Published in Connections Magazine (March/April 2015)
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faith and family
Helping Our Children and Adolescents See Jesus
by Marcus J. Carlson
I have always enjoyed Easter, even long before I knew the meaning of this holy day. As a parent and a pastor, it is one of the holidays that brings together the best of three worlds: time with church focused on Christ, time with my family and deep joy for my kids. Easter also serves as a reminder of the essence and power of our faith. On Easter we are reminded of the joy of the resurrection and of new life in Christ. Like any holiday, I want my own children to have a wonderful experience, to know its meaning and to carefully and simply enjoy the extra stuff that comes with it. I carry that same mindset into ministry within any congregation, especially with our children and youth.
When I reflect on the Easter story as it is found in the Scripture, one word often comes to mind. See. In the story of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb, the word see makes more than one appearance. It is important, perhaps more important than we realize. The truth of the Gospel, of parenting— and of anything of great value—is that it is often simple to understand and recognize, yet difficult to live out. This is true of parenting, discipleship, following Jesus and much more. The word see is a short and simple word, with many meanings, especially in the Scripture, yet to live a life of sight, of Christ-like sight, is no small task.
Easter is a reminder that we as parents, adults and Christ followers must see Jesus and to help those around us, especially our children and youth, to see Jesus. This short word has many meanings as there are many ways to see. It can be as simple as noticing something and as profound as deep understanding. In the Easter story, those who go to the tomb see a total of three times that the tomb is empty and Jesus was not there, but each time their seeing was different. I find this fascinating, yet it also reveals an important truth: there are many ways to see Jesus.
Do we simply notice Jesus? Do we go so far as to investigate and know about Jesus? Do we really desire to see Jesus in such a way that we have a deep understanding of who He is? This is not only a question for each of us as disciples of Jesus to answer. As parents, grandparents, community and church members, it is our call to help our children and adolescents see Jesus. As a parent, and certainly as a pastor, I have many hopes and dreams for my children and for the children, adolescents and adults in our church and community. For me, the emphasis has always been on pointing people to Jesus and the Kingdom. This starts with a focus on Scripture. I want my own children and those I lead and serve to do more that notice Jesus, believe in Jesus or simply investigate Jesus. I want those I love and serve to truly know Jesus on a deeper level, to see Jesus fully in a way that transforms their hearts, minds and lives over and over again.
Each night at family dinner, we talk about a variety of things, but we always try to share three things: the best part of our day (the high), the toughest part of our day (the low), and a time we thought about or saw God during our day (the holy). This has been a meaningful practice and we ask that everyone have at least one high and one holy. It has been interesting to listen to and learn from each other as we have shared this tradition over the past several years. Not only has it brought us closer together, but closer to God as well.
I have also found that this practice causes us to more easily see God and assists us in more naturally looking for God in our daily life. The more we look for God, the more we practice our seeing, and the more often and more natural our sight becomes. The depth of our seeing is enhanced greatly when we practice looking for and seeing God in our daily lives. While those going to the tomb noticed right away that it was empty, it was the third time when they looked inside that it began to sink in. Even then, when Jesus appeared they did not see at first that it was Jesus. It’s a reminder that see- ing Jesus, following Jesus and pointing people to Jesus is not a one time event or task, it is a continual activity, both in our own lives and in the lives of our children and adolescents.
So often, we only seek to see Jesus in the midst of worship or some other religious experience. It is in the midst of great suffering and great joy that we can more easily look for Jesus, but to look for Him in the day to day, normal living of our life requires commitment and intentionality. At the center of the faith formation of children and adolescents is relation- ship—relationship with God and with adults who love Jesus and model a relationship with Jesus. While there is much debate about the best approach to Christian education and faith formation, the proven, most effective means of education and faith formation are having significant, intentional relationships with adults who love Jesus.
While programs can be helpful, they are merely tools to create meaningful relationships and community. While our relationship with Jesus is personal, faith at its core is communal. Helping our children and adolescents find meaningful, Christ-focused community is the best thing we can do for them. Creating healthy, invested, Christ-centered community in our homes, churches and communities for our children and adolescents is the most effective way to help our children and adolescents see Jesus in a profound way. This effort must be intentional and intergenerational in nature. iIn addition to their parents, our children and adolescents need at least five invested adults in their lives who love them and love Jesus.
This Easter as we celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever received and once again embrace our relationship with
Jesus, may we see Jesus more clearly. May we trust Christ and help those around us see Jesus in a more meaningful, profound and transformative way. This Easter embrace the gift of relationship and seek meaningful relationship with Jesus and our children and adolescents so that they too may see Jesus.
Christ is Risen!