I should start by saying, I’ve had a very frustrating day as a father. I’m frustrated that my son has peed in his pants four times today because he “didn’t want to stop playing.” I’m frustrated that he prefers his mom over me today. I’m frustrated that when I finally got him to play with me, I had to give him consequences instead of playing. I’m frustrated because I’m frustrated. Really though, I’m not frustrated...I’m afraid. Afraid that I’m failing as a father and that my son doesn’t and won’t grow up to love me. That one day, he’ll be sitting in an office, like mine, talking to a counselor, like me, about how his dad.
This isn’t going to be a blog about praying with your kids before bed at night or making sure they attend church on Sunday. This is about change. Not necessarily instantaneous change but hopefully long lasting change. The kind of change similar to what Jesus brought in his interactions with people when he was walking around having dinner with people.
First, let's define a few things.
What does it mean to lead your kids spiritually? As a parent, we can lead our kids to the bathroom or to a good way of managing finances. Those are good things in which to lead our kids; however, they are temporal. “Spiritual” is defined as a way that relates to or affects the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. That is a serious task. We are talking about leading our kids in the most important way possible. Leading them toward things that bring health in the deepest part of who they are and will become. Leading them away from things that will push them further from who they were created to be. We are helping them grow and change into, well, themselves.
Another idea that’s important to define is what we mean by change. I want to focus on first order change vs second order change. They are defined like this:
First order change deals with the existing structure, doing more or less of something, and involving a restoration of balance.
Second order change is creating a new way of seeing things completely; this requires new learning and often begins through the informal system.
So, first order change is about bringing change through structure and adherence to that structure. If you do it correctly, balance is maintained and things will be okay. In the family system this looks like: “Do what you’re told. Why? Because I said so. That’s how we do things in this house. That’s what the Bible says!” Someone sets the rules and the rest follow them. If you don’t follow the rules, then balance is not maintained and can only be restored by following the rules again. Man, that sounds a lot like a performance-based approach to change, family, and life.
Second order change is different. It’s characterized by risk. Trying new things. Learning new things. Everyone involved is learning, trying, and willing to face failure for what it is: an opportunity to grow and learn. Everyone is willing to be vulnerable. It has less to do with balance than with the desired result, change—long-lasting, deep affecting, spiritual change.
Jesus was confronted because the disciples were picking grain on the sabbath. That was against the law. It was against the system and balance—first order change. Jesus responded in a way that let them know it was about more than that. Again and again the religious leaders approached Jesus with this first order mentality and, each time, Jesus showed them that they were missing the point.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions. What has been our approach to leading our kids spiritually? Has it been based on fulfilling the structure of a system? Is their spiritual health based on how well they perform within that system? Got to church, read your Bible, pray every day, get baptized...the list goes on and on. If so, that sounds a lot like a performance-based system. It sounds like first order change. That isn’t pushing our kids toward being spiritually healthy, that’s pushing them toward religion.
How about this: as you pursue your own health, are you sharing with your kids what you are learning? Are you encouraging them to hangout with healthy friends because when you were a kid you didn’t? And, as a result, you started drinking and got in trouble? Or lost your virginity when you were 14? Or hurt some people that were really close to you? Are you sharing with them how you have failed, been hurt, hurt others, lost friendships, marriages, jobs, money, and more? They need to know why you are so concerned that they are healthy and close to the Lord, and the pain you experienced when you weren’t.
Second order change is about doing things differently. Characterized by risk and vulnerability. A window into your life is the greatest gift you will ever give your kids. You want to lead them spiritually? Get healthy yourself. Be vulnerable with them. Let them learn with you and not just from you.
My son isn’t going to magically stop peeing in his pants, literally or figuratively. He has a whole life ahead of him with successes and failures. I can’t and don’t want to stop him from learning from his failures. However, what I can teach him is that I, too, have had failures, peed my pants, and it’s okay to talk about it. This is not only an important part of life, but transformative when we can learn from our failures together.
Boiled down: are you leading through structure? Because it isn’t about structure. Is that how you lead as a parent, boss, pastor, or teacher? Structure will only get you so far. Anyone can adhere to a structure if they really want to. Structure isn’t what makes you unique. Structure isn’t what the image of God is in you. That’s just a skeleton.
You are what makes you unique. The image of God is seen in you, your past, your previous failures, your successes, and even your current failures. That’s what gives meat to your spiritual bones. Don’t give the people around your more structure. That’s not what they need. They need more of you. They can’t get this anywhere else. When you are dead and gone your kids won’t wish they had more rules from you. They will wish they had more of you.
Be vulnerable with your kids. They need you.