Read an Excerpt
Helping Your Child Grow Spiritually
By Steve Bell, Valerie Bell
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2001 Steve and Valerie Bell
All rights reserved.
FAITH IS THE GREATEST LIFE ADVANTAGE
To be a parent is to know about hopes and dreams. Just watch the parents of any newborn. That doughy, diapered baby-body is barely home from the hospital before Mom and Dad are discovering evidences of genius intelligence or prodigious musical talent or some other sign that their child is exceptional.
"Did you see how he smacked that ball? What an eye for a two-year-old. Hey! Hey! Hey! Sammy Sosa, you're history."
"She colors all day long! Her color palette is reminiscent of Monet. Maybe we should get her into the three-year-old art classes at the community center. No, that might hold her back. We'd better look into private lessons to maximize her giftedness."
Parents are to be forgiven for such inflated ideas. After all, it's natural for us to want great lives for our children. And so we look for signs of giftedness—genius IQ, athletic prowess, ease in making friends, a quick wit, the ability to articulate, stunning beauty that launches ships, or a special moneymaking bent—something unique or outstanding that will help our children in life. Then, when promise peeks out from their early years, we eagerly invest our financial resources and energy into their potential. What family hasn't organized its schedule around sports activities, art or music lessons, speech team, or drama practices and performances? Who hasn't watched (or maybe even occasionally experienced) a passion for a child's having a leg up in life that turns normally sane adults into aggressive sports maniacs or pushy backstage moms or dads?
Our daughter-in-law, Kailey, teaches extracurricular music lessons in preschools. She has told us that after only a month or two of lessons, some parents ask, "Is my child musically gifted?" Then, if they suspect that the child is not outstandingly gifted, it is not uncommon for them to withdraw him from music lessons and enroll him in another type of class where he might be "discovered" as exceptionally gifted. And most of these children are just two- and three-year-olds!
If you and I are honest, we'd admit that we understand this strong desire. We've felt that pull with our own kids. It seems that dreaming ambitious dreams for our children is a major drive, an inescapable parental force. After all, what is better than having a dream for a child come true?
We have a friend we'll call Jack who has worked at hard manual labor all his life. His life story is told in his handshake—straightforward, callused, and bone-crushing strong. But lately Jack has been living a dream through the life of his son. His son, Tim, is a gifted baseball pitcher and honor roll student. During Tim's senior year in high school, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. But the father's dream was only beginning. In the spring of his senior year, Jack's son was also drafted by a professional baseball team, with a signing bonus of $150,000—enough money to attend college anywhere when Tim's baseball days are through.
What a trip! Jack is seeing his hopes and dreams for his child come true beyond his wildest imagination.
IS MY CHILD GIFTED?
Why do we want so much for our children? Maybe at the heart of all this hope is the strong desire for our children to have better lives than our own. We resonate with such dreams because we are typical parents—wanting more for our children than we had in our own lives. And so, through the years, Valerie and I have held this kind of "blessing vigil" over the emerging lives of our own two sons—a time of watching and recognizing their talents, all of which are gifts from God.
As we write, beside us on the desk is evidence of "giftedness" from our oldest son's childhood. It still amazes us. During the opening week of a summer sculpting class, Brendan, only seven at the time, fashioned his first sculpture from tinfoil. Two soccer players stand poised to kick a ball. Right legs are raised and extended behind the bodies for optimum power kicks; arms balance the perfectly proportioned aluminum bodies. Though we are adults, we could not have captured that moment half as well as our young son. Where did this come from? Not from us. Our proud hearts proclaimed, Aha ... So that's what this child is about! A sculptor. He's more gifted than we are. How amazing! How wonderful.
"Hey! Hey! Hey! Rodin, you're history."
It was our first clue about the uniqueness of this son.
We also glowed with pride when our second son, Justin, walked on a stage for the first time and sang with all the confidence of a seasoned adult. Stage presence! You can't take your eyes off him. He's a natural. So that's what this child is about. A performer. Where did that come from? He's more gifted than we are. How amazing! How wonderful.
"Hey! Hey! Hey! Brad Pitt can't even sing."
Parents delight in their first discoveries about the potential of a child. It's as if a wonderful stranger has been living in their house and they are getting to know him or her. She's balanced and steady. Maybe it's a sign of a high emotional IQ. He has lots of friends. Everyone loves him. Maybe some relational genius is starting to show.
THE BEST KIND OF GIFTEDNESS
But of all the dreams Valerie and I have held for our children, through the years we have become more convinced of the importance of one dream above all others—that our child be gifted in faith. No parental passion is more worthy for any parent's child than that the child should be gifted in faith.
Faith? Why faith? Because no other life blessing is more crucial and determinative. Next to faith, all other blessings pale. Faith is life's most outstanding asset. It gives the greatest leg up in life.
Yes, faith is life's greatest advantage. Why? Because faith boosts other giftedness to supernatural levels. Faith sustains life—it is the food of the soul. A child shaped to faith is a child who is greatly blessed!
The farther down the parental path we travel, the stronger the hidden truth about faith emerges. Faith makes an incredible difference in a life. A trusting relationship with God is life's greatest treasure.
If you are tempted to shrug that off as merely "God talk," look for a moment at some of the most commonly desired dreams parents hold for their children and measure them next to the remarkable benefits of faith.
For instance, think about intellectual giftedness. That's high on the what-we-want-for-our-kids list of most parents. What parent hasn't dreamed that his or her child would be brilliant in some area—smart enough to win a full-ride scholarship before the college bills start flooding in? After all, brains do give a kid a major leg up in life.
But this highly desired gift of human intelligence is also potentially limited. Without God's influence on your children, their intelligence is just brain cells—sometimes poorly used, misused, or not used at all. There is a spiritual component to intelligence that is far more than brain cells: inspiration. This factor often makes the difference between someone who is just a card-carrying member of Mensa (scoring in the top 2 percent of IQ and verifying sheer brilliance) and someone whose genius is inspired to labor and sacrifice on a focused cause that will change the world for the better. High IQ without the ability to tap into God's wisdom is a highly limited resource—one that always falls far short of its world-impacting promise.
Another perceived advantage-in-life category that parents commonly pursue passionately is athletics. Certainly most of us feel parental pride over a kid with a great soccer leg, a dead-aim basketball shot, or lightning speed that's an advantage in almost any sport—right? That's great! We don't want to pop this bubble for anyone. As a dad and former "jock" myself, I really understand this one. But while you're basking in the glow in the stands at the high school football games or reading all about the sports star with your last name in the local paper's sports section, consider this. Athletic ability is merely superior coordination unless it is joined by courage.
It is courage, which comes from deep within, that presses a talented body beyond physical endurance to the "impossible win."
What makes the difference between a talented quitter and a world-class athlete? It's courage, tenacity, and endurance—all inner qualities of God-given strength. When tapped into, they take human potential to a whole new level. There's a very real spiritual dimension to these interior qualities.
Athletic ability and a well-trained body are great gifts. But don't overlook the importance of having a spiritual edge as well—the ability for your children "who hope in the LORD [to] renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:31). In life, it's often faith—that spiritual edge—that achieves the impossible win.
Here's a different parental perk for some moms and dads: a child who stops traffic with his or her good looks. Do people catch their breath and frequently remark, "What a gorgeous child!" Are you thinking beauty pageants and college scholarships? Well, the world loves a beautiful face, but consider that without faith, when outer beauty fades, all may seem lost. How much better to hope for a beautifully souled child—one who shines with the character of God, a child whose adult loveliness could never be compromised by aging or wrinkles. What a difference faith makes in all the giftedness areas of life!
How about this one? Anybody have a kid who can make, save, and turn a buck? Dreaming about early retirement funded by your little financial genius? Then think for a moment about life on easy street. Even the resources of great wealth stand powerless to buy the most precious life commodities of love and contentment and belonging—all outgrowths of the spirit and soul. We are utterly convinced that a secular life, even one with great privilege, is the most underprivileged life of all. Secular thinking reduces life to the cold, hard facts of cause and effect. Mystery and miracle cease to be. Awe and wonder are topics left unexplored in secular conversation.
Life without faith is bleak. You can have all the financial advantages this world can offer, but without faith, you are life challenged—as impoverished in soul as any homeless person is lacking materially while living on the streets. Spiritually neglected children suffer a serious form of impoverishment regardless of their material blessings. The long-range implications may be more damaging than any other form of neglect a child can suffer.
A PARENT'S BEST DREAM
A kid shaped to faith is a parent's best dream. Think about it: faith boosts all other life blessings to new levels. A parent with a child shaped to faith discovers a tremendous return on that investment—for a lifetime! If the truth would get out, if our parenting culture actually grasped the benefits of faith, more and more moms and dads would be signing up their kids for lessons in it as soon as they could. Parents would be demanding extracurricular nursery school classes, hoping to discover spiritual giftedness in their children. Most of us who are parents would be seeking private tutoring in faith so our kids would excel in it. Many of us would move anywhere, invest any amount of money, sacrifice whatever would be necessary to shape our kids to faith.
Faith provides a major leg up in life. But there is more. Faith will boost other life gifts. True. But still there is more. To live life at its best, faith is as necessary as food or water. Faith sustains life.
Faith is the soul's food. Let us explain.
WHAT FAITH IS
What is faith? It is the recognition that God is with us and for us. Faith is the spotlight that shines into life's darkest moments and shows the way through the seemingly impassable abyss. "Take courage. Be optimistic," faith declares.
Faith is the interior muscle that refuses to give up even when swamped by tears and discouragement. "Keep moving. Don't quit. Don't despair," faith cheers.
Faith is life's sweetener. It is the midwife of hope, the "birther" of comfort. Faith reminds us: "There is meaning in your life. There's a holy reason to everything that happens to you. You matter to God."
Faith is the crazy courage that moves the mountain that reason declares is unmovable. Faith gives the spirit wings and the soul empowerment to believe that mystery works beyond what is apparent. "You are more than body. You are intrinsically spiritual. You are eternally precious to God," faith reminds us.
Faith is the limitless spiritual resource when human reserves are depleted. It is the smile of the Spirit, the hug of God, the knowing beyond knowing. To live a life of faith, to experience life as a friend of God is to live the most privileged life of all. Faith transforms human giftedness into something more—it introduces the resources of God into a life.
That's why Scripture describes faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1 KJV). This same text is translated in the New International Version, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." In other words, faith or trust in God is foundational to a hopeful spiritual existence. Faith is the determining gift that makes the difference between a sustained life and a depleted life. Faith supersedes and influences all other gifts life has to offer a child. That's why a faith-filled life is the worthiest dream a parent can hold for a well-loved child.
Understand, we are not talking about the kind of faith that casually tips its hat toward God, or faith as a life additive that's nice for certain older people looking for something to do; nor are we describing faith as a required belief system that is the basis for membership in a type of social club. None of these. We are talking about faith that shapes a life to God and His heart. Nothing less.
BEING SUCKED IN TO SOCIETY'S VALUES
When we first had children, like most parents, we wanted to give them the best opportunities we could afford. We eagerly sought out the wealth of advice available to parents—about nutrition, health care, helping a child mature socially, optimal intellectual development, issues that contribute to the emotional well-being of a child, and more. We read tons of books. We listened to the experts. We asked questions. We moved to the best school system we could afford. We supplemented our children's classroom education with outside lessons. We were soccer, baseball, football, gymnastics, and track and field parents. Regularly we provided the host home for our children's friendships and many of their activities. What we were doing on behalf of our boys was comparable to what we perceived most of the other parents we knew were doing for their kids.
There was nothing wrong with those activities, of course. But in the fray of all this well-intended activity, we have to confess that at times we were distracted in our parenting process. Living in today's culture, it's sometimes frighteningly easy to be satisfied with less than the very best.
Too frequently, unwittingly, we bought in to values we didn't even hold. We needed to realign our dreams, our energies, and our passions with our real values.
Have you noticed—it's so easy to be sucked in to society's values. We were faithful churchgoers. In our family life, God was always included—mealtime prayers, bedtime Bible stories, and playing Christian music and tapes were routine in our home. Of course, we believed that faith was very important—we were in full-time ministry! But in our pursuit of life advantage for our children we were often distracted from the foundational truth that our primary assignment was to parent the souls of our children. In a heartbeat we could be sucked-in to applying parental energy to every other possible place of life advantage. Too many times, spiritual life and development were simply left to "come along for the ride."
Looking back it is somewhat painful to realize that those "Aha ... So this is what our child is about!" moments were clearly there for successes in academics, sports, and similar kinds of achievements—in music, school elections, dramatics, art shows, whatever. Our Christmas letters always celebrated "blessings" such as these. The Bell fridge was clad in magnetized clumps of report cards, photographs, and the occasional newspaper clippings. We took joy in bragging about those developments to any family and friends who would indulge us and receive it with happiness. But reflecting, we now realize we sometimes failed to as clearly express "Aha!" over the signs of our children's emerging spirituality.
To be honest, the spiritual indicators were too frequently lost in the pursuit of today's culture values: grades, sports, and honors tied to other more tangible achievements.
YOUR PASSIONS ... AND YOUR KIDS' VALUES
So, what's a parent to do?
First, clarify your passions. If you hold to the conviction that faith is the greatest life advantage, you must set your heart toward it. If a parent does not clearly pursue this core value with the kind of parental energy that goes to other try-to-get-a-leg-up-in-life categories, then faith may be perceived by children as having little or no value in real life.
Excerpted from Faith-Shaped Kids by Steve Bell, Valerie Bell. Copyright © 2001 Steve and Valerie Bell. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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