Fear is a common emotion among Christian parents. We are prepared to go ridiculously far out of our way in order to create the perfect recipe in hopes of creating the perfect child who will never leave the church. We buy homemade church toys. We purchase homeschool curriculum that will lead our children down the “correct” path. We ensure our children are kept away from any influences that could potentially lead them astray. We check everything off our list of “How To Create the Perfect Child” in hopes of avoiding an adolescent existential crisis. As a person who grew up in this environment, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work. My parents did their absolute best to create Perfect Children by doing everything that I’ve mentioned here and I still had an existential crisis and left the church for several years. Rebellion is a natural part of development. There is no avoiding it. Even Jesus, the only perfect human being, rebelled as a teenager.
Remember when Jesus was twelve and went with his parents up to the temple during Passover? They stayed for the week, had a good time, and then headed home. “…When the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey…” (Luke 2:43-44). PEOPLE. Joseph and Mary left their twelve year old son in Jerusalem and DIDN’T NOTICE FOR AN ENTIRE DAY. In today’s world, this is grounds for Child Protection Services to come swooping to the rescue. And when they finally started looking for him among their “kinsfolk and acquaintances”, they had to go back to Jerusalem and spent three days searching for their wayward Savior.
So imagine yourself as a mother, panicking, imagining the worst…searching all over Jerusalem among thousands of people for your twelve year old son…and then you find him, sitting in the temple with the teachers, “listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46). Infuriated, you demand to know why he has “treated [you] so” and he just looks at you and says, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:48-49).
What Mary and Joseph have forgotten is that from day one, they have been told that their child does not belong to them—he belongs to God. When the angel comes to Mary earlier in Luke, he never refers to Jesus as “her son”—it is always “a son” or the “Son of the Most High” (1:31-32). The only thing that is noted as belonging to Mary is “[her] womb”—not the fruit of it (1:31). This is something we often forget as parents—we hang onto the illusion that our children belong to us and that we have control over the outcome of their lives. We don’t. Naturally, as a mother, Mary wants to keep Jesus safe, but she can’t. He eventually must suffer and die on the cross and there is nothing she can do about it. He knows this and that’s why he says to her “How is it that you sought me?” Like most parents, Mary doesn’t understand. But unlike most parents, she recognizes that her son is telling her something important and she “[keeps] all of these things in her heart” (1:51).
It’s also important to note that even though Jesus has rebelled against his parents by leaving them without permission, he returns with them to Nazareth and “was obedient to them” (1:50). He is still honoring his parents. If the Son of God rebelled against his parents, our children are going to rebel no matter what. The key is to give them the space to rebel in healthy ways. Staying behind in the temple to talk to the teachers was a healthy rebellion—it wasn’t like Jesus was off checking out brothels or doing other unseemly things. Although, please note that his parents did not check the temple first. They spent three days looking everywhere BUT the temple. Even back then, it was not normal for twelve year old boys to want to hang out with teachers.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest that we don’t create a church environment in the home or try to keep our children away from bad influences. But if our motivation is trying to save their souls, we will fail. It is not our job to save their souls—it is God’s job. It is our responsibility to give them the best opportunity possible to devote their lives to God. If they choose not to, then we must accept that they are God’s and trust that God will do His part. Do not let fear be our motivation in raising our children.