was single, living in a cute little bungalow, and teaching English to teenagers who occasionally seemed to enjoy it. My life was pretty simple. I was not dating; my main responsibilities were to my dog and my mortgage. Those first weeks after I became a Christian, I spent a lot of my free time sitting in my sunlit bedroom, on my grandmother’s quilt, poring over the Bible. I took notes. I journaled. I prayed. Sometimes I listened to praise music. Then I would sit in silence or study some more. Jesus and I had a lot of time together—which was good because we had so much work to do. It was an intense time. A blessed time. I was suspended, with my Bible and my music and my God. I have not experienced such a powerful time of contemplation and study since.
Children don’t often want to sit quietly in the sunlit rooms of life, studying in the silence. I realize this. They can do sacred, but their version is a lot more squirmy. But for some reason, the thought of a tranquil summertime carried just enough of a whiff of my post-conversion experience that I thought I could revisit it with my boys. You know how, when you go back to your old school, the hallways and classrooms seem smaller? The space is familiar, but the life you had there is gone, and all you can see is faded nostalgia. Revisiting is fun, but it’s not like you’re going to enroll again. As much as I’d like to instruct my children inside the halls of my newborn faith all those years ago, this is more like asking nostalgia to be the teacher.
But Jesus is the teacher, and he has a variety of lesson plans. My children’s faith walk will not match my own, and why would I want it to? Faith doesn’t duplicate. (It reproduces, but that’s different!) Faith is not human-made. Placing a “Made By Dana” sticker on my boys’ spiritual lives is putting Jesus in a very small package, and he won’t have it.
There is good news here. With Jesus, there always is. Our summer destination is the same. I want a life with Jesus, and I want our children to have a life with Jesus. Instead of layering that goal with a lot of pesky expectations, here are some ways grab hold of your kids’ hands and walk, together, toward him.
Understand your motive. I had to ask myself why I was pinning all these Bible-memorization boards in the first place. I think it helped me feel a little more in control of my kids, and for me, control is all about managing fear. When I allow fear in, I start to ask questions like: What if my children don’t love the Lord like they should? What if they make all the same mistakes I did? What if they wait until they are basically geezers at thirty years old to surrender? That’s thirty years of messed-up living! Nobody has time for that! I do realize I am filtering all this panic through my own, small-life experiences. God’s ultimately responsible for my kids. Very simply, showing my kids the light of Jesus should not be fear-based. Parenting is scary enough; it should not be paired with nervous Bible-thumping.
Relax a little about the lesson plans. As a teacher, I love planning. I love dreaming up creative ideas to explain plot and character and writing. But sometimes my best classroom experiences have generated from a student’s random question. This summer, I will plan and pencil in weekly devotionals. But I will also pray that God prepares me for those moments that come up, all willy-nilly, with nary a printed Pinterest graphic in sight to aid me. Those moments can be the best instruction for my children because, let’s face it, most kids thrive on willy-nilly.
Let go of the myth of fun. In the English classroom, I heard too many of my students ask, “Couldn’t we just watch the movie?” when we started a new novel. It always made me sigh. So, dare I say it? Learning does not always have to be Big Fun. It can be a lot of things, like challenging, or heart-changing, or surprising, or simple. So sometimes my boys and I just sit and read the Bible. We even read from the one that has no pictures.
But also, lighten up. One of the most memorable Bible-memory sessions I ever had involved stuffing as many marshmallows into my mouth as I could and then reciting the Proverbs. I highly recommend this activity—especially to adults.
Realize you are the learner too. Those sacred moments in that sunlit room with Grandmother’s quilt and my journal changed me. But now, when I am trying—sometimes very poorly—to communicate to my boys how much I love Jesus and how much he loves me, those moments are what life as a Christian is all about. My faith started small, but then it had to stretch out, just as Jesus stretched out his arms for all of us. Incidentally, some of the best instruction I have received about Jesus has been at my sticky kitchen table with two small, very squirmy boys. Jesus shows up for them in those moments—but he shows up for me too. The teacher learns twice.
I still pin the lists. I will never give up on my fully stocked Pinterest board about kids and faith. I love all the cute projects involving chalkboards and washi tape. I love the reading suggestions and the memorization tips. I value the creative input, and I really enjoy meeting other mom bloggers out there who have a love for Jesus. So yes, my lists are endless. But, before the lists, I open a Bible. I always start there.