Watching the Olympics with my family this past weekend, you can’t escape it. Athlete after athlete after athlete has overcome some amazing challenge or hurdle or disability or life-change to train and prepare for being an Olympian. The have a goal, they make a plan, they pursue it with diligence, and then they revel in the joy of doing something grand at a truly elite level. It is awe-inspiring, and so we spend countless dollars and hours investing in this worldwide display of every tongue and tribe and nation coming together to give their very best efforts.
I want no less for my kids. Truth be told, I want no less for myself—this discipline, this intentionality. As a parent, it’s easy to be lulled into complacency and the daily grind of putting out fires—especially as summer comes to an end. The over-zealous dreams of perfectly scheduled days and a routine of activities for entertainment and service give way to trying to make it to the grocery store in the paralyzing heat and patting yourself on the back if you make it back to your car without any of your children having shoved another. Back at home, children tumble over Legos and blankets (because it’s essential to get out blankets in 100 degree weather, don’t you know) and crayons and tech devices and each other and they scream and laugh in the same sentence. And then, after dinner, you are so happy when the day ends and you can sit in relative quiet thinking about how you will miss those little munchkins when they head back to school. Because they’ve been asleep and silent for a solid hour. Maybe this is just my life. The truth is that I revel in the day-to-day parenting noise and mess, and I know I will miss it when the house falls far too quiet and clean. But it’s fair to say the “summer structure” starts crumbling by August.
So as the summer ends, I’ve compiled a discussion list I plan on having with every one of my kids. My husband and I try to be consistent with discipline and eating habits and service opportunities and church-going patterns. But when my children see I am paying attention to their hearts, that I care about what is going on inside of them, then I am really taking my power to disciple them to the next level. If I can be a reflection of God to them in this—that they are absolutely known and loved and heard and valued—then I am making the right kind of stamps on their soul and I am paving the way for them to have deeper relationship with God as they grow. I am teaching them by my example how to value, hear, love and know others, too.
There’s no scripted way to do this just right. Every kid and every parent is different. I muddle along with everyone else. But today I thought I would share with you my “notecards” for my end-of-the-summer conversations with my kids. And I may not have all these conversations by myself. Some kids might talk with just Daddy. Some maybe with just me. Some maybe with both of us. It might take two talks to get through the questions with one child and ten minutes with another because five- and thirteen-year-olds have different needs. But however long it takes, it will be one-on-one time, and we’ll make it special however we do it. My husband and I will pray through these questions for each child together, and then we’ll see how the Spirit leads.
So here they are, as simple as they are significant.
- Are you happy with you?
I might need to follow up with “what part of you” or “why”, but I really need to listen to my child’s answer—with my ears and my spirit. My kids are keenly aware of the ways they make mistakes. My prayer in this is that it would open the door for my kids to confess sins that need to be handed over to God for forgiveness. I pray my home is one where transparency and confession is safely done, where flaws and sin don’t have to stay hidden but can be brought to the light for repentance and forgiveness.
This question is also a way to help identify places my kids might be allowing the world to define their identity rather than the truth of the love of Jesus Christ. Maybe this is an opportunity to reinforce some way a child is beautifully and wonderfully made. I don’t plan on getting preachy here, but I want to hear where my kids are at and what they need. This is a simple question to start a conversation that can help me and my husband lead our children into truth and freedom. (Hebrews 3:13)
- What are you most anxious about in the coming school year? (Or for younger children, “When you think about school, does anything make you kind of nervous?”)
I so hope my kids all say, “Nah. I’m good. School is going to rock.” But just in case this isn’t their answers, especially with three starting school on new campuses this year, I want to make sure they know I’m in their court and I have their backs and I’m praying for the same things they are. And if they need information to help them process and understand what’s coming, we’ll talk about those things. We are going to tackle fears with faith, and we’re going to do it together because community is powerful, and family is a divine gift, and we’re going to make sure to gather together in the presence of Christ and pray over every and anything that needs praying. Amen and amen. (So, I’ll probably get preachy at some point.) (Philippians 4:6)
- What about this coming year makes you excited or hopeful? (Or for littler ones: “When you think about school, what makes you happy or excited?”)
As a mother who loves little babies, and who sometimes yearns to revisit the cute toddler years, my children need to know how proud I am of the way they are growing up and getting bigger and that I am celebrating every new, amazing milestone with them. They walk each year into school with such courage and joy and hope and determination, and they work so hard every year. I am so proud of them. They are such great role models. They need to know that I am celebrating with them, and hopeful with them, and excited with them. And if one of them happens to only be dreading the start of school, we will go on a joy hunt and find things to get us excited. Joy breeds strength. (I Chronicles 16:10-11)
- What has God put in you that you can share with your world for God’s glory? (Or for my littles: “How can you love the people you see every day? What can you do that will make God smile?”)
Parents are told that the greatest discipleship relationship they have is with their child. Parents are uniquely positioned to influence the faith of their children like no other person in the world. I want my kids to know Jesus and His unfailing love, and I also want them to know that He made them uniquely for a purpose. He prepared good works for them to do! The Bible says so! As I disciple my kids, I want to make sure they realize that they are an integral, important, valuable part of the kingdom of God even right now when they are in elementary school and middle school. They are His hands and feet in the world, and they have the power of the Holy Spirit inside them that will equip and empower them to love well and serve well and show God to the world. They have gifts they can use to make God smile, whether it’s drawing their teacher a picture or dancing or saying, “Hi!” to the new kid, or picking the quiet kid to be on their team at recess or telling someone else that Jesus loves them or praying for a sick friend or building an electronic robot or playing the drums. It’s like the great Olympian Eric Liddle said, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” He lived his life in complete surrender in order to please God. I’m going to help my kids think about this and, prayerfully, begin living out their God-given adventures right now. (Matthew 5:16)
- Can I tell you what I see in you?
So now they get to do some listening. And I hope these words spoken over my kids go deep into their souls and find good soil and get nourished and grow up into great fruit. I get to tell my kids what I see God growing in them, how I see them changing, what I see has unfolded or is unfolding as they take new steps. The challenge here, for me at least, is that I can almost always come up with something I see in my kids on the spot. I am mindful of them in true and deep ways. I love to encourage the good work the Spirit is doing in them. But I don’t want to talk off-the-cuff. My husband and I have started praying about this. We might see twenty ways our kids are growing, but we want to hear what God wants us to speak into and over them. What do they need to hear? So even when my kids get to listen, I still have to listen, too. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
My husband kind of laughed when we first talked about this list because we are both keenly aware that these questions are as significant for the both of us as they are for our kids. As adults, we need to think about confession, God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, fears that may be keeping us from God’s will, ways God’s joy is strengthening us for the task at hand, showing God’s love to the parts of the world we get to touch, and thanking God for what he is doing to shape and mold us day-by-day.
I know nothing here is brilliant or new, that these questions likely represent one conversation out of a hundred I’ll have in the next week or so, but I’m writing it all down as a reminder for me to be intentional. I’m going to make time and space for the deeper stuff with my people because doing this as a family paves the way for deeper, richer relationship with each other and with Jesus. And I just want to be intentional and faithful to teach them and communicate to them that I love them all so much. Caring well for their hearts is worth more than a gold medal to me.