Equally common knowledge: Try teaching those 5 different kids in one, single way and fail. Nothing seems to work. Nothing seems to hold everyone’s attention.
Question: Why, then, do I try to disciple my children with a single formula or curriculum? One dinner table, five kids, a home-cooked meal, a bible, and circular reading of scripture followed by questions that are supposed to appeal to all ages.
The only picture of God they are getting from me is a frazzled woman serving up mac and cheese at the dinner table while yelling about how everyone needs to listen when I talk about JESUS!
It’s not that effective.
And so I gave up discipling my kids like this a couple years ago. Which was also about the time my youngest was born, but for the sake of this article, let’s pretend I had an epiphany and not a baby.
A year ago I was talking to my friend about my frustrations with one of my sons. He was always tattling. Always trying to convince people to play by the rules. Always being disappointed that no one listened to him. Every morning, noon, and evening I heard myself saying, “Dude, stop tattling. Start playing. And just love the journey.”
As I complained to my friend, she said to me, “Marian, maybe he’s just justice oriented.”
This one phrase changed the entire way I saw my kids.
Each different personality is partial to certain attribute(s) of God. He wired us to understand Him uniquely. He’s the same God, but we are drawn to certain parts of His divinity. This unique wiring is what brings intimacy to our personal knowing of God and diversity to the Body of Christ.
As I realized the image of God was a large fingerprint upon the Body, and that each of us carried different curves and grooves of that image, I realized that no sane person would talk only one way about God and expect everyone to have the same revelation about His magnificence. I needed to disciple them uniquely.
And when I say discipling, rather than think of step-by-step training and memorization, I want you to think of a blank canvas. This canvas represents my child’s mind. My job as a parent is to paint a beautiful portrait of God upon this canvas.
And so I started talking to my tattle-tale son about justice. And about how justice is less about keeping rules and more about rescue rooted in love. I talk about God’s fairness and the invitation we have to live a life of justice. It has inspired me to learn more about this myself, as I was sort of clueless until I realized this child of mine was wired to understand this attribute of God’s character.
With that epiphany, I examined my other kids. One child has immeasurable understanding of God’s compassion. He is emotional and intuitive and sometimes a little unstable. I don’t know where he gets that—I swear. So I expose him to opportunities to express compassion and generosity. I talk to him about the purpose of strong emotions and how they can be motivators in our lives—moving us to action. We talk about God’s grace and mercy and how each is rooted in an unlimited well of He Who is Loving-kindness.
Another child needs adventure and people. God can be boring and bland to him. And so my husband and I actively sought out an adventure for him this summer, exposing him to a God who not only loves his ability to connect with anyone, but believes he is strong enough to handle that independence he so fiercely fights. My son’s portrait of God was given texture and dimension this summer, which is wonderful because we only have a few years of parental-painting left.
And then there’s one of my daughters who needs to see God as home. A place of belonging. She needs to know He speaks and that when He speaks to her, He speaks words of endearment. Her portrait of God must be eternal—there for her from since her beginning. He must be able to make something beautiful from her hurts. He must be trustworthy.
And so this is the way we’ve been discipling our kids. It’s less about curriculum and more about prayerfully considering how God has wired these guys and gals. As we discover who they are, it becomes easier to see which attributes of God will draw them near to Him. The journey of helping them fall in love with Him becomes smoother. I can see where we need to lead them as we raise them.
I share this as an encouragement, for we are a society that loves curriculum and measurable milestones. But God? He delights in revealing Himself to each of us in a way we most understand. And understanding Him and who we are in Him is a worthy goal of discipleship.
So it might look a little upside down. Your methodology might feel unfamiliar or unconventional. But these upside down, unconventional ways of knowing Jesus are the ones that often undo us.
May we paint Jesus on the blank canvas of our kiddos with the same passion and zeal as David Garibaldi.