Spiritual Life Skills For Kids: What Am I Aiming For?
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Janel BreitensteinJanel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), is a "you-can-totally-do-this" guide to t...more
As Christians, we want our kids to love and follow Jesus. Janel Breitenstein encourages us to evaluate our parenting goals so that we may encourage lasting habits that prepare kids for a relationship with Him.
Spiritual Life Skills For Kids: What Am I Aiming For?
Dave: Alright, I have a pop quiz—
Ann: Oh, I hate pop quizzes! [Laughter]
Dave: —for moms and dads today.
Ann: Okay. Oh, I don’t have to take it?
Dave: No, I’m going to have you take it.
Dave: But it’s like, if you had a multiple-choice option—I’m not saying the others wouldn’t be true—but if you had to pick only one of these for your kids—
Dave: —when they are adults—
Dave: —which one of these—
Ann: So listeners, listen up! Get ready.
Dave: Yes; so if you’re thinking about what you hope your kids will be when they’re adults—
Dave: —would you pick number 1 to be: “They will never have any serious financial problems,” or—
Dave: —2: “They will have good health and long life,”
Ann: Oh, that’s a good one too; okay.
Dave: —or 3: “They’ll have a happy marriage,”
Ann: Oh, that’s a really good one.
Dave: —or 4: “They will walk with Jesus and be men and women of godly character,”
Dave: —or 5: “They will play in the NFL”?
Ann: Eh-uh! [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson; and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I added that one.
Ann: Of course, you did!! [Laughter]
For me, it would definitely be 4.
Dave: I know! Every Christian parent’s going to pick number 4.
Ann: I don’t know, though, Dave.
Dave: Is that true?
Ann: Because we want all of those things. None of those things are necessarily bad.
Dave: No!—none of them are bad.
Ann: You want that for your kids, honestly. I don’t know about the NFL thing. [Laughter] But you don’t want your kids to have financial problems; and you want them to have good health and long lives; and you definitely want them to have a happy marriage; but apart from Jesus, those things can seem empty and hard to attain.
Dave: Yes; as a Christ-follower, you are probably going to pick number 4: “I want my kids to walk with God as adult men and women.” But here’s the question: “How do we get them there?” Because that’s—you know, it’s like: “There’s the goal; there’s the finish line. What’s the strategy? What’s the road map to get there?”
So we need help. We’ve got—
Ann: We have Janel Breitenstein with us, again, today. Janel, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Janel: Thanks so much. It’s a delight!
Ann: You’ve written a book called Permanent Markers, and we’ve already been talking about this.
We really love having you with us. You’re a mom; you’re a wife. You used to live in Africa.
Janel: Yes; five years.
Ann: What were you doing?
Janel: We were with Engineering Ministries, International, but partner with organizations that are helping the poor and preaching the gospel. It’s design, engineering, and construction work; so that means hospitals, schools, water projects. And personally, I was teaching refugees; so really fulfilling work.
Dave: Wow! What a life!
Ann: And now, you’re back in the United States.
Ann: You’re living in Colorado. What are you doing now?
Janel: I’m a freelance writer and an author. I actually do a lot of work for FamilyLife; I’m one of their normal contributors. This—Permanent Markers—is my first book. The subtitle is Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts.
Dave: So there’s the question: “How do you write spiritual life skills on your children’s hearts?” You’re in the middle of it now. Your oldest is—what?—17?
Dave: So how are you doing it?—perfectly, I’m sure.
Janel: Oh, yes; flawlessly, I’m sure. It’s a good thing he’s not sitting there behind the Plexiglas. I really think it does depend on the kid, and on their season of life, and everything.
And by the way, I just want to circle back here; because I looked this up specifically for Dave before I came here. Have you ever heard of the name Jim Marshall, who played for the Minnesota Vikings?
Dave: Yes, I have.
Janel: So he was, in 1964—I think he’s the only person to do this in NFL history—he ran 66 yards the wrong way—
Dave: Yes, he did.
Janel: —for the 49ers. I had no idea; but I was like, “I think I need a football analogy for Dave.” [Laughter]
Dave: You don’t have to do that.
Ann: In your book, you use soccer with your kids.
Janel: I do; I do! [Laughter]
But the thing is—a lot of times—yes, I had my son be extremely proud of a goal he got in the goal for the other team.
Dave: The point is what?—you know, you’re aiming for the wrong thing?
Janel: I think, sometimes, we don’t know that we’re aiming for the wrong thing; because we’re aiming for everything except number 4—
Ann: Oh, so true.
Janel: —you know? Or number 4 plus everything else. And the honest truth is: “There are a lot of things that can pollute number 4.”
Dave: What does that mean?
Janel: There are a lot of things we add on to our personal version of the gospel—whether it is achievement/”What I do”; or what others think of me; or what I have, whether it is security, or control, or cash, or education—and if we are adding anything to that, the Bible’s pretty explicit that that’s a false gospel. At our core, what gives us our worth and our value has to be Jesus Christ and the work He’s already done for us.
Dave: You’re getting into identity—
Janel: I am!
Dave: —which, in your book, you talk about that, as a parent, trying to help your son or daughter understand their identity—so walk us through that a little bit.
Janel: Sure; I’ll start with a serious example, and then go to a funnier one. Yesterday, we signed a bunch of papers for my son to take the first step in being active duty for the Marines.
Janel: So my momma’s heart is involved in that quite a bit right now, just thinking through what God might have for the warrior He’s created in my family.
Ann: You’re probably proud and scared.
Janel: Scared; yes! And extremely proud.
It was interesting, while we were sitting in that recruiting office, I heard one of the other officers say that someone was working out in the back. They said, “He’s making himself better.” When we were in the car afterward, I said, “Baden, I’m going to have a mom moment here. You’re just going to have to excuse me, because I’m going to get spiritual about this. When he said that, I want you to know something—you’re going to work really hard, and you’re going to improve in a lot of ways in the next several years—I’m going to be exceedingly proud of you; but I want to let you know: ‘None of those things will make you more worthy in my eyes or in God’s. If you get the idea that you are actually making yourself “better,” and more worthy or more valuable, you will be chasing the wind.’”
Dave: Way to go, mom!
Janel: Well, I don’t know if he rolled his eyes or not. [Laughter] I don’t know; sometimes, I feel like my kids’ eyes might just pop out into my perpetually empty fridge.
Dave: Well, I’ll tell you this—
Ann: That was a permanent marker right there.
Janel: I hope so. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, I was going to say—I know what Ann’s thinking—if he rolled his eyes—which I doubt he did, but even if he did—he will never forget that moment.
Janel: I really hope so.
Dave: Someday/someday—maybe five/ten years; who knows?—where maybe the wind is—I’m telling you; am I right?
Ann: Yes, God will use it.
Dave: That’s why I say, “Way to go!”
Janel: I sure hope so.
Ann: It marked him.
Janel: I take a lot of comfort in the idea that God’s Word, when you speak it to our kids—whether directly in Scripture or just His principles—that it doesn’t return void.
Janel: And that even faith as small as a mustard seed makes huge trees in our kids.
Dave: If you’re a mom or dad listening, do what Janel did. Don’t miss those moments to speak truth.
Dave: I can tell by the way you said it, it wasn’t “in your face”; but it was truth, like, “This moment’s going to be gone in five minutes”; you know? You’re going to blink; and he’s going to be gone, and you’ve missed those opportunities. There may be a mom or dad, listening right now, that today is the day you get a moment like that; don’t miss it!
Ann: And Janel, I want you to go back; because we were off-air when you talked about this son being a warrior and his identity—and how that wasn’t easy for you to receive—having a warrior; what does that mean?
Janel: That’s a great question. I mentioned that part of one of the battles I’ve had to fight in myself, as a parent, is to not raise kids in my own image—and raise the kids I wanted to have; the kids I thought I deserved; and the kids I thought, “God must want me to have, because this is what I value,”—the reality is He’s made them in His image, as His workmanship/His poem—it’s what we hear in the Greek of Ephesians 2:10. If I try to rewrite that, woe be unto me, as a parent, shaping them to look like me instead of the person He’s created them to be.
I am a helper, and I am an achiever; and I have no kids who are wired like me. I have none of them that are people-pleasers. [Laughter] None that want to do things because they should.
My oldest is a warrior. I have no military background in my family. He’s a warrior, not just in the military way, but all in personality. He fights for God’s kingdom; sometimes, for his own agenda. God created him as a warrior. I felt like, at some point/maybe just a year ago, I was really struggling with this, and the idea that he wanted to be in the military.
When we had gone to Africa to help, I felt like God was putting His hand on my shoulder and saying—not audibly, just through His Holy Spirit—“Are you okay if I made your son a warrior? David was a warrior. He was a man after My own heart.” And it was interesting; because when I heard my son talking to the recruiter, he said, “My parents went to Africa, and they helped people; and this is my way to help people. He’s talked about maybe, after his military career, going with IJM—International Justice Mission—helping people in trafficking and things like that. He’s been the one to stand up for girls in his class, who he feels are possibly in abusive situations.
If I stepped in and put my personality over that, what a tragedy for this world to not get God’s image in him.
Janel: What about you? I heard that you might have a son, who’s a warrior, too, Ann?
Ann: The first time I heard this son preach, Dave was with me—we were sitting beside each other—he was preaching at our church.
Ann: But I remember: “He’s strong!”—like, “He’s a preacher!” And he’s crying, because he’s passionate. And he’s winsome, but he’s funny. I sat there, crying, because I said to the Lord, “Oh, I see it now!”—[Laughter]—like—“This is amazing!”
Dave: It was all the things that were frustrating; you know?
Ann: And we don’t always see that [when they’re young]. I think, as moms and dads, to be patient—to continue to go back to the Lord to surrender our kids—“Lord, give me wisdom to know how to fan the flame in a way that brings You glory and I’m not going crazy.”
Janel: When my youngest son was 18 months old, he would drive me a little bananas. I literally remember being slumped against the wall, thinking, “I have birthed the Tasmanian Devil.” [Laughter] He was just the kind of kid who: I would be in the bathroom, and he would tear open a drink mix and sprinkle it all over like fairy dust; or he would be the kid I would find on top of the table, just when he was walking, trying to touch the chandelier; every day, he would unload my appliance cupboard, and there would be appliances all over the floor twice a day.
I told this to the doctor at his well-child checkup, hoping she would empathize with my frustration. And she said, in this all-too-perky manner, “Oh, it sounds like he’s mechanical.” And I could have just killed her with my eyes. [Laughter] But the reality is, at some point—actually, it was that same day, when I was slumped against the wall, I felt like God was asking me, “Janel, what if I need him to be this way to cross a jungle to an unreached people group? What if I need him to be this way to stand up for the unborn in a courtroom? What if I need him to be this way to be an inner-city school teacher? Can you just put brakes on it, and can you watch Me lead?”
That’s hard when you have a kid who’s so different from you! You’re the quiet one, and they’re the extrovert, or whatever. Learning to, like a marriage, dovetail with your kids’ strengths and weaknesses.
Ann: It’s beautiful.
Dave: You know, one of the things you do a chapter on is prayer.
Dave: Talk about that, as a parent, and raising, you know, kingdom-minded, gospel-centered kids that, hopefully, as we’ve been talking about all day, become adults that are living out the gospel. Where does prayer fit in?
Janel: Well, you guys raised three boys; so I think part of the problem—
Dave: You’re not allowed to turn it back on us.
Janel: Oh, watch me! [Laughter] But I imagine the idea is like, “Can we just get them to stop yelling up the stairs?”—
Janel: —you know? To even mention the word, “prayer,” and have them hear it without shouting.
Janel: I think part of what this shift needed to be in my heart with prayer is to shift my kids to wanting to be with God rather than just ask Him for things. So that the goal in prayer is not what God does for us, but the goal is God. It’s about creating a prayer lifestyle in the ways we pray with kids that, again, God is our “get to,” not our—
Ann: “have to.”
Janel: Yes!—and “He is what He gives me”; so we raise these consumer kids.
I think we can do this in really practical ways. Say that you’ve got an artistic kid: I think you can make a prayer chain calendar, that they make themselves, for different things that they want to pray for; and we get excited about praying for that thing. You can make a prayer collage.
If you’ve got a kid, who has real kinesthetic love language of touch, light a candle when you pray at night; so it smells good, and they associate it with smell. Rub a great-smelling lotion on their back. When you’re praying, have your arms around them and tousle their hair. Make these moments, where kids are engaging, and prayer is actually a little bit fun and nurturing; they associate it with these positive memories, and creative memories, and times that it’s fun.
There’s even, I think, an idea in the book where you can make a prayer labyrinth on your driveway with sidewalk chalk. You can kind of walk through it, and pray for different things, and teach your kids to be a little more meditative and create some space for God in their lives.
Ann: You’re doing these ways that you’re bringing all these different senses in—you know, ways that our children are wired—into praying, and you’re making it fun. What are you praying about?
Janel: That’s a great question. I do think, sometimes, we’re teaching them they can come to God with anything. For example, I bought a scratch-off map that we hung on my son’s wall. Every time we prayed for a country on our Operation World app, we’d scratch off the country; and he’d get excited about praying for another country. Or we made a prayer deck of different things we wanted to pray for—and he’d—“Pick a card, any card.” I think, sometimes, we’re praying, asking God for things; we want to teach our kids supplication.
But we’re also teaching them things like, “God, this is who You are to me this week, and I’m just really thankful.”
Ann: —so His attributes.
Janel: Yes! Yes, we’re teaching them to engage with God in their own lives—and bring their whole selves—their inner selves. The Psalmist talks about: “My soul blesses the Lord.” So how can we talk about our kid’s bad day and bring that into prayer?
John Calvin once said that the whole of spirituality is both in knowing God and knowing ourselves: “So how can we bring our kids’ knowledge of themselves and what’s going on in their lives into prayer?”
Ann: That’s really good. I think we model that; we teach our kids how to pray by allowing them to see us pray. I know that I’ve prayed in front of my kids all the time, because it’s discipleship; it’s mentoring—and so when we’re in the car, or when we’re shopping, or I see someone along the side of the road—
Ann: —I’m praying for them. I’m getting them to notice, and they hear my heart of joy. They hear me praying when I’m sad and crying, when we’ve lost someone. They hear me praying when I’m frustrated, and I’m venting to God my frustration.
Ann: I think that’s beautiful, because they see it’s a relationship—it’s not like [droning voice], “Oh, Lord, bless my mom and my dad, and my aunt, and my uncle,”—it’s a relationship, that you’re talking to Him about everything. And you’re also asking Him for things as well, but that relationship is key.
I know, one time, one of our kids was really mad. He was mad at God; he was mad at the situation he was going through. He felt like he was mad at God for allowing him to go through it. I said, “You need to get on your bike;—
Ann: —“go on a long ride, and you tell God everything you’re feeling. Lay it out! Be really honest and truthful.”
He was so mad; he was pushing the bike over. He had reason—I can’t even remember what it was about—maybe, it was a break-up; it was something. But he got on his bike, and he came back; and he was drenched in sweat. I said, “So did you talk to God?” He goes, “Yes, I told Him everything.” I said, “How do you feel?” And he goes, “Better; better.”
If we can teach our kids from going [to] us to God, to giving Him everything—man!—those are the places where we win.
Janel: Yes, I totally agree! And what a great way to incorporate prayer with the way he’s made as an athletic young man.
Dave: Here’s a question: Permanent Markers—sitting here listening and watching you, I can see a legacy from your mom and dad. Knowing them, here, at FamilyLife—they are beloved here—
Dave: —what did they mark you with, if you could even thank them?
Janel: You know, one thing that they both have as part of their DNA, as a couple—because each of us in our own families, we have sort of our own subculture—my parents are generous, not just with their money. I think someone once told me—they were a young person; and they said, “Your parents have been the most generous people I’ve ever met,”—I thought that was strange; because my dad was a farmer at the time. We had very little money. I mean, I don’t think I knew it at the time—I didn’t know how much my parents had to stretch—but they were not wealthy.
But whatever they had was for God and His people, or for whoever needed it. And I’m not just talking about their possessions. My dad has gifts as a mechanic, so he fixes missionaries’ cars and single mothers’ cars. He has always used that skill; we think he does probably 150 cars a year. My mom has always been the same way, bringing us around to/in the ‘90s, we made a funeral dinner for someone who had passed away from AIDS, and she brought me along; and we served it together.
Now, they’re chaplains. It’s not just that they’re generous with their services; they’re generous with themselves and their presence. They are present with people, who are suffering, like Jesus was. And it’s that kind of generosity—let me put it this way—when my dad was a farmer, he ended up having all girls, and he had nobody to pass on the family business to.
But I tell you what! He’s passed on the family business [Laughter] in a way that I hope I can even deign to replicate in my own life, and to my kids, and my grandkids, and my great grandkids: “I hope you’re generous in the name of Jesus.”
Ann: You’re doing that.
Dave: Yes, I was going to say the same thing.
Ann: As you were speaking, I put down in notes: “You have given your kids a bigger vision for the world. They’re not living for themselves, but you’ve given them a vision for how they can impact the world for Jesus.” And now that you’ve said that, I’m like, “Oh, that’s a legacy thing that’s been passed down to you, and you’re passing it down to your own kids.”
Dave: Yes, and just sitting with you at lunch, with your parents, and even listening to you, you are all generous with joy. There is a joy that exudes out of you and your parents. That’s generosity—whether it’s money or not—it doesn’t matter. It is just like that is not taught; that’s caught. I don’t know your kids; I just know they have it, because that’s part of the DNA of the legacy of you guys.
Man, you talk about permanent markers; you are marked; and you are marking others. Thank you for being with us.
Janel: Gosh, it’s my privilege! I hope that that is how God chooses to bless my parenting. I think there are days in all of our parenting, where we can’t see God’s long-game—
Dave: Oh, right.
Janel: —and that’s really the game that He’s in—is the game for the kingdom, and not for the immediate. Parenting takes that little bit of faith that can move mountains.
I guess, to the parent, who is out there today, and maybe is in a similar place to me—maybe you’re raising teens or raising that kid [for whom] you just don’t see hope—I think our trust is not in the outcome. Our trust is in God’s character, that He is the One who brings good work to completion.
Ann: That’s a good word.
Dave: Good word.
Ann: Yes; thanks, Janel.
Bob: Our most important assignment, as parents, is the spiritual health of our children; that’s where our focus needs to be. Ultimately, the path they choose is their choice to make; that’s in God’s hands. But we have an assignment, as parents, to be marking them, to be shaping them, to be pointing them in the right direction. That’s the focus of Janel Breitenstein’s new book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts.
We’re making this book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners who can help support and advance the ministry of FamilyLife. When you make a donation to this ministry, you’re actually investing in the lives, and marriages, and families of hundreds of thousands of people all around the world, who turn to us for practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and family. Your investment is in their future, their family, their legacy. If you can help support FamilyLife today with a donation, be sure to request a copy of the book, Permanent Markers, from Janel Breitenstein; we’re happy to send it to you. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to make an online donation, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate over by phone. The number, again, is 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Or again, you can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
While you’re on our website, be sure to check out information about the Art of Parenting® small group series. This is an eight-part series that we’ve developed to help moms and dads get a handle on our priorities as parents, dealing with issues like discipline; forming identity in your child’s life; helping them build healthy, strong relationships; and pointing them toward the right mission. Find out more about the Art of Parenting small group series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, we have got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, here with us. David, it’s been fun to listen to Janel Breitenstein and hear about her new book today. We think of Janel as one of us; right?
David: Yes, we do consider Janel one of our own. Her parents are on staff with FamilyLife, and actually serve as chaplains to our staff to keep our FamilyLife staff marriages strong and our families strong. Janel and her husband actually served with us at FamilyLife at one time, and she continues to write and contribute a lot. I’m so grateful for her. One of the reasons I’m grateful is because of her honesty, and how raw she is, but how she takes those honest moments she’s walking through and takes them to the Word of God.
She really reflects what we, at FamilyLife, want every parent out there doing: getting into the realness of life. Life can be hard and challenging; but yet, take it to God: experience the gospel in it; see what His Word says and draw from that wisdom. Janel and her family live it honestly, and they’re just a prototype of what we want to see all over the nation and all over the world; because we know the power of a home that is surrendered to Jesus and reflecting Jesus in their corner of the world.
Bob: Our listeners have heard us say many times that our mission, here, at FamilyLife is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. Again, thanks to those of you who make that mission possible. And congratulations to Janel on her new book.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson have some thoughts on how we best navigate our sons and daughters through the teen years, the often-challenging teen years. We’re going to pick up this conversation about parenting and look at the issues parents of teens are facing as we come back tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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