I’m a runaway. When I accepted Christ at the age of thirteen, I recall the pastor celebrating my decision and describing its impact on my life. He spoke of how my heart would long to hear from God. The pastor told me that I would seek God in the Scriptures and that my kindness, forgiveness, and thoughtfulness would reflect Jesus. The pastor’s words should have given me confidence and hope about my relationship with God.
However, his words fueled me to fear disappointing God and meeting His expectations. I was not trained in spiritual disciplines, and my faith was immature. Sunday school stories made God feel angry and judgmental to me. As I entered the baptism waters before our congregation, I tried to put all of my worry behind me and clung to the promises the pastor described. I had barely made it through the car ride home after church when bickering and frustration with my siblings bubbled into anger that burst from me. Immediately, I was so full of shame and grief over not pleasing Jesus that I ran away. Ran away from my family. Ran away from God. Ran away from believing there was anyone who could guide me.
This was the first of many times I would run away from my faith because I felt alone, lost without understanding spiritual disciplines, and lacking guidance to draw me home to the Father.
The twist and turns of the human heart are filled with our ancestors’ amnesia for forgetting our God knows our hearts and paths. His plan is for the Spirit to help us, intercede for us, and bring us back to the Father.
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16
We are never alone. The world applauds autonomy, but God designed us for dependence. Maturing followers of Christ must be aware of modeling dependence on God when we put on display seeking God with the Spirit in prayer, the study of Scriptures, handling our emotions around disappointments, or supporting others. We can counter the world’s celebration of being self-reliant and independent, where Satan can stir up glory in our minds and greed in our hearts.
Jesus knew his apostles and followers were anxious to be left alone. So he spoke the words of John 14:16 as a promise that through the Spirit, we have a helper and guide on God’s narrow path.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26
When we lose our way, we can also lose the words to describe what is occurring in our hearts and minds. Romans 8 is a powerful reminder that the Spirit intercedes where our words and emotions fail. We can find it hard to process our feelings and frustrations into words. The Spirit takes the raw groanings of our hearts and emotions and communicates to God on our behalf. I’ve learned to create stillness before God by repeating aloud, “Be still and know I am God.” I focus on my breathing and drop one word from the phrase each time I repeat it until only the word “Be” is left. Then I sit and let the Spirit comfort and speak to me.
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6
The Spirit leads us to move toward God, our perfect Father. We know we have arrived at the destination at the end of most paths because there will be a home, park, marker, or person who lets you know you made it.
The first time I ran away, I recall crying so hard that sobs caught in my throat. Words couldn’t escape, and my mind raced with distorted thoughts of being unlovable, unseen, and unworthy. I was messy, dusty, tear-stained, and worn out from imagining God’s disappointment when I knocked on the door of the house at the end of the road.
The Spirit never left me in my sadness. Instead, it directed my feet to a path that my mind didn’t recognize until the door opened. Blinded by the sun and eyes almost swollen shut from crying, I was welcomed inside, invited to sit, and given a cup of water to refresh me. A cool washcloth softly wiped away my tears as my grandma whispered, “Child, you have walked a long way.” My grandma comforted me, listened to me, and prayed for me in the minutes that followed. Then, I was surprised as my mother came through the door with a suitcase and sat in the chair across from me. I could not have anticipated what happened next.
She laid the suitcase down, opened the locks, and revealed clothing packed for her and me. She knelt before me and took my hand, saying, “Wherever you go, I go too. I have been searching for you and love you. We can continue on this path together or go home.”
Home. The work of the Spirit can feel so mysterious, but reflecting on this memory, I see the beauty of God in the person of the Spirit. A faith journey toward God is through the power of the Spirit, who is always with me. The Helper guides me toward God, whether the path is through valleys or on mountain peaks. And Abba Father receives the prodigal wanderer at the end of the journey.
A wise character once said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” The Old Testament reveals to today’s families the truth of God’s character as a loving father and a faithful provider. From the Old Testament to the present, families have had to make, and continue to struggle to make, the choices that are right to grow in God’s character as His image bearers. THE CHOICE Adam and Eve’s choice was obviously wrong, but they picked it (see what I did there?) in the hope that knowing good and evil would make their life easy. Sadly, they were not satisfied with the good, loving, and caring environment God placed them in. Thus, they believed Satan’s temptation would unlock wisdom. Instead, it brought insecurity, confusion, anxiety, and fear.
Today’s parents face the challenge to guide the descendants of Adam not only towards a relationship with God but also through the minefield of temptations culture presents.
THE FRUSTRATION Daily, parents can relate to the heartache, frustration, hurt, and defeat around their children’s choices. These choices often reflect taking the easy path over the right path. Inexplicably, a preschooler will begin lying not to disappoint, an elementary student allows an idol to shape their language and behavior, a middle-school-aged student will bully out of pride, and a high schooler will turn to drugs, alcohol, or self-harming as a release to fit in or mask their differences from others.
God’s story reflects the treacherous path of His children to replace what is right, and perhaps possibly challenging to do, with the facade of easy. This facade leads towards a path of self-reliance, destruction, loneliness, and ends in isolation. Being made for community, isolation is the perfect ending for temptation. At the core of evil, we are isolated and cut off from the truth and the hope that God can rescue us and love us again.
FORGETFULNESS We are a forgetful people, born into a long lineage of forgetful people. Even the Israelite descendants who passed down unbelievable stories of rescue from Egypt, the Red Sea, and the wilderness were doomed to become amnesiac again, reverting to their old ways and emotions.
The covenants and laws reminded God’s children He is the faithful provider, even when they rebelled or became lost in their forgetfulness. Each covenant beautifully builds upon the last from one man, to one family, to one nation, and ending in all people. This narrative, when told from the beginning in Eden to the incredible ending of a new heaven and new earth, represents the faithfulness of God to provide a way. NOT ALONE Parents, you are not alone. You have a perfect parent, God, who knows the cost of raising generations of children who have walked away from a loving environment due to forgetfulness. Our children are daily reminders that we are still growing in doing what is right, even when it is hard. As champions of our children’s spiritual faith, we stand on the front lines constantly repositioning our children to be on a path toward God.
We do not want to be weary parents. We must be strong and courageous, daily strengthened in Christ—looking to Scripture for words of wisdom, humbling ourselves in intercession and prayer, and above all, seeking the will and provision of the Father. God has demonstrated throughout the Old Testament His love as a father and faithfulness as a provider who is always right on time.
It is not difficult to look at our families and see the influence of technology on our identities at all ages: toddlers asking Alexa to play Baby Shark, the viral influence of the bottle flip challenge, teenagers with Instagram selfies, the virtual note-passing world of Snapchat, and parents sharing their child’s first and everything on Facebook.
Technology offers us beautiful ways to be connected, to make life simpler, and to grow in knowledge. However, families need to be engaging in conversations about how identity is often silently being shaped by technology.
Andy Crouch, in his book Tech Wise, articulated these words,
“Technology in its proper place helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance.”
True identity grows in an environment built on trust, respect, and love where your behavior, words, and emotions can be shared with others face-to-face. Technology’s broad assortment of communities can deceive us into feeling known and lead us away from authentic relationships toward loneliness, isolation, and a loss of self.
Take time this month to pay attention to your family’s interaction with technology and how you are engaging with the growing smorgasbord of options in your home, on the road, or in your hand. Watch each other to discover how technology is being a positive or negative identity influence.
Is it helping with eating healthy, monitoring exercise, keeping you punctual, and encouraging learning? Or is it creating a disconnect in family relationships or promoting a lack of eye contact and respect and an increase in laziness?
Cultivate a culture in your home of regular unplugging from technology to turn away from the noise of society and the words of strangers to focus on the source of our true and everlasting identity.
God, you are…
Remember God’s character by creating a list of words from the Bible that describe Him.
God, I am…
We are image bearers of God. How do you see God’s image growing in each other’s lives?
God, we will…
Pray for God’s guidance to see where your identity in Him has been shaken. Ask Him to reveal a course to correct it.
Sundays were my favorite as a kid because it meant lunch at my grandparents’ farm after church. When we arrived, everyone pitched in to set the table and finish prepping the food.
I loved visiting my grandparents’ home because they lived on a farm, and there was always something to be done. I wanted our time at Grandma and Grandpa’s to last as long as possible, so after lunch, I would search for a way to help my grandparents.
In the house, I would quietly sneak back to the bedrooms to strip the beds and remake them with clean linens. I would clean the shower in the master bedroom, knowing it was hard for my grandparents to do. I would start doing their laundry and press my grandpa’s jeans. Yes, he loved pressed jeans for work. I would head out to the chicken coop to clean and put down fresh straw, or hike out to the pasture to dig up the thistles that frustrated grandpa. The best part of Sunday was going in search of a way to surprise my grandparents with an act of service to make them smile.
Sundays were like a day of playing Hide and Seek around my grandparents’ farm, where there were hundreds of hidden ways to serve them as an act of kindness and generosity. Serving my grandparents cultivated in me, at a young age, a behavior of seeking to serve and help others.
Seeing the smile on my grandma’s face at her freshly made bed or my grandpa’s pat on the back of thanks for ironing his jeans gave me a deep sense of joy! An unstoppable joy, which I have continued to cultivate in my lifetime and now see being passed down to my daughters.
The beauty of serving others is developing a sensitivity to the needs of another person. Cultivating this in our children means we must model attentive posturing of the heart towards others. We must use our eyes to see and ears to hear ways we can serve. It’s leading our kids to play the biggest game of Hide and Seek, where winning is discovering ways to serve another.
When we play Hide and Seek, we hide so others can’t discover us. The same is true when we genuinely need help. We can be so embarrassed or ashamed of our need that we hide it from others. In order to seek out how we can serve others, we need God’s wisdom. Engage your family in conversation around these questions.
Let’s celebrate the many ways God can use us to serve others. Take turns as a family, going around in a circle, sharing ways God can use you to serve others. Keep going until you run out of ideas: prepare a meal, walk someone’s dog, mow a lawn, make a bed, write a card, weed a garden, etc.
God says when we “seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness…all these things will be given unto you as well.” What are “all these things” that will be given to you?
Share about a time you discovered a way to serve someone else, and how it made you feel.
Start at home. Pray for God to use your family, then send everyone in the family on a Hide and Seek hunt to discover a way they could serve in your home. Challenge them to think about how they can serve extended family members, neighbors, friends, and strangers.
Coleman Barnes was a typical high school student. Involved in deep friendships, focused on class work, participated in extracurriculars, preparing for the future after graduation. Coleman was not so typical in the fact that, at the young age of 18, he had already begun to leave a legacy of lasting impact: Coleman worked to make a way for five kids in Jamaica to attend school for the next five years.
Coleman traveled with Student Ministries from Christ Community’s Leawood Campus in partnership with Won by One for two summers to Harmons, Jamaica. While there, he fell in love with the people, the food, and the kids they served. As he spoke with local parents, they shared how inaccessible education was for them. They shared how they had to decide whether to send their kids to school or put food on the table.
Coleman could not imagine the cost of such a choice. Food or education? If families picked food on the table, their children’s futures were limited; if they chose education, their children might starve. It was a dangerous cycle of poverty that represented heartache.
One morning Coleman was talking with a Jamaican woman named Sandra. She teared up as she told him the news that her little daughter had been sponsored for school. She was overwhelmed with joy that her daughter would have an opportunity she never had: to receive an education so someday she could be able to provide for her family and break this poverty cycle. As Coleman saw how much school sponsorship meant to this family, he knew he wanted to get involved.
Coleman left Jamaica after that week of serving, but the desire to make a difference didn’t leave him. Challenged in one of his leadership classes at school to make an impact on behalf of others, Coleman immediately thought of Jamaica and the idea of educational scholarships. As a high school student, he did not have the money to sponsor a child, even at $40 a month. So he enlisted a couple of friends, Laken and Jack, to help begin dreaming of a way for students at Blue Valley West High School to collectively make a difference in the lives of kids in Jamaica. Heart for Hope was born with the idea to have each class at school raise money to sponsor a child in Jamaica and make it a friendly competition to raise $5,000.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack had a three-pronged approach to getting five Jamaican students sponsored for two years of school. First, English Language Arts classes at every grade level would introduce, by video, the students to the Jamaican child their class would be sponsoring. These videos would provide a face, a name, and a story to build connection and motivate that class to bring their loose change and dollars to sponsor their child. Second, they sold Heart for Hope T-shirts for $10 and encouraged everyone attending the basketball game that week to wear them and make a schoolwide statement of hope. They sold over 450 shirts. Third, they put together a silent auction of donated items at that basketball game.
Watch the video that Coleman and his friends put together for their fundraiser.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack were blown away as fellow students brought more than loose change to the donation jars. Students gave $10 and $20 bills and the money began adding up. The ambitious goal of $5,000 in two weeks to support five kids for two years of education was completely shattered! Coleman and his peers were able to raise $12,000 to help five kids— Rahein, Atalia, Aleana, Victor, and Sashante—for five years each through school, which genuinely changed their lives.
Coleman said, “We were truly blown away by the response we had for Heart for Hope, and it’s been so cool for me to see our school come together and get behind kids they don’t know and will never meet.”
Coleman has seen God on display in the hearts of fellow students who said: I want to make a difference, and I want to provide hope to these kids and make a tangible impact on their lives. For Coleman, it’s been unbelievable to see the incredible generosity of his peers and God’s faithfulness through this whole process.
“Heart for Hope,” written by Dawn Heckert, originally appeared as an article in Homefront magazine, June 2018 edition, pp. 38-39.