We devoted a lot of time to laying a foundation for our boys’ faith as they were growing up. We read Bible stories and prayed each night before bed. We went to Sunday school and church each week. We tried various forms of family devotionals. We brought the boys along when we served meals and went on mission trips. We spent many a family dinner conversation discussing the spiritual implications of things they heard in school or from their friends. As they got older we wrestled with the beliefs of other faiths, and what our responsibilities were to address the things that are broken in our world.
The Bible teaches us that if we “train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it,” and that was, of course, our hope for our boys. Still, Karen and I understood that we had each come to where we were in our faith over the course of decades, so we didn’t feel the need to rush things for the boys. Building any kind of long term personal relationship involves sharing a certain amount of “history” together, so it is understandable that building a meaningful relationship with the Almighty takes some time. It was important to us that our boys have the time to do just that.
In our denomination it is traditional to baptize someone after they have come to a faith in Jesus. For us, baptism is symbolic and performed as a sign of obedience rather than being a requirement for salvation, but it is still a very important step. Sometimes it happens when people are kids, and sometimes it happens when they’re adults. Either way, baptisms are a big deal. We do them in front of the whole church, accompanied by family members taking pictures and applause from the congregation. It’s a church-wide celebration filled with meaning, but when you’re a kid it’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement and miss the point. Especially when your friends are all getting baptized. We didn’t want our boys to feel that kind of pressure, so we made a rule:
You can’t get baptized until you’re 12 years old.
As it turned out, none of the boys actually made it to twelve. That’s because the real purpose of our rule was not to restrict their spiritual journey, but to provide them with some time to grow. It gave them a ready answer when their friends asked why they hadn’t been baptized yet, and it removed the pressure for them to go through the motions when they weren’t really ready.
Each one of the boys eventually came to the point where they knew it was time. We knew it too. One of the privileges of parenting is to be there when your kids put enough of the pieces together that they suddenly realize what the puzzle is going to look like. Most of us spend a good portion of our lives filling in that puzzle, trying to fit different pieces here and there, assembling clusters of similar pieces even before we know where they go exactly, and getting impatient when we can’t find that one key piece. The effort we put into it is sometimes rewarded with soul thrilling moments of clarity, when the pieces suddenly fit and the picture becomes clearer, but there’s still something special about those first moments. Especially the ones we witness with our kids.
When Gerrit was about 6, he and Karen were out driving in the car one day. Gerrit had been unusually quiet for a while, gazing out the window and watching the passing scenery, when suddenly he called out to Karen.
“I did it!”
Karen asked him what he had done, and excitedly Gerrit explained. It turned out that somewhere during our nightly Bible story reading or perhaps in Sunday school he remembered hearing a story about a mustard seed. It was a just a tiny thing but Jesus taught that if you had just a tiny amount of faith like that mustard seed, you could move mountains. As he sat looking out the car window, Gerrit noticed that the things close by were going past quickly, and things that were a little further away moved a little slower. And way off in the distance, there were some mountains that didn’t look like they were moving at all.
Gerrit sat pondering all of this and started putting the pieces together.
And off in the distance, the mountains moved.
originally published 12/15/11| next post The Driving Contract