It was Sunday morning, and the baseball team, ranging in age from nine to twelve years, met excitedly in the parking lot so their parents could take enthusiastic photos before caravanning to the tournament. Their car windows were covered in shoe-polished cheers, boasting the kids’ jersey numbers and shouting family excitement about the games before them. Some of the parents who took their place in the line of cars were professing Christians. Some were even pretty involved in the life of their church. But somewhere along the line, their understanding of the place of baseball in their kids’ lives changed. What started out as a once in awhile Sunday game turned into an every weekend, every Sunday commitment. And before long, they began speaking a truth directly to their kids’ hearts: church is a non-essential. And the longer this way of life continues, the more parents will speak to their kids’ hearts: Jesus isn’t central. Faith is a side interest. Church involvement has little to do with the rest of life. My own faith isn’t important to me. On and on the messaging goes, while well-meaning Christian parents convince themselves that they are acting in the best interest of their children. After several years of this messaging, kids’ hearts have learned the lessons. Faith is of very little consequence in their lives. Their parents have taught them well to major in the minors, and the result, in many cases, may even be eternal death.
Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? No true Christian who is a parent would ever in a million years say that an extra-curricular is worth their child’s soul. Yet, what seems like no big deal can result in a lifetime of faithlessness.
I’m not just talking about sports, either. Any good interest that a child nurtures can be transformed into an all-encompassing endeavor if parents don’t rein in their own drive and enthusiasm while tempering their child’s. We must teach our kids that literally any good and beneficial thing can become an idol that displaces Christ in our hearts.
Our eldest daughter isn’t an athlete, but plenty of other wonderful interests have competed for her heart through the years. Dance, debate, academics, and other opportunities can easily begin to seem like essentials instead of extras in life. I can’t say that every decision we’ve made as parents in these areas has been spot-on. Through the years there have certainly been times when we, too, lost sight of eternal things due to the promise of success in temporal matters. Knowing that the state of her soul is the definition of “real life” instead of competition, by God’s grace we keep coming around to the truth, which we can reliably remind each other of as we seek Christ together.
Understand, parents, I’m not saying that if our kids are successful then we’re doing something wrong. But I do want to shout this from the rooftops: our attitude toward the “extras” of life speak so very loudly to our kids’ hearts. Our priorities matter. Our family’s priorities matter. And if we are letting any endeavor train our kids to neglect godly things like faithful church involvement, the development of a biblical worldview, an understanding of what an evangelistic life looks like, or even the salvation of their very souls, then as Christians, we’re doing it wrong.
We have precious little time to teach our kids everything we want them to know. Eighteen years fly by. But if we make even the small decisions with our kids’ hearts and souls in mind, and with Christ at the forefront of our own desires, then we have ample time to show them what faithfulness looks like. We must guard our own hearts and minds, always reminding each other of the truth and then making decisions accordingly: Christ is supreme. In our home. In our hearts. In our church. And in all the extras. If any of our decisions send a different message to our kids’ ever-listening hearts, now is the time to prioritize. Our kids’ hearts and souls are so worth it, and most importantly, Jesus is worth it.
We worry about so many things when it comes to this world we’re raising kids in. But the truth is that the things we consider the most positive activities in our kids’ lives are the very things that are most likely to draw them away from Christ. It all starts with the example that we set. Are we acting like the thing our kids REALLY need is the next tournament trophy? Or the biggest scholarship? Or are we conveying the truth through our attitudes and decisions that what really matters above all is Christ? Whichever message we are sending, our kids are receiving it loud and clear.