I used to think I wanted successful kids. Part of me still does. When I gather with family or friends, I like to brag about my kids’ most recent accomplishments.
Noah, my oldest son, scored five goals in his first soccer game. Micah, my youngest son, scored two. My 2-year-old daughter, Jannie Rose, has transitioned better than most adopted kids.
I like you to know these things. I want you to know my kids are making stuff happen. But more than that, I want you to think I’m killing this parenting thing.
But, when I’m alone with God, a different desire surfaces, one the Spirit has for my kids. That desire is that they remain faithful. Faithful to God, yes. But also faithful to their neighbor, their friends, their spouse, their calling. What I want for my kids is for them to remain faithful to God’s plan for their life.
This desire arises only when I’m still. Stillness is the only way we see things clearly. Only then do I see a reality larger than the latest accomplishment.
I see the inevitable winds of suffering that will huff and puff and threaten my kids’ emotional and (possibly) physical foundations. I think about the weight of comparison, rejection and loss that will eventually press down hard on their identity. I think about the relationships they will form. I think about the state of our world as their conscience becomes aware of spiritual things.
What will sustain their faithfulness? What will carry them across life’s difficulties and inconsistencies? Let’s not pretend the brag-worthy traits will do this. Athletic prowess won’t do it. Intellect won’t, either. Neither will artistic giftedness. Not even good theology will do the job. It’s not that these pursuits are bad; they are just futile without a deeper foundation.
The stuff that makes us successful doesn’t make us faithful.
I’m not here to offer up perfect solutions. But in looking through Scripture, one discipline is wildly underestimated in the church and our culture: “stick-to-itiveness.” Or resilience. Or perseverance. Or grit.
Jesus endured unthinkable rejection and suffering and shouldered the weight of the world. Paul was beaten by whips five times, shipwrecked and faced with exhaustion, hunger and the burden of caring for multiple churches.
Meanwhile, my culturally conditioned mind says, “Why? Why bother with all the suffering and struggles and letdowns? Why not live a good life, talk about God when it’s convenient and earn a living?”
Perseverance isn’t much valued in our speed-hungry culture. Perseverance takes time. It’s singular-focused, void of spotlights. Yeah, we’re a sprinting people. Some might say, “Yeah, we are. And …?”
And … life is a marathon. I’ve run a couple. They’re not conducive to sprinting. That’s why we’re often burnt-out, why we struggle with commitment and why we’re prone to superficiality. We’ve no time for setbacks, no patience for mystery.
GPAs aren’t bad. Neither are scholarships. Lord knows, by the time my kids go to college, it will be cheaper to buy California than send your kids to a university there. Yeah, I pray for scholarships over my kids every night.
But eventually, everyone faces a severe storm. When the bottom falls out on my kids, their accomplishments won’t do much for them. When life gets tough, will they have enough grit to persevere? Will they stand firm in their faith, trusting in their Rock, or will they seek an easy out? When life takes them to the end of the rope, will they let go or—as someone once said—“tie a knot and hold on”? When their marriage struggles, will they give up on it or fight for it? When failure threatens their calling, will they abandon it or allow disappointment to fuel growth, wholeness and deeper passion?
How my kids answer these questions starts with my wife and me. As parents, we can help our kids lay a foundation built on solid ground, rooted and built up in Christ. Here are five factors that promote spiritual grit.
1. Instill a growth mindset.
Not “growth” as in inches on a scale. Growth as in perspective on the world. Your kids will fail. Their perspective on falling determines how they get up. If your kids see any particular failure as the result of something lacking in them (a bad grade on a test is a lack of intelligence, or being cut from a sports team is a sign they’re not athletic), they won’t rise up as quickly. This is called a fixed mindset. This perspective sees the world as, well, fixed. People don’t change.
The opposite of this is the growth mindset. It says we’re always growing and changing. Failure, through this lens, isn’t a stamp of inadequacy. It’s an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow. This perspective is, by the way, the only one that leads to spiritual growth. Unless you see yourself as ever-changing, you won’t grow. Your God will always be small, confined to your biases, race, demographic, country. Start early, encouraging your kids to grow, to learn, to see failure as an opportunity.
2. Promote passion.
Passion wears a scarlet letter today. We’re weary of having a lot of it or following anyone with too much of it. While I understand the sentiment. I’ll tell you what worries me: Apathy. Indifference. “Meh.”
In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson says, “It is apathetic, sluggish neutrality that is death to perseverance, acts like a virus in the bloodstream and enervates the muscles of discipleship.”
Parents, pay attention to our kids. Watch for those things that awaken something in them. Give them space to express anger. It’s a sign of passion. Give them space to get in touch with their imagination. Don’t quickly come to the aid of their boredom. Your kids need time alone with their thoughts and with their God. Resist, at all costs, their desire to waste their days in front of an electronic box.
3. Focus on hope.
Hope in what? In God—that all the trials and suffering, as well as all the seasons of celebration—have a divine purpose. Never miss an opportunity to show them God’s movement in their world. Hope anchors our existence to the eternal. When life becomes hopeless, we’re susceptible all levels of evil.
Hope also in humanity, that despite the pervasive evil in our society, the general direction is a forward one. It’s so vital to see the good in people, even if every piece of evidence suggests the opposite. Otherwise, you’re resigned to cynicism. “What’s the use?” will become your life’s mantra. I won’t help my neighbor, because what’s the use? I won’t fight for justice because, what’s the use? I’ll watch Netflix instead.
Every human ever was created in God’s image. Yes, people do heinous things to one another. But no one is beyond redemption. No one. Your kids need to know this.
4. Surround them with encouraging mentors and friends.
It is essential that your kids have multiple positive, Christ-honoring influences in their lives. They need people who will encourage them, support them and be there for them.
I can’t tell you how important this was for me. Along the way, I can think of multiple people, men and women of faith, who encouraged me. They showed me how to live like Jesus, how to follow him with passion and live with character, and how to endure hard times.
5. Become resilient parents.
I heard someone say recently, “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them.” I want my kids to follow Jesus as long as they have breath in their lungs. I want them to be faithful spouses and parents. I want them to love their neighbor as they love themselves.
If I’m not modeling these ideals, however, I shouldn’t expect my kids to adopt them. Every parent knows this. We’re terrified to accept it, but we know it’s true.
Rules might keep your kids in line. The standard operating procedures in your home might breed compliance. But your actions shape who your kids become.
Is your life worthy of imitation? Can you say, with confidence, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ”? Are you living with passion? When stuff hits the fan, do you press in to your community and your Creator?
Call it grit. Call it resilience or perseverance. Regardless, our kids need it. And as parents, we play a big role in making sure they get it.
I would love to hear from you. What does it take to foster spiritual grit in your children? Leave a comment below.
Frank Powell is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California. He is also a husband, father and Jesus follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee. You can find more of his content at Blog.BaysideOnline.