As a mom of three youngsters, I spend a lot of time at the little league fields. I guess we’ve been playing ball for something like seven years now, although some nights it feels a lot longer. My husband and I help where we can, be it as “dugout mom/dad”, a base coach, et cetera. Over that seven years, I’ve observed a lot more than just children learning to play ball–I’ve observed the adults.
Some of you are wondering what that has to do with growing your faith. True, learning to play center field isn’t going to bring a child to Jesus–but teaching and guiding children is universal.
Whether we are trying to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) or teach a kid how to slide into third, we must begin by identifying their needs.
Step One: Identify Their Needs
One of my biggest frustrations is when I am standing alongside the fence, in the dugout, or at third base and I am hearing “advice” screamed from the bleachers. “THROW THE BALL!!!” one mama bellows. “HOLD IT!” screams the coach. “EAT IT!” a dad barks from the fence. “RUN IT IN, SUSAN!” squeals her grandma.
And there, at the edge of the infield, the child bounces from one foot to the other, arm cocked back and ball ready to fly–and they do nothing.
The adults are furious and frustrated, but what they fail to realize is that they haven’t identified the needs of the child. The child has a fundamental need to understand what they must do so they can make an intelligent decision.
Again, you’re telling me that has nothing to do with faith–but doesn’t it? Too often, our children find themselves staring down sin for the first time–and they’re feeling just alone as that little girl in the infield. Yeah, they know the general concept of Christianity–don’t do bad stuff–but they have no idea how that works in practice. They’ve never been standing there at a party before with people giving them all sorts of “advice”. “Just drink it,” her best friend advises. “It won’t hurt if you just drink one,” another girl explains. “Your mom will never know,” her boyfriend says with a grin.
And there she stands, hovering with indecision. She knows not to sin, but does she really know why?
Step Two: Provide Useful Guidance
That brings us to step two: providing useful guidance. I cannot stand it when parents scream vague instructions and then get upset that their kids don’t follow to the letter. Baseball’s a complicated game. Sometimes you tag the bag and sometimes you tag the runner. Sometimes you should throw to second, sometimes to third, sometimes home, sometimes you hold it… in other words, what works in this one situation isn’t going to work in almost every other situation.
What’s important is that we provide kids with useful guidance. If I explain to them what a force out is, then maybe they’ll understand why sometimes they tag the bag and sometimes they tag the runner.
And the same thing goes for their Christian faith. Just telling them “don’t do that” is not really any more helpful than “throw the ball” or “eat it” (and yes, I’m still trying to figure out why people scream that every. single. play.) Instead, we need to raise our children by providing them useful guidance in their Christian walk. Why don’t you want them to get drunk at a party? What ramifications does it have, both immediate and lasting? Why don’t you want them to use curse words? Why would you rather your daughter not wear that dress?
Provide your kids with useful guidance. Show them how to study the Bible and apply it to their lives. Show them how to make connections with the right kind of people to help them grow in their faith–and show them how to deal with those that aren’t. Simply telling our kids to avoid sin isn’t enough. They’ll spend their lives surrounded by temptations, and unless we teach them how to deal with those, we run the risk that they’ll make the wrong decision in that clutch moment.
Step Three: Provide Supportive Reconstructive Criticism
And what happens when they do make that wrong decision?
When you’re standing there on the field and a kid overthrows the ball, strikes out, or accidentally tags their own teammate, you see this facial expression sometimes. It’s a heartbreaker. They’re wrong, and they know it, and thanks to all the people screaming at them from the stands, they know that everybody else knows it too. And for some kids, that’s game over. They can’t get over that one wrong decision, and it follows them the rest of their game. They strike out every at bat. Every throw is wild and they couldn’t catch a ball if it were attached to their glove with a string.
I particularly hate it when parents scream things like “Why didn’t you catch that ball?” Um, I guarantee you they’d rather have caught it. They didn’t miss on purpose.
And we don’t sin on purpose. Not really, anyway. Yes, we’re aware of our decisions, but we don’t leave the house in the morning planning to flout God’s law. It just kind of happens… like that wild pitch or passed ball.
Just like those little ones on the field, our teenagers sometimes lose heart when they get caught in a sin. Everybody knows about it. Nobody will ever be able to look at them again without knowing.
What do we do then?
Simple. We provide supportive, reconstructive criticism.
For my son’s birthday this week, we went to Kart Kountry. One of the attractions they have is batting cages. Each of my kids got in the batting cage, and their dad stood in an opposite cage. Before every swing, he gave them gentle redirections, helping them reposition their feet, their elbows, their hands, et cetera. Instead of yelling at them for every “strike”, he helped them figure out where they were going wrong until all three of them were connecting solidly at the faster speeds. He taught them to understand the connections between their position and their ability to hit the ball.
Too often, we forget this step. But I think it’s because sometimes we forget Romans 3:23. We all have sinned. We all fall short of the glory of God. All of us. We all struggle with different things at different times, and we all can benefit from a helping hand–a good “coach” helping us back on the right path.
We have to help young Christians understand where they are in their walk, and help them understand the minor corrections they need to make to stay on the straight and narrow path. There’s no need to overwhelm them or get upset with their mistakes. That just serves to frustrate everyone. Instead, take a deep breath and provide them with the support they need. You’ll be glad you did.
Missed a post in the Add to Your Faith series? Catch up here.
MICKI CLARK is the author of Don’t Ask Me to Leave, available on Amazon (print and digital) and other fine retailers.
Newlywed Rachel Miller has everything she could want from life—the perfect husband, her dream job, and a cute little house in the country—but the daydream is shattered when her husband is killed in a tragic accident. Her mother-in-law, Nadine, takes her in as she tries to pick up the pieces, and their handsome neighbor Beau is willing to help…if Rachel will let him. Does she dare open her heart for a second chance at love? – Don’t Ask Me to Leave, March 2017