Friday, April 23, 2010

The sign of success?

On one discussion group I frequent, another home school mom wrote recently that the litmus test of our parenting as Christians would be whether or not our children went to church regularly on their own as adults, and had an outward appearance of caring about the things of God. I humbly disagree, and I do mean humbly.

Such things might be indicative that our adult children have a living faith in the Living God. After all, I John 1:7 states:
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

So certainly if one is honestly walking with God they will "have fellowship" with other disciples also walking with God. I will leave aside for now the question as to whether this verse was talking about church attendance or something much more intimate and personal. It is enough to know that the early church met together regularly for prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. (Acts 1:15, 2:1, 2:42 are only a few references, though there are many more to meeting in homes than in public.) Still, as one of my favorite televangelists says, sitting in a garage doesn't make you a car.

And the next question is then, how do you know if someone is showing an interest in the things of God? Daily Bible reading? I submit that reading alone is not an indication of the Spirit-filled life. Bible memory then? That could just as easily be a work of the flesh as any other accomplishment of man. Volunteer work? Preaching? According to I Corinthians 13, none of this has any profit if it is not done out of love, agape love, the kind of love poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Certainly if it were not possible to do all the things listed in I Corinthians as a work of the flesh rather than as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, then Paul would not have cautioned people about it.

I think regular church attendance can just as easily be an indication of how well you were able to dominate your children's life choices, not how well you raised them to know the Living God. Ditto for volunteer service of all kinds, up to and including martyrdom. According to Paul all that can be accomplished apart from the Holy Spirit and "the love He has shed abroad in our hearts(Romans 5:5)."

By the above standard, my in-laws did a stellar job as parents. All four of their grown children go to church, donate time and money to religious charities, and show an outward appearance of being good Christian people. In my opinion, only the youngest, their only daughter, has grown up to be a (seemingly) healthy and emotionally stable adult. Church attendance and a religious orientation to life did not have to come with such cruelty and emotional damage. But if the goal was mere church attendance and religious orientation, then they get the grand prize. Woot!

On the other hand, the three boys are all messed up inside. The oldest wins the prize for passive-aggressive vengeance in a Christian family, if anyone is giving out prizes. The next in line is patriarch of a family cult. Then there is my man, who is at least coming to terms with reality, though at the high price of admitting the truth about his family of origin-that religion trumped every other consideration, including people's hearts at any and all ages. His personal pain has caused his own family much pain, so the dysfunction is a(n unwanted) gift that keeps on giving.

I do not think that the fact that he grew up knowing that he must always attend church and appear religious means much in the greater context of faith.

The oldest son gave a classic example of underground rage finding a fissure to escape from later in life. His parents should be proud at the subtle and two-faced way their son pulled this off, really. He smiled all the way through, feigning sincerity and honor like the professional actor they raised him to become. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you know. And keep in mind as you read the anecdote below, the oldest son is an AWANA commander (or whatever they call the Big Cheese in AWANA).

My father-in-law went to the fiftieth wedding anniversary of an old college classmate. This man's children had organized the surprise event and it was grand! Invitations went out to all of the couple's acquaintances, from the college days in which they met and to everyone else they had befriended along the way. Olan Mills was there to take professional portraits as gifts to all the attendees. The banquet was held in the grand ballroom of an elegant hotel. It was extravagant.

My father-in-law called his eldest son and told him that he expected similar treatment for his upcoming fiftieth wedding anniversary. He described it all, listing every detail that he so admired from the other family. (I offered to help, but I was told no, the eldest was taking care of it.) So I can only conclude that the eldest agreed to take on this commitment, and knew full well exactly what his father wanted and expected.

I bought expensive clothing for my children in anticipation of the event, as I was expecting something grand. In reality though, the eldest did absolutely nothing to prepare any type of celebration at all. He did not even go so far as to make a reservation for a meeting room at the local steak house. The definition of passive-aggressive behavior: to vindictively punish people by leaving undone what ought to be done, or by delaying it so as to be useless to the recipient, thereby maintaining an appearance of innocence and getting revenge at the same time. Lovely.

When the big weekend came, we wound up at a free campground (and worth every penny!)-old, dirty and infested with biting flies. We had delivery pizza one night and hobo packets around the campfire the next. Come Sunday morning, we all gathered in our finery for a nephew with a nice camera to snap group portraits. My heels sank in the sand, everyone was sweating profusely, and all of our bug bites itched like fire. The pictures reflect that reality.

Don't you think my brother-in-law pulled off the greatest passive-aggressive payback ever? He even sent out an email the next week bragging about how well he believed it all turned out. My father-in-law was MAD. but of course, no one said a word about it that weekend. We all danced around the obvious truth that grandma and grandpa were getting shafted big time. Everyone smiled and made nice small talk. Ah, Christian families! Such sweet times.

Does that sound like the oldest son is okay to you? Is that the outworking of the Holy Spirit in a heart fully alive? I don't think so. I think it is a very human reaction to a controlling, abandoning parent who was untouchable and unaccountable because all his abuse was under the banner of "Serving the Lord".

But my in-laws parenting passes the test laid out by the other home school mom. This son is very active in his church. He volunteers at AWANA. All his children went to Christian school, most of them to Christian college. A job well done.

My other brother-in-law lives out in the mountains, as director of a campground associated with his cult church. His three adult children all work for him. They also all live there. It is unlikely they will ever leave.

It is the best deal his son can get, since after graduating from home school, he was coerced into taking correspondence college courses from a Christian school. After the son was married and wanted to finish his degree, get a job and move away, the poor kid discovered that the credits he had earned were worthless. With his home school diploma, working for Dad, complete with a place to live and access to the cafeteria, was the best deal he could get. Three kids and four years later, he is still there.

His sisters were allowed to go to college: the only college associated with their cult sect of Christianity. They graduated empty-handed. They had Bible degrees but no man. So Daddy swung into action, inviting a young man from college to come out and join him in ministry. With the right persuasion and opportunity, this hand-picked suitor eventually married the oldest girl. They also live and work with Daddy on the compound. And yes, they had their first child within a year of getting married. No need to see a doctor even, as the EMT training the husband had gave him the confidence to deliver the baby himself. Everything they will ever need is right there on Daddy's compound.

The youngest daughter, who does not fit American standards of great beauty, has no beau. She is trying to raise money to go to Iraq as a missionary. With the extreme misogyny practiced by the cult sect of Christianity she ascribes to, she should fit right in. Still they are all very poor, and it costs a boat load of money to go to Iraq. She might very well stay with Daddy the rest of her life.

The way this son grew up to embrace a cult does not fit my definition of successful parenting. Neither he not his family show any of the fruit of the Spirit that I can see. In fact, I get a lot of hatred, condemnation, and shunning from them personally since I do not line up with their cult's definition of what a Christian woman is allowed to be/do. The mom/grandma is so full of anxiety she was unable to leave the house for months (maybe years- nobody tells me much, remember?). Love, joy, peace? I don't see any.

But they all go to church regularly. And they are very religious, as far as things like volunteering with the church and giving. I am guessing they all read their Bibles regularly and pray, though when you do these things without love the apostle Paul said it has no profit.

My husband's parents also believe that the sign of the great job they did as parents was that their adult children all attended church and have an interest in the things of God. In other words, they all live exactly as Mom and Dad demanded they live, and they brought no shame to them by living an immoral lifestyle. Lukewarm, hypocritical, even leading a cult is okay, just don't smoke, drink or chew and don't go with girls who do!

I have a different standard. My standards are for myself, not my adult children. I have endeavored to love them with the same extravagant love that God has for me. I pray that they will never settle for any mere outward displays of religion, but that they will seek God from the heart. I hope that they will learn to live the life of a true disciple, who does nothing for outward show, but gives their alms in secret and prays their prayers in private. I hope that I have shown them enough authenticity in my own faith and life, that they wouldn't want to live any other way. But they do have a choice, a real choice, about how they will live.

And if they "stray", I hope they do it honestly. If they are angry, I hope they express it openly and not deceitfully. And if they fear abandonment when their own children grow up, I hope they will confess the fear and conquer it, not live in its shadow. And most of all, I hope they live their lives fully alive, not weighed down with unresolved pain and anger like their own father was taught to live.

The goal of my home school? As it relates to education, that my children have the skills and confidence to set goals and attain them. As it relates to their hearts, that they know that they are loved just as they are and that life was meant to be lived to the fullest. As it relates to society, that they fulfill the law by doing no purposeful harm to their neighbor.

And finally, as it relates to their Christianity, I met my only goal a long time ago. That goal was to live a transparent Christian life in front of them, to be that "living epistle known and read by all men (2 Corinthians 3:3)." Both of my children do have a relationship with Jesus Christ, sheep to shepherd. The rest is up to them, sheep and Shepherd. The Good Shepherd has never failed me, and I don't expect that it will be any different for my children.

Maybe I'm not a very good Christian mother. That has been suggested before. I am earnestly trying to live a sincere faith, I can attest to that much. I also sincerely want my children to have an authentic faith that they come to on their own, not a mere tradition passed down by we parents with so much gravitas that they instinctively know it is the only way to live if they want our approval. I think they have that now.

Church attendance? Only if it is out of a real desire to get together with other grateful disciples and celebrate Jesus. If it is out of habit, or a desire to make mom and dad proud, then no, I'd rather they not. Ditto for every other outward sign of faith. But Hebrews 10 kind of church attendance? Yeah. That's the stuff. Let it be, Jesus, let it be.

19-25 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


  1. I loved this article! This is a most accurate summation of what I have learned from my experience. All the things you described about those who have an outward appearance of successful parenting into the faith, is spot on.

    My family, however, does not exhibit the 'usual' qualities that distinguish the 'men from the boys', but they are on their way to a much healthier and more honest way.

    The rest is up to God and that is alright with me.

    I think we have a lot in common!

  2. Aw,thanks Cindy!

    Yes, I think it's going to work out pretty well leaving it up to God. :)

    ps I like your blog too.

  3. I think you have the right ideas about passing Christianity onto your kids. My grandmother sometimes exerts pressure on me to do things "right" when I don't feel that certain things have any religious meaning (i.e. I was married by a pastor, in a religious ceremony, on the beach, but she wasn't comfortable with it being outside a church). What I think really matters is the INWARD religious journey, and for some kids that even means walking away from the faith for a season.

  4. Thanks, Guinevere.

    MOST of the isolationist Christian home school parents I know have a testimony of early witness of family, along with a time of testing out what they learned as children which almost always has involved "walking away from the faith for a season"- either actually declaring unbelief or merely trying to live life without daily relying on God, prayer, meditation, reading of Scripture and least of all church attendance.

    Ironically, though they themselves are now fully committed (one hopes) to all the practices that mark a disciple, they seem to think that a time of independently testing and proving what one has been taught of God is NEITHER necessary NOR desirable.

    They teach that one can live a completely devoted Christian life, with never once straying away from Jesus, if only one's parents have sufficiently "trained" their children up to this life of perfection.

    I have heard them. They say that a time of needing to step out on one's own and test out all they have been taught is "worldly wisdom" and that decent Christian young people will NEVER want to do this! They refer to it as "youthful rebellion" instead of healthy adult autonomy.

    Not all Christian youth will turn to immorality or excess, but they all need to be making decisions apart from their parents, to test and to prove all they have been taught. There is no other way their faith can be genuine, otherwise it is built on the sinking sand of man's religion, and not on personal revelation of the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

    As it is recorded that Job said, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you."

    That kind of personal revelation of God is what I believe amounts to salvation, not merely hearing about God your whole life but an actual personal encounter with the reality of Jesus.

    For most people, all I know of anyway, this has come in a time of great spiritual need, a time when like Job reveals in the very next verse, we realize our personal efforts do not come close to matching up with God's goodness.

    A lot of words to say, we don't expect children to learn to stand, walk and run physically without doing so unassisted and without falling frequently at first.

    But the uber-religious fully expect their children to grow up accomplishing a strong spiritual life without once falling and without parents ever letting go. What the ?????

    It just makes no sense at all.

  5. Shadowspring,

    I was reading here over the last few days - followed a link from Hillary's site. I was wanting to recommend a post of yours to a friend - but I am thinking that perhaps you pulled it down? It was regarding your marriage - and how confrontations normally went...

    I was wanting my friend to read it because it sounded an awful lot like her husband...

    If you can, if it would not be too much trouble - and if indeed you took down a post over the last few days regarding these things - could you drop me a line @ I'd appreciate it so much...

    And, if this is not where I read said post, please forgive! :)

    God be with you -

  6. It's probably here. I posted recently that all the highly personal marriage posts would come down after a few days, but that when all the dust is settled over here I plan to re-release them in the order they were originally posted.

    I want to be as transparent and honest as possible, but without hurting any of my family in the process. So while I am comfortable putting out the good, the bad and the ugly :)
    it's tricky because it's not only about me, kwim?

    I'll send you the post via email if you can give me a better idea of which one it was. And anyone can reach me at:

    Anyway, things are looking better and I intend to post about our marriage again soon. Just really busy today.