A Christian leader told me that almost eighty per cent of the pastors of his denomination have grown children who have either scandalized or left the church where their parents are presented as examples of doctrine, life and learning. Many prominent pastors have changed their workplace or ministry because of insurmountable family problems, though their books and sermons continue to be paradigms of ethics and virtue in the wider circles of the church.
When I consider these things, I remember an anecdote about Charles Spurgeon, who, upon seeing a visibly drunken bum saunter by, said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I!” There, but for God’s infinite grace, each of us sinners can only say the same. Yes, but unbelievably, God’s grace was present with the nationally known minister who was senselessly murdered along with his wife by a son he raised in love. Grace in the lives of the many Bible teachers who had to “move to another field” in order to protect or cover up their children’s malfeasance. God’s mercy when children lie, steal, do drugs, are sexually promiscuous and make terrible choices that affect their lives for years to come – God’s grace shines through broken lives, not only of those who came from bad homes and adverse situations, but those who came from good, godly homes with every stimulus to a good life and trampled every blessing of which they had partaken as children of the Covenant.
But for the grace of God I would have been a wretched rebel who screwed up big time. Oh, I was a “good girl” who knew my Bible better than many preachers, leader in our youth group and correspondent with missionaries since before I was in High School. I represented my school as “best student” and worked as an English tutor from age fourteen when I wasn’t studying, leading or reading. Sang in the school trio, youth ensemble, church choir, and solos on invitation to other churches or events. My double life hid my dream of becoming a spy so I could patriotically commit all sorts of immoralities or even crimes in the name of my country. My missionary parents’ lives were falling apart and I blamed them for their catastrophic choices – and made sure to leave them for good by marrying at age eighteen. By God’s grace, I married a godly man who loved me and we built a life on the solid Rock – but my brief pre-marriage rebellion was deep and wicked.
My husband and I look at our children with pride because they turned out much better than we had ever been. But for the grace of God – and in spite of our fumbled attempts to mold them in our own likeness. Back to the problem of lost children of godly parents, several types of problems appear with descendants who stray among God’s people. Lau sometimes uses the metaphor of bike-riding to describe them.
First, there who are those who never learned to ride a bicycle. Maybe they even sped up and down the sidewalk on their tricycles or pulling red wagons, but they never were taught to balance on a ten-speed bike. A teenager commenting on family with disciplinary issues with their pre-schoolers said, “They seem to lack basic parenting skills”. The couple still had not matured sufficiently to transmit assurance and values to their kids. But the problem of never having learned to ride a bike can easily be corrected – you can learn by practice.
I remember trying to be a bicycle acrobat – standing up, riding backwards, getting five kids on top of one two-wheeler – and acquiring my share of cuts, bruises and embarrassed falls. There are children of Christian parents who fall from their bikes, even when the parents taught them well and were close by. Falling from a bike might mean a scraped knee or even a broken arm, but a band-aid on the knee or a cast on the arm is not life-threatening. Wise parents treat the hurt, instruct and insist on safety measures, and help their child get back on the bike and learn to ride well. Falling from a bicycle is not a moral issue.
Stealing a bike is. Two or three times in the lives of our biking kids, someone took their bike and they never got it back. Now, Christian parents try to instill moral values in their offspring, and most of us start with the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. Our family added a Bible memorization plan with a verse a day – the book of Proverbs was especially effective in our home. But no matter how much biblical and moral wisdom we teach, our children are sinners who fall short of God’s glory and sooner or later will “steal a bike” – do something knowingly wrong for any one of many reasons – and try to justify or rationalize their disobedience to God’s laws. In this, too, they have their parents for teachers. Even if we never had committed any immorality, our beautiful kids have the primeval Edenic parents sinning in their genes.
The first time one of my children committed the immoral act of stealing he slipped a matchbox car into my purse, taking it home “to safety”. When I found the car in my bag and asked him where he got it, he said, “If it’s in our bag it’s ours!” He expected me to be his willing accomplice! Over the years, many times our children are tempted (and sometimes succumb) to moral issues. That was the case with Eli and his grown sons. While Samuel, “ministered to the LORD before Eli the priest”, “the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD”. Samuel became a righteous judge and prophet, but Eli was lax and blind toward his sons, who stole “the best meat for the sacrifice and sexually assaulted the women who met at the door of the tabernacle”. The outcome: the Ark of the Covenant fell into the hands of the Philistines and Hophni and Phineas died in battle.
Recovery in a case of stealing a bike requires much more than healing “felt hurts” or therapeutic reassurance! The letters to the churches in
seem written for today’s situation. “You have a reputation of being alive, but
you are dead”, the Lord says to .
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die!” (Revelation 3.1-2 NIV).
Remember where you are coming from and where you fell (what you have received
and heard), repent and restore to practices
of justice (repentant obedience – Revelation 3:3). Sardis
Besides the moral problem of stealing, bikers are sometimes crushed by a drunken driver or an ungoverned, wild truck – maybe even with no driver. My friend Ana is an athlete, and in her fifties she still bikes ten mile a day to and from the university where she teaches. Last year she lost a colleague, a fellow-biker run over and killed by an intoxicated driver who was never caught or punished. Some children of good – of godly parents, not just good in the sense of Harold Kushner’s “When bad things happen to good people”, for we believe: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and "There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3.23, 10) – go through tragedies that not only knock them down but smash and crush them to dust.
Debilitating disease. Terminal cancer. Severe mental illness. Unyielding depression ending in suicide. We are painfully familiar with the stories and God plays no favorites. There are no Christian clichés, no superficial comfort, no supposed “God’s promised victory” – no matter how much we’ve prayed, pleaded and interceded for them, God was silent. Some of our children find themselves in such situations. Job suffered the crushing loss of all his sons and daughters in one humungous major accident. Only it was no accident. In his sovereign mercy, God had allowed Satan to mercilessly attack everything and everyone dear to Job. Michael Horton’s “Too good to be true – finding hope in a world of hype” talks about these things, dissecting them from personal experience seen through the perspectives of the cross and the resurrection. It is a book of comfort to all who suffer great loss, and people in ministry, whether respected pastors or anonymous missionaries, are never immune. Seems that often we women, used to carrying the world on our shoulders, are particularly (though not the only ones) prone to being wiped out by the tragedies our families go through.
Whether our children don’t know how to ride, fall off their bikes, steal someone else’s bike or get dangerously run over, we are not to blame for what they do once they are old enough to fend for themselves. Lots of us get bogged down in the slough of despondency for things we cannot control or change. On the other hand, we are responsible to pray for our children since their existence began in a mother’s womb, responsible to teach and pray with them while they are being molded as little children, growing children, pre-teens and young men and women – into what God wants them to be. And pray for them after they gain independence and leave the nest – as much as we did all the early years of their life. This balance of responsibility before God and letting go of any attempt to control people or circumstances in the lives of our heirs has at times been lost, other times maintained, still other times expanded – by women and men who love God and love their children for God’s glory – in spite of ourselves.