This week, our local Young Life area interviewed 22 potential new college leaders and I had the privilege of participating on the panel for many of them. It was such a blessing to sit and hear these 17-20 year olds share about their lives to this point and why they were interested in participating in this ministry. My week was marked by story after story of where and how God met people in spite of their circumstances, rebellion, disinterest, etc and drew them unto himself. Listening to these college students, the Mama in me could not resist processing their stories.
"I have been in church all my life...I went to a large, diverse, public school...I went to a small private school...I was homeschooled...I lived in a shelter as we fled from an abusive situation...I went on a mission trip... I met this youth leader...I was invited to church with a friend...I went to a Young Life camp...I was a good kid...I got into a little trouble..."
I confess that I really wanted to hear a formula for what their parents did exactly to raise young people whose faith was so important to them they were already so willing to give of themselves to share life with others--in what is developmentally among the most self absorbed periods of a person's life.
And do you know what became incredibly clear? Although it manifested itself in many different ways, there was a chord of similarity...and it didn't all depend on their parents. I seemed to hear evidence over and over of a two part process. Foundations had been laid in most of their lives, but the real building process began when others outside their family entered in and invested themselves.
It is incredibly sobering to me that my 'babies' are turning nine this Spring. They are still in my nest of course, but each day as we chat on the way home and I hear the recap of the big events of school I realize I am definitely not the only influence on their lives and hearts anymore.
Other eight year olds are beginning to shape and form their views on presidential elections, gun control, boyfriends/girlfriends and divorce. (All of these conversations have really happened in my car as recaps of that day's school news.)
Thankfully they are talking to me in the afternoons, asking what I think
about the messages they are getting...but that will not always be the
I was reminded of this post and quote from Mary Jo Ridley:
"(Parents) get to be the one that decides what goes in that sponge first. When they go off to school they take that sponge with them in their mind and if you have, out of a sense of protection, made sure nothing has gotten into that sponge then actually they are exposed to whatever message they may hear...
You have the opportunity as a parent to fill this sponge with what you think is important...and then it's a full sponge. What happens with a full sponge is that when something else is poured on top of it, it rolls off but if there is nothing there the very first thing they hear is what lands...
As a parent it is so much easier when you know what is in there because you got there first. The culture will have an impact on your children, but the good news is, you get them first. You get the power of the first impression...Take advantage of this time when they are young and fill their sponge."
For the first 8 years of my children's lives, I have tried to focus on depositing truth into their hearts. (Between stomach bugs, laundry, sibling squabbles and after school activities...haha) When I pause to reflect on what really matters, I am convinced this is vitally important. I want whatever 'truth' life brings my children's way to have to filter through foundations that have been prayerfully and thoughtfully laid. My passion for doing this was affirmed as I listened to these young people talk.
In elementary school this seems to shift from simply hearing Bible stories and learning verses to really applying them to the circumstances of our lives. Conversations with these little people have become vitally important as they attempt to process this world and whether or not 'God works.'
But I had an additional realization. At some point, as Mama (and Daddy) birds that serve and love by regurgitating even as we prepare to teach them to fly, we have to be willing to let others enter in and build community around our children. We also need to seek ways to do that for other parents and their children as well.
I was challenged to continue to be very intentional about what other adults my children are learning to count as trustworthy parts of our extended 'fictive' family. (This is especially important living in a town where we don't have 'real' relatives.) As much as most of us embrace our roles a primary caregivers for our children, may we never forget that community is a Biblical concept. It takes a village. Who are you inviting to be a part of yours?