Shalom in the Waiting: When Your Child Is Not Ready to Follow Jesus

Before we jump in, so many of you have said on the survey that you want more posts on parenting (btw have you taken the survey, if not here’s your chance) but I have older kids and wondered how to make that happen while still respecting their privacy.  So, I’ve come up with Kid Endorsements.  At the end of a post about my kids, you should find an endorsement from the one who it’s about.  Since this one was primarily about Tyson, I got his permission and approval before posting.TysonApprove

We has exciting news to share, so last Mother’s Day was a fun day to have a Facebook account.

Like your birthday or when you announce the birth of your child, there are just some days that makes social media worth all the annoyance of invitations to sign petitions or play Candy Crush.  In fact, the night before our big news, I carefully planned my status.  Maybe I’d post a teaser, or a lovely quote, or write a tribute to all the people that made it happen.  I was sitting on my phone scrolling through Pinterest for ideas when my twelve-year-old son walked into the room and I realized that for once in the life of our family, we’d have big news that he wouldn’t be a part of and it made me pause. Whatever I did, I wanted to honor this young man who could very easily feel “other” and “not enough” by our family’s celebration.  So the next day, when our  two children, nine-year old, TJ and eight year old, Trinity were baptized by their father on Mother’s Day I limited the news only to Facebook friends and our church community.  I didn’t blog or tweet about it.  I wanted to make sure I was sensitive to my oldest, who at this time has decided to not make a public declaration of faith through baptism.

In our family, baptism is a big deal.  Baptism isn’t salviific, there’s no salvation found in the act of being immersed in the water, but it’s a bold proclamation to the church that you have decided to follow Jesus and his teachings.  I like what Vance Havner has to say about baptism,

We may never be martyrs but we can die to self, to sin, to the world, to our plans and ambitions. That is the significance of baptism; we died with Christ and rose to new life.” ~ Vance Havner, Writer and Evangelist

On Mother’s Day, two of my babies joined me in the dance of daily dying to self, like Christ.
First Trinity

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Trinity giving her testimony

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and then TJ

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So many lovely messages came in that day. Congratulations and prayers and happy emoticons filled my feed.  I was reminded why I love the Body of Christ so much- we know how to celebrate, y’all and we’re genuinely excited to welcome new members into our family.  At the same time, I received messages and texts about Tyson, asking how I felt. I would have been sad, maybe even disappointed, if it were not for conversation Tyson and I had a few days before the baptism.

We were driving when he broke the new to me. I think he wanted to gauge just how much trouble he was in for not signing up to be baptized by his father.

“Mom,”  he started, “what if I didn’t get baptized on Sunday with Trinity and TJ?”

The heavy techno beat of his playlist filled the minivan and gave my racing heart a rhythm to hold onto.

“Well… ok…” I stammered, I wasn’t sure what to do?

When I was his age, being a Christian was my ultimate rebellion and declaration of independence from my parents’ way of being.  I lived out my faith in Jesus with a conviction that took Jesus Freak to a whole new level.

WWJD bracelets?  Yep.

See You at the Pole?  Of course!

Did I carry around Invitations to Wednesday  Night Youth Group?  Uh-huh.  In fact, way before I entered sales, I perfected the holiest elevator pitch- eva!

Passionate speeches during health class that I’m waiting until marriage before having sex?  Oh, yeah and I had extra True Love Waits pledges in my bag to pass out.

I was as “on fire”, “sold out”, and “Jesus Freak-y” as they come.  Which is why I couldn’t understand the words coming from my son who I’ve spent twelve years teaching about Jesus.

Realizing that I didn’t know what to say, he added, “It’s not that I’m saying I never want to get baptized, I just don’t want to do it now. I have so many questions about Jesus and the Bible and I’m not ready to make that commitment until I’m sure.  Maybe when I’m 13….” he trailed off playing with the hem of his shirt.

I wanted to pull over and shake him.

What is wrong with you?  Don’t you remember VBS of 2010 where you had the best, most poignant “God-sightings” to share with your crew?  What about being prayed for by a camp counselor at sleep-away camp last year?  What about your crazy astute insights on the problem of evil or end times?  How do you come from two theology nerds and NOT WANT TO BE A CHRISTIAN?

Then I started to worry if it was my fault. Did my angry outbursts just an hour after they saw me doing my morning quiet time read hypocrite?  Were we wrong to church plant those three years knowing that children’s ministries are almost always anemic in programming and there were precious few kids’ their ages?  Did we miss a chance to give him the foundation he needed in those tumultuous years?  Should I have forced him to watch more Veggie Tales and less Little Einsteins?

I wanted something or someone to blame for this “failure”.

“Mom?” he asked, “Mom? Are…are you mad?”

I shook my head as realization dawned on me: he needed me to love him through this time of seeking, not shame him or myself. There is no place for shame on the road map to Jesus.  

“No, baby.  I’m not mad. This is your choice.  Only you and Jesus know when it’s the right time for you to follow him and get baptized.  If you’re not ready, you’re not ready.”  I sighed. Saying the words felt like both a betrayal and a benediction.

“But, are you sure?  I know you really wanted me to get baptized” He offered.

We pulled into our parking spot and I turned to him, ” I’m not going to lie, I wish you would, but I don’t want you doing it because I asked you to.  I want this moment to be yours. Yours’ and Jesus’. After all, I follow him because I love him so much, maybe someday you will too.   But there are a few ground rules your dad and I have to come up with because you are still a part of Christian family–”

“I know, I know!”  He interrupted, a little loud and exasperated.  When I shot him a displeased look, he changed his tone, “I know” he promised.

“Yeah, well as long as you celebrate your siblings’ choice and you participate in church this Sunday, I’m cool with you not getting baptized.”

He released the breath I just then realized he was holding from the moment he said, “I’m not ready”.

For the next few days, my husband and I talked over the implications of one child out of three not getting baptized.  What would people think? We are a pastor’s family, after all. How do we not treat him differently?  Should we still encourage him to learn Scriptures?  What if he wants to explore other religions?

I think we always knew that two out-spoken questioners starting a family would result in one (or more) children taking their time to become believers, so we weren’t worried, just a little sad.  A little disappointed.  We wanted so badly to celebrate him with his siblings.

Because we’re on this journey as much as Tyson, we created three guideposts for parenting the seeking child.

1: We Will Love Him Always

No matter what he decides.  If 13 comes and goes and he’s not any closer to following Jesus than he is now, our love will never falter. Of course, we’ll always love him– we’re his parents, but we will always treat him with love because we’re Christians.  If we want him to see the beauty of our Lord, then love should be the driving force in every interaction with him –from is stank attitude when told to do chores to his indignant questioning of God’s goodness is a broken world. Christians are suppose to known for our love and if there’s nothing I want more for my son than to know this wide, deep, high love of Jesus, it must starts with me, loving him no matter what. Even when I don’t agree with his choices, even when he attacks my convictions, even when it seems like he’s running like the prodigal, I will always love him. Our hope is that as we love him fiercely, gently, faithfully, Jesus will reveal his fierce, gently, infinitely more faithful love to Tyson.

2: We Will be Kind to Him

Too often, I want to pull the “Mom Card” and force him to do spiritual things. In our family, we invite the kids to pray for the people, read their bibles, and join in to theological discussions.  We don’t like to force them, spiritual formation should be their choice.  In the car when Tyson told me he didn’t want to get baptized, I worried that maybe we should have, but I’m not convinced that would have helped.  In fact, I’m pretty confident it would have sabotaged our efforts. You see, the Bible says it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.  Not His heavy-handed attempts to make us change or His guilt trips, or even His sound arguments- His kindness.  So, if we want lead our son to Jesus then we need to follow His lead- kindness that sees the fear behind the anger, the sincerity behind the questions, the person behind the sin.

3: We will always hope

Hope is a powerful choice.  Not just an emotion, but a choice.  I could look at my son’s decision to not become a Christian yet as a set- back or I could look at it as an interesting arch of his redemption story.  I know Jesus.  I know his love for Tyson is deeper than I could fathom. Before I even knew my son, he knew him.  He knew that he would like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast and he’d have an amazing eye for design and would make a room light up with laughter the moment he spoke. It’s in Jesus whom I have hope.  Jesus who went out of his way to show love to the Samarian woman and who bestowed dignity to the thief on the cross- his powerful bids for affection and discipleship are what I have hope in.  He’s the same now as he was then, so I have hope. Hope that all my efforts to introduce my kids to him were not in vain because he is still actively wooing them to him. My younger ones have just responded sooner, but a love story is still a love story- regardless of how long it takes to develop.

After the baptisms, we did tell him that he’s a part of a Christian family, so we’ll follow Christian rhythms of prayers and Sunday morning services, devotionals and social justice, worship music and discussing Bonhoeffer.  Not surprisingly, he’s ok with that.  It’s not us he’s rejecting and I suspect it’s not even Jesus, it’s just the timing.  He wants this to be his choice, and so do I. So I will wait for Tyson to come around.  I’ll wait for him because it wasn’t too long ago that Jesus waited for me to come back and when I did I was all in.  I have a feeling that deep down that’s what we all want for our children- to not borrow our faith, but make it their own and jump into this crazy calling to love the world like Jesus with an “all in” kind of abandon. Tyson will get there.  Someday.

Practicing Shalom in the Waiting,

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****Today, one of my best friends from New England and new blogger Charisa Martin and I are doing something of a blogger’s coffee date. Completely unplanned and totally fun, both of us celebrated our children’s baptisms last month so we thought it would be fun to write our thoughts and reflections on our blogs on the same day. After you read my post, I encourage you to pop over to her blog, “Tea with a Slice of Life” to read her beautiful words.  She is an amazing writer and even better friend. Her words are full of wisdom and grace.  Make sure you subsribe to her blog, “Tea With a Slice of LIfe” for weekly encouragement and fun!

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3 thoughts on “Shalom in the Waiting: When Your Child Is Not Ready to Follow Jesus

  1. Thank you for sharing your family’s testimony and journey here, Osheta! I appreciate your vulnerability. And I am glad to know I wasn’t the only one who was into WWJD/See You at the Pole/True Love Waits paraphernalia (I even had a True Love Waits Bible at one point – I still might).

  2. “There is no place for shame on the road map to Jesus.” Amen, sister. I love this post and take so much comfort in it because I have an 11-year old who also just isn’t ready. It’s hard for me to take it lightly because his twin sister was baptized several years ago. But I have to trust God to do the drawing and to move his heart when the time is right. Shalom in the waiting indeed.

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