A few years ago now I came across something on Facebook that really troubled me. For whatever reason that Facebook does what it does, the powers that be put into my news feed a post that a distant friend commented on. A father posted photos of his grade school son at the pinnacle of some mountain, praying, with the commentary of how proud he was of his son who "prayed to receive Christ." I was shocked and quite troubled. I wasn't troubled because this boy was at perhaps a critical point in his spiritual life, I was troubled because this father felt the need to document it with photos, post it on social media, and then brag about it.
I have seen this a lot over the years, parents applauding their children's spiritual accomplishments and apparent godly choices and character. And while there is nothing wrong with encouraging your children and sharing about them, there are a couple of things that concern me here.
One problem is that parents whose children are no so overtly Christian or do not wear their spiritual lives on their sleeves can feel like they are doing something wrong. In a world of "if you do it right" it is easy to compare and find yourself coming up short. The guilt and fear is multiplied exponentially when your child's spiritual condition is a supposed result of your performance as a parent and your failure as a parent could impact the state of your child's soul for all eternity and whether or not your child is playing in the youth group worship band or memorizing the catechism is evidence for all to see.
The other problem is this public bragging treats your child's spiritual life like a performance. We all know that children want more than anything the approval of their parents. If your children know that you want them to look like Christians and act like Christians in the most Christiany sense of the word based on the standards your particular culture has set up to measure such things, they are likely to try to live up to those standards, whether that is what is going on in their heart or not. This is a grand setup for all sorts of hypocrisy or internal conflict (with perhaps self-medication) or out and out rejection of any and all of it.
My concern is that kids won't have the opportunity or feel the freedom to discuss their needs and desires and questions and doubts and frustrations and fears and will stuff them all down in lieu of looking like they are supposed to look and making their parents proud.
One of the things I regret most as a parent is not emphasizing with my kids that it is OK to have questions and doubts and not understand why God calls them to a certain kind of life. I regret that we didn't have the opportunity to grapple together some of the legalisms and expectations put on us all.
I read recently about the concept of Escalator Christianity, where we are expected to go from level to level, always improving, always getting better, always getting more spiritual and ever closer to God. That doesn't happen in life. Not in an adult's life and certainly not in a kid's. The spiritual life is not a serene ride up the escalator but more of an amalgam of every carnival ride ever with highs and lows and twists and free falls and sometimes dark, dark tunnels (this past year I ended up on a slow moving ride through the bowels of the earth).
Expecting our children to take spiritual steps at certain times and then bragging about it and even patting ourselves of the back (or patting others on the back) for doing such a good job is just incredibly damaging, as they will often do what they think they are expected to do. This is not the National Honor Society or Eagle Scouts or Bible Verse Memory Award. This is a relationship and God works in each kid's life in a different way.
Our kids get so little privacy on social media as it is. Let's keep their relationship with God something they can wrestle with in their own way and in their own time and not use it as an occasion to toot our own horns.
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