A few years ago I told my daughter that one of the moms from church was going to teach her how to knit a scarf one afternoon. Her eyes lit up. “Are you serious?” she said in surprise. “Yes,” I replied. “She told you she would on Sunday.”
Her reply struck deep into my heart, “Yeah, but grown ups say that kind of stuff all the time but they never actually do it. They’re too busy.”
Here’s the thing: It is widely recognized that parents/caregivers have the greatest influence on their children, but they don’t have the only influence.
I once attended a seminar with Dr. Kara Powell, author of Sticky Faith and Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute. She asked all of us to write down three people other than our parents who were influential in forming us into the people we were that day. Once we were done, she asked us to raise our hands if we had written down a teacher? A Sunday school teacher? A grandparent? Another adult?
Lots of hands.
Then she asked, “How many of you wrote down your high school best friend? How about your middle school classmates?” Not one hand went up for those.
She used that moment to illustrate what their research had found:
This flies in the face of the messages we get from media and even our own kids at times where peers are portrayed as the most important influence in kids lives. The truth is, that influence is fleeting, while the influence of adults sticks around; it endures after middle school awkwardness and high school “coolness” and college independence.
The influence of adults, especially involved adults, lasts for a lifetime.
So, what happens if we, as adults, tell our kids, “Yes, I’ll do that, teach that, play that, build that, go there, eat there and read that with you,” and then we fail to follow through?
What happens if with good intention, we say we will do something and then we repeatedly and consistently fail to do that thing, what message are we sending to our kids? That our job is more important? Our social media too demanding? Our own lives too consuming to follow through with what we said?
In most churches, when a child is baptized or dedicated, there is a moment where the congregation makes a pledge to walk with that child as a member of their faith community. In one of the churches I served in this was the promise made by the congregation:
With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life (Source).
These promises to surround and pray for the children and youth in our churches resound loudly in baptism/dedication Sundays, but do they echo over and over again in our actions and practices?
If we say we’ll do it, we NEED to do it.
All the good intentions in the world will only make a stronger road away from truth and commitment. I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next person. But hearing and seeing my daughter’s genuine shock over a simple kept promise convicted me deeply. If anything, this post is a chance to hold myself accountable for the promises I’ve made and the words I’ve spoken and to truly consider, am I following through on the commitments I’ve made to the next generation?
Let’s not pave a road with good intentions. Instead, let’s build character, model love and display commitment.
Let’s be the right kind of influence on generations that follow.
This article originally appeared here.