I have no greater joy than to hear
that my children walk in truth.
3 John 1:4
As a young parent, with absolutely no doubt that my children--being raised in the church by Christian parents--would certainly walk in truth, I concurred that there could be no greater joy.
Now as the parent of adult children, I can honestly say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there really is no greater joy than to hear that my children and grandchildren walk in truth.
Unfortunately, my definition of walking in truth and what that really looks like has changed over the years.
When children are young, it is easy to provide the right conditions for walking in perceived truth. My children memorized the Word. They attended church and vacation bible schools. They prayed at the dinner table. They read devotional books. They all chose to be baptized. They served in different ministries. Some went on mission trips. Most of them even voiced a desire at an early age to one day go into full-time ministry--which is probably pretty common since I remember considering becoming a nun after spending time with my great aunts, Sister Mary Rose and Sister Huberta. It seemed like the "right" thing to do if I loved God and I wanted to please some of my family members.
As parents, my husband and I tried to model what good Christians look like. We didn't smoke or drink or swear--well, hardly ever. We encouraged modesty and moral choices. I know these were not bad things and did, in fact, protect our children from many things that their father and I were not protected from. In the process, though, we may have defined what walking in truth looked like for our family.
Many times our hearts were in a place of peace because it appeared that our children had "arrived" at the place of our "no greater joy." They were doing and saying and living according to our truth barometer. Their hearts were never questioned. Maybe we didn't really want to know.
And now I think we could have done better. I think we majored on sin and its consequences more than love and grace. We, whether knowingly or not, established a system of balance--of reward and punishment. Out of fear, we warned of what could happen if . . . And all of our warnings were, most likely, strong contenders for outcomes. The problem with that approach, though, is that we may have ended up linking obedience and certain behaviors with walking in truth, which, in turn, linked them with love and acceptance which, in turn, may have skewed our children's views of God.
While obedience and behavior are important in the life of a Christian, they should never be linked with walking in truth or love and acceptance. Yes, it was how we were raised. Yes, it is oftentimes the message of the church.
If I could go back, I would do a few things differently. I would still choose to not smoke or drink or swear because I think these are good choices for a variety of reasons. I would still discuss the consequences of sin and disobedience. I would also choose, however, to communicate the message of hope, what the Bible defines as confident assurance, a whole lot more. I believe it is what makes the difference between appearing to walk in truth and actually walking in truth.
Because our good behavior will not be what sees us through the difficult things of life. Hope will.
Because when we mess up, consequences will not necessarily bring us to repentance. Hope will.
Because when we wonder what life is really about, understanding will not be found in our moral choices. It will be found in hope.
Hope--confident assurance in the love of God and the salvation message of redemption.
I would tell my children often that life is better with God because of hope. It is not necessarily easier. But it is better.
I would tell them often that no matter what, they are loved by a God who sent us hope through His son, Jesus Christ. And no matter what they do or how they choose to live, nothing can separate them from His love or ours. Their choices may break their parents' hearts--may break their Savior's heart--but they won't separate them from hope.
There will always be hope.
And I would pray more for them to grasp these truths than for them to obey the rules.
Because to walk in truth, one must embrace hope.