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’ recent accomplishments. Noah, my oldest son, scored five goals in his first soccer game. Micah, my youngest son, scored two. My two-year-old daughter, Jannie Rose, has transitioned better than most adopted kids.
I like you to know these things. My kids are making stuff happen. But, more than that, I want you to think I’m making stuff happen, that I’m smoking this parenting thing.
But, when I’m alone with God, a different desire surfaces: the desire for my kids’ faith to grow and mature and out last time.
This desire arises only when I’m still. Stillness is the only way we see things clearly. Only then do I see a vision for my kids larger than the latest accomplishment.
The inevitable winds of suffering will huff and puff and threaten my kids’ emotional and (possibly) physical foundations. I dread the thought of it, suffering’s inevitable intersection in their lives. I think about the weight of comparison, rejection and loss that will eventually press hard on their identity. I think about the relationships they will form, how those voices will pave their future’s path.
What will sustain their faithfulness? What will carry them across life’s difficulties and inconsistencies? Not the brag-worthy traits. 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 have not perfect solutions. But, in looking through Scripture, one discipline is wildly underestimated: stick-to-itiveness. Or resilience. Or perseverance. Or grit.
Perseverance isn’t much valued in our speed-hungry culture. Perseverance takes time, we’re a sprinting people. To that, some reading this might say, “Yeah, we are. And…?”
And …life is a marathon.
I’ve run a couple marathons, like real ones. Much like life, they’re not conducive to sprinting. We’re trying to sprint a marathon. No wonder we’re burnt out. No wonder few finish the race well. No wonder we struggle with commitment and 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 them to a university there.
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 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 grow from it?
Will they, in other words, practice resilience? Here are five factors that promote spiritual grit.
1. 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. Or, God forbid, at all.
This is called a fixed mindset. This perspective sees the world as, well, fixed. People don’t change. You got to dance with the girl you brought as the saying goes.
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.
People who refuse to change end up serving a small God, confined to their biases, race, demographic, country.
Start early, encouraging your kids to grow, to learn, to see failure as opportunity.
Passion wears a scarlet letter today. We’re wary of having a lot of it or following anyone with too much of it. While I understand the sentiment.
But 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 pre-cursor to passion. Give them space to get in touch with their imagination. Don’t come to the aid of their boredom too quickly.
Your kids need time alone with their thoughts and their God. Resist, at all costs, their desire to waste their days in front of an electronic box.
How can anyone persevere without hope? They can’t. Hope, by the way, is an oft misunderstood word in Christian circles, birthed more from the American Dream than the narrative of Scripture.
The Christian idea of hope has little to do with some idealized tomorrow, where life is better and the storm subsides. Christian hope is the realization that God is with us in the chaos of life, which is all of life, by the way.
Hope feeds resilience. How? Hope sees the divine in the darkness. Hope refuses to say all is lost, that God is inactive or that humanity is too lost in evil to find redemption. And hope can say this because of the cross. Because all, in fact, appeared lost at Calvary as Jesus breathed his last. But you can’t speak of the cross without the resurrection. God is making all things new.
Parents, we must be intentional about feeding our kids a different narrative than the one they see on TV or social media. We must point to God’s presence in the midst of suffering. We must be that example. We must take advantage of every opportunity to show our kids the light, especially when things look dark.
These seeds of hope will take root and grow strong, helping our kids endure the suffering winds of life.
4. Encouraging Mentors and friends.
Your kids need multiple positive, Christ-honoring influences in their life. That’s all.
5. 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, I believe. We’re terrified to accept it, but we know it’s true.
Rules might keep your kids in line. 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 into 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 do we as parents help our kids develop spiritual grit? Leave a comment below.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.