By David Gudgel
ONE OF OUR PRIMARY JOBS as parents is to prepare our kids to successfully live life on their own. From infancy on we look forward to the day our kids will sleep through the night; crawl; feed themselves; walk; communicate with words we can understand; be potty trained; obey those in authority; reach their potential in school; discover their unique talents and gifts; do what’s right without being told; find a job; learn to drive safely.
We want our kids to become healthy independent adults. But if our primary goal as Christian parents is simply to help our children grow up to be independent, we will have missed something really important. As followers of Christ, we need to teach our kids to be dependent too. I don’t mean dependent on us as parents. That’s the dependence that we have eighteen years to help them grow out of. But as they become more and more independent, we need to help them grow to become more and more dependent on God.
If you’ve read much of the Bible you know that things don’t end well for those who get carried away with their own independence. “And every man did what was right in his own eyes” is always followed by big trouble. The prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) learned that lesson the hard way. In his quest for independence he walked away from his family, values, and relationship with God. His independence led to being worse off than a pig. It wasn’t pretty.
Recent statistics show that two-thirds of incoming college freshman who claim to be born again will no longer make the same claim by the end of their college experience. Pollster George Barna found that only twenty percent of those who are highly churched as teens remain spiritually active by age twenty-nine. That’s only one out of five! How and why does that happen?
Obviously there can be a lot of reasons for that outcome. But most of those reasons come back to independence gone bad. It’s wired into our basic human nature to want to do our own thing. To have it our way. When a young adult turns his or her back on God, they are making the choice to do what is right in their own eyes. They’re declaring, and acting upon, their independence.
Child-raising done well is an intentional gradual baton pass. We want to move our kids from dependence on us to independence so they can live life well on their own. So we gradually give them more and more freedom as they show they are ready for it. But at the same time we also want to move our kids from dependence on us to dependence on God.
Here are three things you can do to help your kids grow in their dependence on God.
- Make sure you personally are dependent on God as you live life day-by-day seeking His will and His leading. Obey God’s clear commands, even when what He is asking of you is different than your own personal desires. Be in the Word regularly. Spend time in prayer. Connect with other believers for encouragement and accountability. Let your children see that living for God instead of yourself is a day-by-day choice.
- Make decisions as a family based on God’s plan and not your own. Pray together about your lives and things that you are each facing. Study God’s Word together and seek to understand more about who God is and what it means to follow Him. Intentionally live your lives together as a family based on what God says is right instead of what’s right in your own eyes or the world’s eyes.
- Start a Family Prayer Journal. Buy a blank journal and use it together as a family to record prayer requests and answers to prayers. Spend time together adding things to the list, praying together, and recording the answers God gives, whether it’s yes or no. Our family also had a Bonus List in our journal – things we knew we didn’t really need, and we were willing to do without, but if God ever wanted to give them to us we’d be thrilled!
It takes effort to raise kids who will be able to live life well out in the world on their own. And it also takes effort to raise kids who will depend on God and courageously follow His leading day-by-day, instead of just doing what’s right in their own eyes. As parents, with a little intentional effort you can help them do both well.