Committing to love our children (but not too much)

On Sunday at The Renew Community we participated in child dedications. On a personal level, it was extra-special for Megan and I because we had our boys Carter and Bennett dedicated as well. Though I led the dedication, I found myself saying “we” and “us” not “you” throughout, making my teaching personal – something I found quite refreshing. Child dedications at most churches I’ve been to have the families parade up front, their names are announced (and maybe a picture displayed up on the screen) and a quick prayer is prayed (hopefully) before the children get too squirmy, start picking their noses or start screaming.

But rather than being afraid of squirmy, crying babies, we decided to slow down and not rush the time on Sunday. We’re convinced that child dedications are one of the best ways to remind parents to remain on mission with God so building in time that’s longer than an announcement slot is important.  Sure, the kids were whining, tired and unruly (our little man Carter took the cake on this one on Sunday, by the way) but it’s important to see this as a formative time and space.

It was also a great way for our church to be involved in each other’s lives. It was good to be reminded that whether we have children or not, we all have a role to play in the growth, development and maturity of the children within our faith community.

The most prominent metaphor in the New Testament is family. In a sense, a nuclear family is a little church inside of a bigger church. For Israel in the Old Testament, the family was the school where a person learned who he or she was and what God expected them to do. The family is a pillar in the foundation of Church. Even the word children is used over 400 times in Scripture.  Jesus values children and openly chastises those who don’t. And we as the Church are called the children of God – wit God as our father. Needless to say, children are a big deal in the kingdom of God.

For us, child dedications do not mean that the child is now a believer. In fact, the term child dedication is actually a misnomer – its actually a parent dedication. As parents we are dedicating – committing – ourselves to God’s work in our families. Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus at the Temple in a Jewish context, but they were making a commitment themselves to raise this child in the best way possible that he might love God. As Christian parents, we’re placing our children in the arms of Jesus and dedicating ourselves to be missionaries in the role of mommy and daddy. We commit to parenting in such a way that when our children grow up to be able to make their own decision that they would choose to walk in the way of truth and commit to a life in Christ.

The first child dedication in Scripture is 1 Samuel 1-2 when Hannah made a vow with the miraculous birth of Samuel: to give him to the Lord all the days of his life. On Sunday, a handful of families vowed to give their children to the Lord all the days of their lives. We acknowledged together that we’ve been given gifts called children that don’t actually belong to us. Our children actually belong to the Lord – they are on loan. And God, in his grace, has entrusted us parents with the gift of these little lives and asks us to steward these little lives well and wisely – that through our prayers and hopes and words and actions and sacrifices they would grow up to make a decision to follow Jesus. This is a monumental task that cannot be done alone.

I had a charge for the families participating in the dedication. It was two-fold and extremely basic and straightforward.

  1. Love your children. Make it your priority to love God, your spouse and your children so much that their thoughts of God are good and beneficial. To love our children well will mean that we will need to sacrifice – and we’ve already sacrificed a lot – sleep, time, money, schedules, our own sanity! But it will require we continue to learn to die to ourselves, to our own interests and preferences in order to serve these high maintenance little people entrusted to us.
  2. Love your children, but love God more: We are called to love our children deeply and well – but not too much. Our children are great and precious gifts, but unfortunately, our human hearts can sometimes grow to love things and people – even good and noble things and people – too much that we find our identity in them and we believe it gives us our worthy and value more than God Himself gives us. And when this happens we have to call a spade a spade: it’s called idolatry. Yes, good things – even our children – loved too much become idols in our lives.

My charge to the families Sunday was to make a whole-hearted commitment to unapologetically love God more than your children.

The Church hasn’t always addressed this idea of children directly: parents are the greatest tool for spiritual formation the lives of our kids. Not the church, not Sunday school, not Veggie Tales, not VBS. But us – the parents. The Church’s primary job is not to teach children about Jesus (though that certainly is an important part of it). The Church’s primary job is to disciple and equip and train parents to be the primary teachers of God in the lives of their children. Parents who are followers of Jesus are called to be pastors to their own families – and if we don’t see ourselves as pastors in our homes we’ve missed God’s desire for our roles as mothers and fathers.

But the charge on Sunday wasn’t just for the moms and dads. Since we are a community of faith it means that we all have a role to play in this. You’ve heard the adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.” A healthy, biblical understanding of church assumes all of us – singles and other young families, grandparents and divorced middle-aged men, newly marrieds and even other children – have a role in helping to raise a child to see a full picture of God’s goodness in this world. It takes a church to raise a child.

But the element I loved the most about our time was that we asked the parents ahead of time to write out a one to two page explanation of their desires through this child dedication. We asked them to include these elements:

  1. why you want your child to be dedicated
  2. what you desire to model as parents to your children
  3. what desires and dreams you have for your children
  4. what you need from Renew – practically and specifically – to help to raise their children to be lovers of God and followers of Jesus
  5. how The Renew Community can pray for you as parents very specifically and practically, today and in the future.

What each parent read was beautiful. One was funny, but meaningful. One was tearful. One family wrote a letter directly to their infant son telling him the commitment they were making to God. They were practical and specific. I loved hearing parents say “Here’s how you – my church – can help us and support us in raising our children.” That’s powerful stuff.

Here’s what Megan read to the community regarding our desire to love our sons Carter and Bennett in a godly way:

This morning we want our children to be dedicated because it helps us remember as parents that our children don’t belong to us. It also releases our kids emotionally back to the Lord. And this time provides accountability to us to pastor our family first before we pastor our church.

We hope to model love, grace and generosity. We desire to model the importance of being a part of a faith community. We hope to instill wisdom in our sons. We hope our home will always be a safe place for them. And we hope that they know that we love to have fun together as a family!

Each night when J.R. prays with Carter at bedtime, he prays the same prayer: that Carter would grow up to have a passionate relationship with Christ, he would be wise and that he would be a leader among men. (Carter knows this prayer well enough now that he prays it for himself from time to time).  Currently we are in the process of deciding upon what our life prayer will be for Bennett. And I (Megan) desire that our boys would be able to be honest about their doubts as they work through their own personal relationship with God.

As a pastor’s family, we know pastors’ kids can feel the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) pressure from others in their churches to “behave well.” And while we want our children to behave well we also want them to have a safe place where they can authentically be themselves as they wrestle with faith and grace and how it fits into their lives.

As we all say here in Renew that no perfect people are allowed, what we need from our church community is that you believe that – and allow our two boys to believe that about their lives as well. Extend grace to us as a family, remembering that we are also work-in-progress human beings and are far from perfect. Our family needs you to remember that we need the gospel as much as you do.

Being very practical, with us being one of the few families in Renew who do not have any extended family in the area, this can be exhausting at times. Finding a babysitter can be difficult. The way you can support and help us in raising Carter and Bennett is to give us opportunities to go on dates so we can cultivate a healthy marriage in our family. You can support and help us by babysitting for us from time to time.

And because our family was created through the unique journey of adoption, this poses some unique challenges for them as they grow older. Would you pray for us that both of our boys would know deep within themselves that they are loved by God, by us and many other people?

As Megan was reading I realized that we’ve shared significant moments with all the other parents and families up front – we’ve laughed and cried at some point with each of them – either in their living rooms or in ours. It was beautiful to commit to this together with them as well.

I’m so grateful to be a part of a small, imperfect, messy yet purposeful community where life is lived together – and where commitments are made together as well.