Can You Keep Your Kids from “Running Away” from God after Graduation?

front steps“Make sure you shut the door!” This phrase is uttered a few dozen times a day in my home. With the warmer Spring weather we have children coming in and out of the house all the time. We also have a dog. She is an extremely curious, 1 year-old Boxer (fawn) named Bristol, who very much enjoys being outside. If the door is left open, or allowed to close slowly, Bristol will seize her opportunity to run out the door and then she’s off. She runs down the alley, through the neighborhood, off to experience the freedom of self-discovery. We have been told by neighbors that she sometimes just joins their family on their walk or goes into their yard to play. She seizes her opportunity.

However, there are times when she doesn’t run. Actually there is only one time. This is when someone with authority is standing in front of the door or close enough to catch her quickly. In this case she just sits there waiting for us to get distracted or leave our post. She is most certainly restrained by the law and not trained by grace.

As a Dad sometimes I feel like my wife and I are standing by the door. I look at my children (ranging from 2-18) and know what I think is best for them. We try to educate, be transparent, humble, gracious, consistent, and loving with them. We want to build a foundation of thinking and understanding of the world, train them in wisdom, and help them gain understanding. However, as a parent you never feel your work is done, there is always more to do and more you could have done better.

How can we know that once our children graduate high school or head off to college that they won’t simply fly out the door and run from everything we have taught them? How do we know that they won’t abandon the God of their youth? How do we know whether or not they are complying because they have chosen the consequences of submission (blessing) over the consequences of rebellion (discipline)?

On the weekend of our oldest son’s graduation from High School here are some thoughts I have about keeping the kids from “running out the door” and away from God and their family.

1) Reverse Engineer the thing.

Who or what are you trying to make? When I look at my kids I want them to be able to do three things (concerning Christianity): 1) Read / Understand the Bible, 2) Pray, 3) Talk to people about the Bible. How do you do this? I think you have to regularly expose them to the Bible, the Sunday gathering, fellowship in the church, and family Bible reading, and discussions of spiritual things.

2) Be who you want them to be.

Many kids get frustrated with their parents because they hold them to a standard that they themselves cannot keep. Paul could tell churches to imitate him as he imitated Christ. There is some power in that statement. It’s pretty tough to tell you kids to be humble, accept correction, and follow Christ when you don’t do it. It let’s the air out of your argument. Instead, model the faithfulness that the Bible calls you to.

3) Elevate the Bible in the home.

I hope my kids will remember everything that we taught them about the Bible, but if I’m honest, I know it’s unlikely. However, I do think they could get the fact that Mom and Dad read the Bible all the time. We take the Bible seriously and believe it is actually God’s Word. This is an extremely impactful lesson for a kid.

4) Be consistent in discipline.

One sure way to exasperate your children is to change the standard of discipline based upon your feelings. Even worse, change them based upon the child. To the best of your ability, be consistent: what is wrong on Saturday is wrong on Wednesday. Kids will appreciate and be trained by this.

5) Confess your sins.

Another way to exasperate children is to never admit that you are wrong. This is also a sure fire way to show that grace is not real in your life. When you mess up–admit it, confess it, ask forgiveness. This is just normal Christianity. It does not undermine your role as a parent, it actually enhances it with and by grace.

6) Let kids grow up.

As a Dad with 3 girls I regularly fight the challenge to keep them all playing with dolls and polly pockets. I hate the thought of guys noticing them or (worse) them noticing guys. However, by God’s grace I need to let them grow up. I need to shepherd them through these next 10 years in a loving, helpful, careful, and thoughtful way. Just as it is irresponsible to let them go do whatever they want it is irresponsible to lock them up in a tower like Rapunzel.

7) Have real conversations and answer the hard questions.

As strange as it sounds talking is often hard. It often gets shelved with our busy work schedules, life events, and the overall busyness of life. But these conversations are so important in the development of the child in the home. They are also important in the establishment of trust and closeness between the parent and the child. There need to be tough conversations about ethical issues, sexuality, politics, parenting, etc. As parents we want our kids to have an opinion on these topics–don’t we want them to be formed and shape what we believe is right and true?

9) Keep your promises.

Years ago my wife noticed that we often told the kids we were going to do something (get pizza, go to the park, etc) and then something came up and we cancelled it. We decided that in order to train them to keep their word that we would not cancel commitments unless it was absolutely necessary. If we promise to do something then we will, as the Lord wills, do whatever we can to make it happen. This breeds consistency and trust.

10) Show affection.

Affection is the physical expression of love and acceptance. When I hug my kids I am reaffirming my love and acceptance of them. I am telling them that at that moment everything is good between us. I am for them. I love them. This is so important for the ongoing restating of love in a home. In our house we hug and kiss a lot. I believe it is actually more than a habit. I have had a child squeeze me tighter than normal and then ask them how things are going only to get into a discussion about something that was bothering them. The opposite is also true. A casual, formal hug is usually a sign that something is wrong. Affection is a blessing within a family to communicate this love and acceptance. Don’t miss this daily opportunity to say it.

11) Pray a lot.

A few years ago I wrote a post entitled, “Pray like you Can’t save your Kids and Parent like You Can.” Be relentless on your knees for your children. Carry them to the throne of grace daily as you petition the sovereign and good God of the gospel for mercy. This is because parenting is so hard and the stakes are so high. We must pray. This is hard work. It is however, the work of faith, the work of dependence and the work of love. It is gospel work. It is Christian parenting. And I guarantee you will not be wasting your time.

Conclusion: Embrace Your Stewardship

A lot of what is written above takes time and effort. These are two things that we often don’t have. As parents we sacrifice these on the altar of personal convenience and comfort. This is reprehensible when we remember that our children are really not our children. They are the Lord’s children; we are stewards. It is our job to be found faithful as stewards. In this light time and effort are not optional–they are mandatory.

At the same time, I know parents who have done everything talked about on this page (and more) only to have their child walk away from God after they graduate. They were faithful parents but their child chose to walk away. Making disciples is not like making a cake: you don’t just add ingredients and time and then voilia! We rely upon the grace of God to be at work in the lives of people.

When we consider our son graduating from High School this weekend I know we have not done things perfectly. I am a sinner who has been selfish and lazy. However, by God’s grace we have a son who can stand at the door, and we can say that we can walk away. We can let him walk out and do his thing, confident that he has been loved and trained by us and God. This brings me great joy as a parent.

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