Going the Distance with Your Kids, God's Way
Parenting is possibly the hardest thing an adult will ever do. From shuttling your kids from school to soccer practice to a piano recital, the demands of being a parent seem almost endless.
Perhaps the most important demand that often gets lost in the shuffle is the spiritual nurturing of our children. We are well intentioned but often fall well short of providing what they so desperately need.
In her latest book, Total Family Makeover, author Melissa Spoelstra identifies eight key habits of personal spiritual growth that is critically essential in giving your family the proper balance it needs.
I recently sat down with Melissa to discuss her concept of providing kids with a “spiritual track to run on”, why it’s important for a parent to put themselves first, and some important tips for reaching a child who is resistant to God.
You have primarily been writing Bible study material for publication, and now you have a family book coming out. Why the decision to make kind of a right turn into this subject area?
There’s a lot of family material in the Bible studies for sure, but where this particularly came from is when I was with my husband at a conference in Florida, and the whole theme of the event was “rethink.” Rethink discipleship, rethink evangelism. I skipped the last day of the conference and hung out in my hotel room and asked the Lord, what are you calling me to rethink? What are you saying to me? And my son was two years from graduation at the time. I asked myself, have we taught him everything he needs to know about following Jesus? I just got a piece of paper and I started writing things down that we have taught him. I remembered some of those fond memories of him as a boy. I came up with eight different things that I wanted to make sure we revisited with him before he left home.
For example, are we still pursuing intentionally helping our kids be disciples, to know what it means to follow Jesus? Two days later I was getting ready to leave for Africa to go speak at a women’s conference, and I get this phone call from a publishing house. They asked, “Is there any chance you would want to write a study or a book on teaching your kids to follow Jesus?” It really felt like it was just God’s timing.
You write about giving parents a track to run on. Can you explain this concept and what you mean by that?
I thought about some of the books that have helped me in the past when it came to my marriage. It’s just starting with having a little bit each day to work through and then to implement, and then to move on to the next step. As I think about parenting, I want my kids to know how to pray, and once I’ve taught them to pray, then as we move on to studying God’s Word, they can now pray that the Holy Spirit would help them understand it. Once you’ve established a habit of prayer and once you’ve got some regular time in God’s Word, not perfectly, not every single day, but what I like to call building a spiritual rhythm, in your own life and with your kids, then find a mentor, someone who can help you process God’s Word and continue to help you know how to pray. All of my kids have mentors apart from my husband and I. It’s so that they can have another place to go to talk about spiritual things when issues come up in their life. When you have that building block of a mentor, then you need to find community. That’s part of God’s heart for the Church.
We have all been on airplanes and thought, 'I hope I never have to put on that oxygen mask.' Yet in your book, you discuss the analogy of putting one on. Why do you think parents need to put on their own oxygen masks first before their children?
Parenting is so hard. It is not for the faint of heart. Without us praying, reading our Bible, resting, serving, having spiritual rhythms in our own life, we have no overflow of our life to give to our kids. Also, I think kids are smart. They know when you’re saying no chocolate for them and then they see you popping M&Ms in your mouth. They know what we’re doing. We’re hiding in the bathroom popping the chocolate in our mouth. They know; they’re not dumb. And this whole do as I say, not as I do, just doesn’t fly with them. This is a culture of authenticity, be real. Let’s not put on different faces and wear masks, let’s be real. And so modeling is in every chapter of my book. That’s the first part. How did Jesus model it? How do we need to live it out, not perfectly, we’re never going to do it perfectly. But dot it in a way that our kids look back and say, “I remember being a little kid and finding you praying in the room on your knees.” And I think, that happened maybe once, maybe twice that they found me, but that’s such a marked moment that it stuck with them.
When it comes to prayer, when it comes to serving other people, we need to actually sit down just like Jesus did with His disciples and say, “This is how you pray. This is how you serve.” And then let them go out and make some mistakes, just like Jesus did with His disciples.
A lot of people who read these types of books are looking for immediate answers that will quickly solve their problems. What are some practical steps you write about that can help parents to make a positive difference in their families?
That’s why we call it the Total Family Makeover. It’s not about this parenting report card, it’s not about behavior modification. There’s a thing you can do that will quickly modify kids’ behavior but doesn’t change their heart in the long run. I think we spend so much mental energy beating ourselves up about every bad decision our kids make. In the book, I’m encouraging you to say, take that mental energy that you’re grading yourself and beating yourself up with, and only use behavior modification to grade yourself as a parent. Take that energy and put it into being intentional about modeling and training, and leave the results up to God. He will make over your kids. He’s the only one who can makeover your family. You can’t legislate or manage it. You just have to be faithful to what He’s called you to do. It’s these simple things. I think of the Scripture verse where it says, “Is the message way over the mountain, or over the sea, or up in the Heavens?” No, it’s close in our hearts. We know what we need to do; we just struggle to do it. We struggle to pray. We struggle to read our own Bibles. We struggle to rest. And so let’s put all of our intentionality into pursuing Jesus in our own spiritual rhythms, and then training our kids in them, and then leave the report card to Him.
Based on our conversation, the assumption has been that our children have some modicum of faith in their lives. What tips can you offer parents whose children are resistant to God?
Persevere. This is not about their behavior. Be strong. I think we’ve lost our spine a little bit as parents. We’re not their friends, we’re their parents. I tell my kids all the time when they push back. One time my kids at the lunch table in middle school were like, you won’t let us watch this one particular show, and that’s all anybody ever talks about, so now I’m an outcast and you’ve ruined my life. I thought, “I can accept that, because I have to stand before Jesus for what I’ve allowed into your soul and your spirit, and I’m not comfortable with that, and so I’m okay with you thinking I’ve ruined your life right now.” Be the parent. Yes, we’re their friends, and yes we’re crazy about them, but Jesus loved us enough to give us what we need more than what we want, and as a parent, the same rules apply. Look at the fruit of that over the long haul, of just avoiding conflict and appeasing. We’re like Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka, running around, whose daddy gave her everything, and that’s not what we want in our kids.
This is the first time I’ve ever done an interview with a Willy Wonka reference. That’s great. As an author, after people read the Total Family Makeover, what’s the big takeaway?
Spiritual rhythms. You know, there’s an acronym in the book, “For Monday we pray for missionaries, Tuesday we pray for teachers, Wednesday widows and orphans, Thursday those who don’t know Jesus, Friday friends and family.” And now our kids even know it, and to see the small little changes, that’s what leads to a makeover. It’s these just little spiritual rhythms that change. And sometimes we start something and we may not finish it, and we’re so scared that I don’t want to start anything because I may not finish it, but if we aim for nothing we hit it every time. So I’d rather see your family set a goal for every night, and pray three nights a week with your kids. That’s three more times than you were before. So the long-term results are just applying a few little new spiritual rhythms in your family.
To Purchase Total Family Makeover.