In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic the world has seemingly spun into a panic. While I can’t recall ever having experienced a worldwide crisis of this magnitude, like most people, I’ve had my share of personal crises. Sometimes, I’ve handled crises well. At other times—not so much. One thing I’ve learned, though, that I want to be sure to pass along to my children is the importance of spiritual resilience for weathering a crisis. Here are a few suggestions that I’d recommend to fathers who hope to model spiritual resilience to their children in moments of crisis.
For many men, this is a tough one. Society teaches men to hide their weaknesses and exaggerate their strengths. As spiritual mentors for our children, however, we must do precisely the opposite.
Children tend to view their fathers as superheroes by default. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a hero to your kids. By all means—be that hero. But even Superman has his kryptonite. And if we’re honest, as men and as fathers, we have weaknesses, shortcomings, fears, and insecurities.
Often, as men, we are taught to hide or even deny our vulnerabilities. It isn’t “manly” to let our weaknesses show. We have to reject this idea. Hiding or denying vulnerabilities isn’t strength, it’s cowardice. And there’s nothing less manly than cowardice.
The Apostle Paul had a weakness, too. He referred to it as a “thorn in the flesh.” We hear, in 2 Corinthians 12:8 that he prayed three times that God would simply remove this weakness from his life. But God had a different answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9, ESV).
Our strength comes from God. We have access to His power. When we pretend that we are invulnerable, when we hide our weaknesses, we prevent His strength from coming through in our lives. When we are weak, He is strong.
Pray with Your Kids
My three boys are only ages 6, 2, and 1. Only the 6-year-old understands prayer in any meaningful way. But the younger two can still start to learn. My two-year-old will fold his hands and close his eyes. When we say “Amen” he echoes “Amen!” right back.
Children will pray for silly things. Don’t chastise them for it. We are all a little immature about what we pray for, at times. When I was a kid, I can remember praying to God that he’d give me the powers of Superman. He gave me a hard “no.” My six-year-old has prayed that God would bring the dinosaurs back. Again, I don’t expect a “yes” reply to that prayer, but all things are possible with God!
The point is this—it is more crucial that we model the “habit” of praying to God, feeling comfortable speaking to God and listening, than it is important that we teach children to pray in any particular way, or to ask for the right things, and the like.
Theologians might debate about the right “formula” or the proper “method” of prayer. There are prayer models out there galore—from the ACTS method to the classic “collect” formula, and hundreds of others. We can learn these methods and apply them if helpful. But learning “how” to pray is far easier than learning the habit of prayer. When our children are young they are primed to develop habits that can last a lifetime.
I think that’s why, for instance, that God gives us baby teeth. So, we can learn to develop the “habit” of tooth brushing with teeth we’ll be replacing soon anyway. Prayer is like anything else—when we can develop the habit young, we are more likely to persist in the habit for a lifetime.
This isn’t just about praying before meals, or at night before bed—though these are great times to pray by habit. Pray in all circumstances. When something good happens, speak a quick prayer to give thanks. When you are happy, say a prayer. When you are sad, say a prayer. When you just want to talk to a friend—say a prayer. Then, when a crisis strikes, praying will feel as natural as breathing.
Prioritize Your Own Spiritual Health
We can’t expect to raise our children into spiritual giants if we are, ourselves, spiritual infants. But I’d be the first one to admit that developing a healthy and rewarding spiritual life is anything but easy.
When the schedule is full, “squeezing” in some time for prayer and meditation on the Word is difficult. But isn’t that the problem? The problem, in my experience, is that we don’t treat our spiritual lives like a scheduling priority. Some complain that scheduling time for prayer seems ritualistic. It encourages a “going through the motions” kind of prayer life that may not be genuine. In my experience, though, the people who make this argument are those who have never really tried to stick to a prayer schedule for any lengthy period.
The things we put on our calendars are the things that matter to us the most. Scheduling time for prayer and reading and meditating on Scripture shows that these are priorities in our lives. Trust me—it will be difficult at first! There might not be an immediate pay-off. Stick to it. Keep praying, even if it feels like you’re speaking into thin air. Stick to it long enough and you’ll find that the “God Time” you’ve scheduled is the most sacred part of your day.
Don’t Minimize or Gloss Over the Crisis
As fathers and parents, we naturally want to shelter our kids from the worst of the world. At times this is appropriate. There are adult issues in the world that might not be appropriate for our kids—depending, of course, on their ages. But there are still ways we can translate the gravity of a crisis into a language that our children can understand without, unnecessarily, burdening them with the “adult” details.
Translate the crisis into a language that they can understand. Answer their questions the best you can. But do not minimize the crisis. Learning how to navigate a crisis, both practically and spiritually, is one of the most important lessons a parent can instill upon a child. By modeling how to navigate a crisis with spiritual resilience you will teach your children how to stand firm when the storms of life start to brew.
Don’t Wait for a Crisis to Exercise Your Faith
Almost anyone—even some atheists—can discover prayer in the middle of a crisis. Such “fox hole” prayers, though, tend to come from a place of fear rather than from a place of faith or confidence. Fear is a poor foundation or basis for spiritual health. Paul once wrote to a young man named Timothy—a man he thought of as his own son—that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7, ESV).
Crises tend to come upon us like a wildfire. When a fire overtakes our lives, some things get burned up and consumed. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, that such trials serve to “test” the integrity of our deeds. A crisis can serve as a barometer of our spiritual health. Do the things we’ve built up for ourselves help us through it? If we’ve developed a faith built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, it will survive the fires of crisis.