Published in Connections Magazine (May/June 2012)
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The Holy Spirit, Our Children and Youth
by Marcus J. Carlson
As parents—and as a church family—we always want the best for our children and youth. We know we are obligated to keep them safe, provide for them and lead them spiritually so that they might grow into their own relationship with Christ. As parents—and as leaders of children and youth ministries— we cannot always succeed or be perfect in our parenting; after all, it is hard work, and we are human beings.
There is this thing known as sin as well. Sometimes what we think is best for our children and youth resembles what we want and need as adults instead of what the Holy Spirit is doing and wants for our children and youth. We easily forget that the Holy Spirit leads and guides us as we parent and work with the children and youth entrusted to us in our family, our church and our circle of influence.
We often react and respond based on emotion or instinct, especially when it comes to our children, youth, families (and even our churches). We should stop and sincerely ask the question, “What is the Holy Spirit up to right now?” We must look to the Holy Spirit for guidance in all things and trust the Holy Spirit is speaking in the midst of every situation and wants to use all things to draw us closer to God. As evidenced in Scripture and history, God is always redeeming all things and making them new.
Parenting and leading our children and youth can be challenging and difficult. The Holy Spirit will help us—and in many ways make this task easier—but it would be wrong not to admit that following God’s direction is not always easy. It continues to amaze me both as a parent and a pastor how freeing it can be once I choose to let go and trust God with the lives of the children and youth I care about. Maybe it is personal fear, our individualistic nature or a desire for control that causes us to assume control over things we must trust God with. If we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to lead, not only do we find freedom, but also the process and the results will be more fruitful.
This does not mean that we abdicate our responsibility; rather, it means we recognize the significance of our responsibility and our need to have God lead us as we care for the children and youth in our families and churches. We must make our best effort to discern what the Holy Spirit is, has and wants to do in the life of our children and youth in all things, not just their spiritual lives. God cares deeply about every aspect of the lives of His children, and the Holy Spirit is here to guide, encourage, support and challenge us as we accept the high calling of parenting and caring for the children and youth in our families, our church and our community.
We somehow assume God needs us or that God is our backup plan. We assume we are in charge and fully responsible and in control. It does not take children or teenagers (especially teenagers) to remind us that there is little we can control. To illustrate this idea, Jesus offers a parable about a sower where he explains the difference between the planting of four seeds. Jesus loved to use agricultural imagery in much of His teaching.
Our culture today is nowhere near as agricultural as the culture Jesus was speaking to, but we can all understand the simplicity of this parable. If you try to plant a seed on the sidewalk, some animal will eat it. If you try to plant a seed amongst the dirt and the rocks, it won’t grow well because it cannot take full root. If you try to plant a seed among the weeds and the thorns, they will choke it. If you plant a seed on good soil, however, it will grow and produce fruit. Sounds good, right? If you ask any farmer or gardener, they will tell you that the first three statements are almost always true and the last statement is usually true. It is possible to plant a seed in perfect soil, give it the right amount of moisture, sun and care and still have it not grow.
Parenting, as well as leading our children and youth, is a seed-planting mission. We must do all we can to cultivate the right environment and experiences for them to have the best opportunity to grow and flourish in every way. While we can do all of these things by the grace of God, who provides us the means to do so, we are still not in control. Whether or not the seed grows, how it grows or what it produces is not really up to us—it is up to God. The more I remind myself of this reality, the more I am humbled and empowered to care for and lead the children and youth God has put in my life. If we all recognize that it is God through the Holy Spirit, who leads and guides us, and that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the seed (our children and youth) grow, then we can be empowered to not only better parent, serve and lead our children and youth, but we will grow in our faith as well.
Recently I was walking my youngest child, my daughter Abby (who is 4 going on 30), from my church office to the preschool at the church. As we were leaving my office so she could go to school for the day, she looked at the two baby pictures in my office of the children. She asked which one was her and after I asked her to guess, she picked correctly.
“I was beautiful, Daddy!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” I said, “and you are still beautiful.”
“You and mommy changed my diapers when I was a baby.” “Yes,” I said, “we did and we loved to take care of you.”
I could see her mind processing it all, and as we walked hand in hand to school I was reminded that the Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through our children. Time and time again I learn more about God from children and youth that changes my life and ministry than I ever could have learned in seminary. Remember, God can speak to us, the church and the world, through our children and youth. Also, the Holy Spirit can speak to our children and youth as well, enabling them to lead us to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit is speaking to us through our children and youth. The Holy Spirit guides us and calls us to align ourselves with the will of God as we care for our children and youth in our families, our churches and our community. May we always recognize that the Holy Spirit is at work in, around and through us.