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Growing with Grace Blog

Spiritual Milestones
Angela Liner

“You are the primary disciple-maker in your home.” This is a quote I hear often on Sunday mornings. My pastor is passionate about empowering us as parents to play the primary role in our children’s spiritual formation. In an expansive city where there are endless resources and opportunities for camps, Sunday school activities, retreats, Vacation Bible School, small groups, youth groups (and more), it can be easy to slip into the thought that our kids are getting “filled up” in all these other places. And those are all good things and activities we would encourage for spiritual development, but I want to implore you to not let the outsourced be the primary input into your children’s heart. As you know, this year we have talked about the emotional and social milestones from the book Are My Kids on Track? by Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan so we end the year focusing on the last, and most important: spiritual milestones.

Foundation: The authors talk about how relationship is foundational to foundation; it is where spiritual formation starts. This may seem like a throw-back to your college years in Psychology 101 but think of Erik Erikson, the renowned psychologist, in his first stage of child development: Trust vs. Mistrust. He called the basic virtue arising in that stage “hope.” According to the very theory that much of developmental psychology today is built upon -  trust facilitates hope. It lays a foundation that starts with you. Your son experiences that other people are trustworthy when he experiences you as trustworthy. Your daughter learns that she will be loved and taken care of because you love and take care of her. The same is true of faith. 

Our relationship with them - our love for them that doesn't stop, that isn't conditional, lays the foundation for them to understand God’s unconditional love. They understand His love because we first loved them. Faith is inherent in kids, we are just awakening something that’s already there by modeling the attributes of Christ.

Identity: The author trio of this book highlight that the ages of 7 to 12 are some of the most important in terms of a child’s life - particularly their capacities for growth (physical, cognitive and spiritual). And as a parent, your role is of the utmost importance during these years because you get to come alongside them with a voice that is unlike anyone else’s. You get to help them discover what brings out their inner aliveness, to discover their unique, messy, beloved identity in Christ. You can do this by helping them find their strengths, passions, giftedness and what makes them come alive. 

As parents you are the first to see hints of that identity and who God has particularly called your son or daughter to be. We want children to build their identities from the inside out (who God says they are) rather than the outside in (who others say they are, or “I am a soccer player” or “I’m an actress''). We know that their friends and activities are certainly healthy and productive for kids but we don’t want those identities to become a replacement for their identity in Christ as this can produce a fragile sense of self.  

Mercy: This is the one chapter in the book that is more directed toward early adolescence. As lower school parents it could be easy to glaze over this chapter and think that this is too deep of a topic for my little one now but I want to encourage you to start laying the foundation for this now, knowing that grasping this concept is more of a life-long journey as they grow and develop in their faith. If a teenager does not have some sense of their identity going into this stage, they’re going to have a much harder time finding their way to mercy because mercy requires reflection. I did not write this book, but it certainly makes sense why foundation and identity come first. These are building blocks, not goals to check off. 

One of my favorite quotes of the book comes from this chapter and it says, “Ultimately, they need us (parents) to speak truth in ways that invite them to know mercy, rather than protect them from needing it.” In other words, a willingness to reflect with courage on their sin is what helps adolescents know they need mercy. Without this knowledge of their depravity, they will never fully understand the gift of salvation and righteousness that is imputed to them through Jesus. We have to be careful not to cut off the very path that He designed to lead them to His mercy. 

Meaning: When thinking about meaning, we ultimately want the external truths our children have learned throughout their childhood to become internal, unshakeable Truth. As they grow, they are searching for deeper answers to questions like "Who am I? Do I matter? What difference can I make?” As parents, we know that God has designed them and has unique meaning laid out for each of them, but as children grow up they are searching to also believe this and discover what that meaning is. 

It makes me think of the quote by Dan Allender that says, “You are the only you this world will know, and something about your life is meant to make something about God known in a way no one else can do.” Your job as parents is to help guide your children and let them explore with guardrails along the process of growing up and trust that God is a redemptive Savior who is always fulfilling His meaning. 

In closing, as we enter into the season of summer, I want to encourage you to show your children how much you delight in them. This book highlighted that Deuteronomy 6 gives us the blueprint for building a spiritual foundation in children. “It starts with love. Love God. Relationship is the beginning of our foundation. Then write these commandments on your heart. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Relationship ripples out. God’s love does the same.” Then the passage goes on to say “Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking the streets. Talk about them all day long.” So as you are going along this summer at the beach, or sitting by the pool, or hiking in the mountains, or cuddling on the couch - talk about this love you have for your children as it is the most tangible picture at this age of His love for them. 


Angela Liner (’00)
Lower School Counselor


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