On Sunday during church I glanced over at my 14 year old daughter. She was sitting on the pew, cross-legged and jeans-clad and barefoot, having abandoned her shoes under the bench. On her left arm was a rather ornate flower drawn in ink and colored in with gel pen. A moment before she’d been singing her heart out to Jesus. As my eyes lingered admiringly on the gel pen art, it suddenly struck me how very much I have changed over the years.
With our first half dozen children or so, I was so very caught up in appearances. Sunday clothes meant skirts for the girls, with pants allowed only now and then. Boys wore nice pants, or maybe black jeans, but only if not too faded. Shoes, of course. No going barefoot in church. Keep your feet on the floor. Hair was neat and tidy and slicked back. No writing on your arms, and especially not with colored ink.
I am not sure how I decided on all those rules, but I’m pretty sure I had unhappy moments with my older children over every single one of those rules.
So why on earth the other day was I simply admiring my daughter’s arm instead of coaxing her to put shoes back on, and sit up straight, and wipe off all that ink?
It’s simple. When you’ve raised enough kids, chances are you’ve seen enough big stuff– the really important decisions that big kids make– to see that appearance means nothing. Not one thing.
You also see more clearly how fast this parenting journey goes.
Plenty of times in my early parenting years I ruined good moments– moments that could have bound hearts together– making sure my kids looked good in public. I valued their appearance over their hearts.
Don’t get me wrong– I’ve always cared for their hearts too. We spent many hours teaching them truth and sharing our values and praying with and for them. But I know there were times when my worry over how things looked to the world sidetracked me from the really important stuff that was going on in my kids’ hearts. Times when the ‘appearance’ message made it hard for my kids to see how profoundly I do care about their hearts. And probably harder for them to share those precious hearts with me.
If I could go back as a mom and redo the parenting of my older kids, I’d release my expectations about appearances. With little kids, expectations are often related to whether their clothes match or look nice enough for church. With big kids these days, parents find themselves wrestling with questions about piercings and ink and what’s modest and what’s not. These discussions are weighty indeed. But when it comes down to it, none of those things truly affect my child’s salvation.
The real heart-and-soul questions have nothing to do with what my children wear or what they choose to write on their bodies, or whether their feet are on the pew or on the floor during the sermon. It all comes down to the heart. What’s going on inside those precious, priceless hearts of theirs? Do they love and trust in Jesus? Are they loving the people around them? Do they know how much they are loved by God and by us?
We humans can fall into so many pits and traps. We can be sidetracked in so very many ways. But our only hope — our children’s only hope– in life and in eternity is faith in Jesus’ perfect atoning work on the cross. Faith in the Saviour who passionately loves us. Enough that He died for us right in the middle of all our mixed-up imperfection and brokenness. That is the one thing this finally-getting-wiser momma wants each and every one of my precious ones to understand.
Where is your child’s hope?
Where is yours?
In Christ alone our hope is found.
That’s what really matters.
1 Samuel 16:7– “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”