June 14, 2024

When We Want Our Loved Ones to Know God, Too!

I was in 8th grade, about to graduate, and had reached the end of my two-year confirmation class at my church. In the class, we memorized Bible verses, learned about the Lutheran catechism, and explored Christians beliefs. I questioned nearly everything and eventually, the pastor asked if I could save my questions for after class (for time’s sake).

Now that the course was over, I was scheduled to make a declaration of faith in front of the congregation the next morning. I couldn’t sleep that night. I went to wake my mom, and, gasping through tears, I told her I didn’t know what I believed. Could I make myself know what I believed? If so, I would do it! I wanted certainty, but couldn’t lie to myself. I wasn’t sure. My mom, to her credit, said, “Okay! Let’s look for a verse that fits how you feel.” 

So, the next morning, I scrapped my preplanned speech and I stood in front of the congregation and I said, “I don’t know what I believe, but I’m going to find out.” I said my life verse would be 1 Peter 1:6-7: 

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 

And now, at 33 years old, I am so incredibly proud of little Janie. I’m so proud that she wanted “genuineness of faith” and was willing to be uncomfortable or misunderstood in her pursuit of it. 

Also, now at 33… I’m pregnant (surprise!!!) for the first time. And all of these memories are coming back to mind because I wonder how I will parent my son. How will I share the gospel with him? Will I encourage him in his honesty if he stands and says, “I don’t know, but I will find out”? Or will I decide that he must say something he isn’t certain of for my (or others’) comfort?

Growing up as a doubter and questioner must have been hard for the people around me who desperately wanted to control my faith. I’m sure they wanted to make sure I believed because they loved me and wanted the most for me. But no matter how much they may have been tempted to control my faith, the truth is… it was never controllable.

To explain what I mean: if a parent repeatedly tells their child “your favorite color must be orange,” the child may internalize it enough to tell others their favorite color is orange. But they may never really know what their favorite color is. Is their favorite color orange? Maybe. They never gave themselves the space to know the truth in their hearts. The parent’s force didn’t change anything in their hearts, even if it changed their words. In the same way, we can’t make someone have faith by telling them to. We can tell them how wonderful God is and we can invite them to see it for themselves, but we can’t control someone’s faith.

And worse, if we control their knee-jerk answers, and we scare them into saying what we want them to say, it may be more damaging to their journeys in the long run. They may eventually associate faith with force and fear, which are two things Jesus never stood for. Just like with the color example, we can’t make someone choose Jesus.

And Jesus never tells us that this control is the goal. 

When Jesus tells the disciples to go tell others about Him, He doesn’t say to manipulate, guilt, or shame others into choosing Him. He says to spread the good news. And then He uses the analogy of *fishing*. 

Today, fishing is a bit more of an active sport. We have a line. We swing the rod back. We have bait on the hook. But back then, they had a net. They had to go to a spot, and put out the net, but other than that, they couldn’t control a thing. Other than going to a spot and putting something in the water, it was really more up to the fish. Jesus didn’t use the analogy of wresting, or of hunting with a bow and arrow. He said to share the good news, and then pull up whatever came. He didn’t want force or coercion. He didn’t want evangelism to be a conquest. He simply wanted His disciples to share His love, tell others what He is offering, and then let others decide. 

He wanted freedom, and to let people accept what He offers. Free will has been one of His biggest values since creation with Adam and Eve.

And I think it’s because Jesus believed, as it says in 1 Peter 1, that genuine faith IS of greater worth than gold. Genuine faith only comes with free will. If God values free will and genuineness that much, how could we not? How could we possibly even consider placing our desires of comfort or image above someone else’s genuineness of faith?

God is my life’s joy, and of course I want that joy for my son, and for others I love. I’m not going to hide what I’ve found. It’s good news and I’ll share. But I hope I can be like my parents and let my son’s faith be about him and God. 

Not me. 

Not social pressure. 

Not what will please others. 

Just about seeking truth, with no other objective. 

I hope my son knows I support him. And I hope my friends and family who are seeking truth know the same. Being honest with ourselves takes bravery, especially if we feel we are disappointing others. This isn’t to say I hope people doubt, or that I want others to poke holes in their faith for fun. I wish I never had to go through so much doubt and confusion. I wish I always knew God the way I know Him now. But I am saying that it is important to have the freedom to be honest with ourselves with where we are in our faith, and go from there. I believe God can do a lot with honesty as long as we stay open to Him. God says, “whoever seeks, finds,” and I believe this is true for everyone who wants to find Him. He is the one who cares the most for our loved ones and He wants them to know of His love. I can trust that, pray for them, and reject any temptation to control the appearance of faith. The genuineness of faith is far more important.

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