The Relational Factor: Part 1
- 2003 3 Apr
Whether parent, pastor, youth leader, or teacher, you and I want the best for our youth. We want them to be healthy. We want them to form good, positive friendships. We want them to do well in school. We want to them to do well in life. As Christians, we believe the best life our children can have is in vital, dynamic relationship with Christ. We desire to see them grow in relationship with Christ and to live godly lives according to deeply held Christian convictions.
But how does that transfer take place? How do we raise our children to become vibrant Christian men and women? Certainly, we need to teach biblical precepts and the message of the gospel. Yet, I would suggest, the most important component of any instruction we give our kids is that it is given in the context of a meaningful relationship. If we fail to develop good relationships with our children, our teaching will likely fall on deaf ears.
In a letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul set a precedent for this kind of relational evangelism and discipleship. "Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives" (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, NASB, italics added). Paul didn't simply teach the evidence for the gospel and explain his faith in theological terms. He connected with those he ministered to, and passed on his Christian beliefs through personal relationships. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to make surface-level connections with our kids, much less to find a way to share the deepest parts of their lives in a relevant way. Yet, I believe there are at least six biblical connecting points we can make with our kids that will touch them relationally and mold them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We will look at the first three points here to help you begin establishing an intimate connection with your kids that will allow you to impart your very life to them.
Connecting Point #1: Affirmation
- A frequent sentiment young people express about adults is, "They don't understand me." When kids don't think you identify with them, they are less likely to feel connected to you emotionally. And if they don't feel relationally connected with you, they will have a hard time accepting what you have to say. One of the most effective ways to identify with your child, even if you don't fully understand him, is to affirm his feelings. To affirm means "to validate or confirm." When we affirm our kids' feelings, we give them a sense of authenticity. Affirming your child's feelings tells him that he is a real individual with valid feelings. It lets him know he is understood for who he is. When he is happy, take time to rejoice with him. When he is disappointed or has been emotionally hurt, resist the urge to offer a pep talk. Instead, identify with his pain. Simply hurt with him as Romans 12:15 admonishes us, "When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow" (NLT).
Connecting Point #2: Acceptance
- Paul exhorts us, "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you" (Rom. 15:7, NIV). How does Christ accept us? Unconditionally, right where we are, warts and all. He doesn't wait until we've got it together before inviting us into relationship with him. We are invited into relationship with him while we are yet sinners. Acceptance is embracing people for who they are rather than for what they do. When we accept our kids, we give them a sense of security. When they feel accepted for who they are, they are more likely to be vulnerable and transparent with us. That opens the door to authentic connection.
Connecting Point #3: Appreciation
- While acceptance is the foundation for a secure relationship, appreciation is the cornerstone. Acceptance tells our children their being matters. Expressing our appreciation to them says that their doing matters, too. When we express appreciation to a young person, we give him a sense of significance-a feeling that his abilities and accomplishments make a difference. It conveys the idea, "Hey, I've got something to offer!" Recently a major national magazine reported on eight key things parents could do to help their children excel in school; one was "applaud the effort." Yes, we should applaud success. But more importantly, we must applaud effort and persistence. Such appreciation will foster a deeper and stronger connection between you and your child.
Experience the Connection Certainly, it is a challenge to be a parent, youth worker, or teacher in a 21st century culture of godlessness. But by God's grace, and by diligently affirming, accepting, and appreciating, we can make the kinds of relational and emotional connections our kids crave and need so deeply. Only then will our kids be truly willing to accept and respond to our teaching. As we do so, not only will we prevent "disconnectedness" and alienation that results in so much hurt in our kids' lives, but we will also impart a strong sense of authenticity, security, and significance. That will equip them to live as "children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which [they] shine like stars in the universe" (Philippians 2:15, NIV).