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May 31 2013

holding hands

Today, A Deeper Family is pleased to welcome a guest post from Kelly of Love Well:

“Is this another Jesus song?”

Teyla scowls at me from the back seat, obvious annoyance in her voice, her eyes one roll away from Big Trouble.

“I don’t like Jesus songs, Mommy!”

I’m exasperated. But not surprised.


My Facebook feed is peppered with children who presumably love Jesus songs, kids who soak up God like natural sponges.

“Three-year-old Jon asked to pray for me tonight at dinner! So cute!”

“Alyssa woke up early this morning to read her Bible. I’m so proud of that girl.”

“My six-year-old asked Jesus into her heart last night. And then led the cat in a salvation prayer this morning. LOL!”

That is not my story.

My four children – well, the three old enough to not suck their finger – each have a unique approach to God. The oldest, being responsible and eager-to-please, has always been the most receptive to spiritual things. Even as a preschooler, she enjoyed going to Sunday school, dutifully made the crafts each week, memorized the Bible verses, put stickers on her charts for solid attendance. Today, she has a budding relationship with Jesus, a young sprout just unfurling from the surface of her heart. The seeds germinating were placed there by us, but she is open to faith.

My middle two are less open, bordering on downright hostile. My son is bored by all things church, doesn’t want to acknowledge his brokenness, does the bare minimum to get through any discussion about spiritual things. Recently, I found out he’d been going to our church’s quiet room with the kids who have sensory disorders rather than stay with his friends in the Big God teaching session. “They have Legos in that room, and they don’t tell me what to do,” he said, sheepishly with a hint of defiance.

My younger daughter, at five, is schizophrenic about faith. At times, she is the most inquisitive, the most honest. She asks questions her older siblings never verbalized. “How can Jesus be living if he died?” “How can God be bigger than the sky?” She’s also the most frank. “Heaven sounds boring.” “I don’t love God. I’ve never even seen Him.” Some days, she leaves Sunday school or her Christian preschool bubbling with stories. “And then, Moses, this baby, he lived in a boat! And a PRINCESS found him! And then there were frogs.” Other days, she bristles at even the smallest mention of faith. “I don’t want to hear about Jesus, Mom!” she says, as if I’ve been lecturing her for hours on Christeology instead of singing along to tobyMac.

I’ll admit: At times, it gives me the willies. I grew up on a steady diet of predestination. When yet another friend says their four-year-old professed undying love for Jesus last night before bed, I get a pit in my stomach. Are my children resistant to God because they aren’t really His?

It’s enough to make me want to institute nightly family devotions and a call to prayer every morning at 6:30, complete with quiet time worksheets and Bible memorization.

Two beliefs steady me against full-blown neurosis.

First: Busy work for Jesus doesn’t make disciples. I have nothing against family devotions or strongly-encouraged quiet times, if that’s your thing. But our kids are already neck-deep in Christianity. Their father works for a Christian nonprofit, their mother has a Bible degree. They are at church at least once a week and, maybe most damning, they attend a Christian school. They are graded on Bible memorization and the history of Israel. Friday mornings, they attend a school-wide chapel, and they learn hymns in music class.

They know the Bible. They’ve heard the stories. They know what’s right and wrong. But knowing about God is not knowing God. Night and day difference, actually. More than anything, I want my children to taste and see for themselves that the Lord, He is good. And I know from personal experience, the more we force Jesus on anyone, the more they are inoculated against Him.

I heard Beth Moore once gently warn parents about the unexpected danger of Christian school. “You might think you want your children to learn a little something about God,” she said. “Instead, they might learn that God is just a little something.”

Something else to study, something else to learn, something else to get right so they can move on to the good stuff.


God is the good stuff, dear things. I will not force-feed Him to you to the degree that you no longer taste His sweetness.

Second: Not all early decisions for Jesus last. I say this with a good deal of grace, because I’m not trying to spook anybody. But my life is littered with the remains of “good Christian kids” who looked like they were doing everything right on the outside, but on the inside, their hearts were far from God. They did not know Him; they just knew about Him. And when given the chance, they either bolted for freedom and shrugged off their faith like a suffocating mask. Or, maybe worse, they became modern-day Pharisees, filled with self-righteousness instead of grace.

This is where it gets tricky. I wouldn’t discourage my children from claiming Jesus when they are young. There is a purity of heart there and a sincerity that few adults can grasp. But I would keep on them like ugly on an ape as they get older. I would watch for fruit that God is active in their lives. I would press them to search their hearts for evidence that it is being renewed. I would want to see that early decision grow in grace and maturity.

And if they don’t make a decision at an early age, like my middle two? I will not despair. Some of my favorite believers are those who came to know Jesus in high school and beyond. It could be that the same independence and forthrightness that hold God at arm’s length now will be flipped one day into a fierce devotion. Who better than the strong to lead a revolution?


These days, I respond with a smile when Teyla huffs at my music selection.

“It is Jesus music,” I say. “I listen to it because it reminds me what’s important in life, which is God and how He loves us.”

And that’s the crux of it: He loves us. His love is endless and restless and wooing. I trust Him with my children.

Kelly is a blogger, wife and mother to four, a former journalist who didn’t stop telling stories when she stopped getting a paycheck. She is a lover of color, seasons, food, the outdoors and laughter. Especially laughter. Her goal is to climb into bed each night knowing, if she accomplished nothing else today, she at least loved well.

image by stephanski



  1. You are wise beyond your years, Kelly. As someone who grew up in the church eager to please and walked the aisle at an early age, I will say it caused me much difficulty later in life. Don’t fret over your children. I know you are using teachable moments to show them God in their lives.

    I think there is a reason we don’t see anything of Jesus after His birth until He is in the temple at age 12. I think we need to cut our young kids some slack spiritually. I cringe at some of the VBS altar calls I’ve seen and think they are nothing but emotional manipulation. Anything that a child does should be at the initiative of the child, not because an adult urges it.

  2. Ellen

    Thank you for your wise words of encouragement. Of my five children, only the first two are living their lives for the Lord. It grieves my heart that the other three really don’t want anything to do with God or Jesus. All I can do is pray for them, try to show them the unending love of Jesus, and trust that He has them in His hands.

  3. This does hit home with me. I have a 12 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. I’m sure there are pros and cons to Christian schools, public schools and even homeschooling. My kids have always been in the public school system. Now that they are older, they want to listen and watch things I will not allow them to, but their friends get to. I can tell my son is someone who just wants to do what everyone else does and I am dealing with that. Now that he is going in to 7th grade and he has girls pursuing him, I’m more inclined to homeschool him. I don’t know if I will go that route quite yet, but it is something I think about. I think, in the end, it is just another thing we have to learn to give to God and trust His ways. As our kids get older, it becomes harder and harder because we have to let go and let them grow up and be who they choose to be. All the while hoping and praying that they will choose to follow Jesus.

  4. Thank you so much for addressing this issue in this space! You are right on target – each kid is different and not everyone is going to have a tweet-worthy story about early childhood faith. Beth Moore is onto something about Christian schools, too. Don’t get me wrong – some of them are terrific. But even the best ones can sometimes overload kids with christianese and unrealistic expectations about what faith looks like. There needs to be lots of space given for questions, doubts, struggles, wrestling. Scripture is laced with just those kinds of things – why should be be any different? Lovely work here. Thank you.

  5. So true. I was saved at an early age. Through a church bible quizzing program, I won a trophy for placing in a competition, and brought it to show my teacher. Shortly afterward I got in trouble for something, and tried to lie my way out of it. I will never forget the shame I felt when my beloved teacher sat me down and said “I thought you memorized the bible and I thought you were a Christian, but Christians don’t lie.” Well. Yes they do. They lie all the time, just like anyone else! Difference is they have a place of relationship to run in repentance and be forgiven. It took me years to overcome that moment, and may have nothing to do with your topic other than early decisions to live for God can be damaging if the child doesn’t really understand the grace of God!

  6. I love you for being so vulnerable about this.

    I have one kid who, when asked if he loves Jesus, gets an evil smile and whispers “Nooooo, I do NOT love Jesus.” I don’t put much stock in it because I don’t put much stock in anything 6 year olds say, actually.

    Words, schwords. All we can do is obey, which means to constantly present the gospel to them and trust that the Lord is the author of their faith, thankfully, not us!

  7. Elizabeth

    Thank you for this, Kelly. The pattern is so similar with our four kids. The oldest shines and does her devotions daily and shares her faith with her middle-school friends. The second, he avoids church and says nearly every week, “let’s just watch it online from home.” My little ones are still sweet about Jesus, and I credit The Jesus Storybook Bible for most of what they know.

    I know who is the author of their faith, and I’m committed to doing my part to lead them to the truth. I long for them to know Jesus, not just know about him. I pray for them to have a bold faith. And I hope when they’re grown they still remember every Tobymac and Lecrae song we listened to.

  8. Nicole

    I love watching Jesus use you, both in sharing this and raising your babies and online and in person. Love your heart!!!

  9. Thanks for sharing this. As Catholics, I feel like we are naturally less outwardly demonstrative in our faith, and I wonder if my kids are getting it. The way we pray and worship and express ourselves is sometimes very different. But like you, I hope that my example is in my daily life and that they are making their own way to God.

  10. Amy

    Oh yes. I don’t even have kids, but this will be a good reminder to not be intimidated by the “faith” of a six-year old. That six year old will grow up in the church, maybe do some youth group stuff and then head off to college. Maybe they’ll be involved in a Christian ministry on campus and then they’ll move to the big city, where church and Christ falls to the bottom of the priority list. If you’re lucky, they’ll come back to the church in their 20’s and 30’s. Most will not. You are raising your children well.


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