Our family has taken many road trips throughout the years, loading our minivan with suitcases and snacks and kids. One of our favorites was a two-week trip from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park and back via Colorado.
We have so many fun (and funny) memories from that trip—the ridiculously cheesy Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota; the claustrophobic adventure of spelunking in Wind Cave National Park; the Alps-like beauty of Bighorn National Park. I’m sure my girls have many tales they could share from that trip alone. We may have our suitcases packed and our vehicle ready, but before we take off on a road trip, we need to check one important thing—is there gas in the car? Because without fuel, we won’t go anywhere. Or, if traveling by air, we need a ticket—we certainly won’t get through security without it. Our trip essentials must be in place before we head out on our journey or we’ll go nowhere.
I’m talking here about casting a vision for our family and making plans to move our family toward our goals. But first, we need to make sure we have laid the most basic groundwork. Because without this essential first piece, we will all simply stay home, never moving forward, never growing, and never making a difference for Christ.
That essential first piece—our first priority—must be to point our kids to Christ and nurture that relationship. Once that most essential need is met, we can begin to cast a vision that will help us build the strong, resilient family that the world so desperately needs.
If I were to ask ten parents about their main goal for their children, nine out of ten, maybe even ten out of ten, would answer,“I want my kids to be happy.” Happiness, contentment, satisfaction—these are high on our priority list for our children, if we’re honest.
Interestingly, most parents would not name material possessions above happiness. Not many would say, “I want my child to be rich” before “I want my child to be content,” because they instinctively know what research bears out: money does not buy happiness.Essentially, we know that ultimate happiness comes from within, and that’s the kind of happiness most of us want our children to pursue.
Good news! God wants the same for his children—deep, inner satisfaction rather than temporary, worldly happiness. In John 10:1–10, Jesus explains how to find deep satisfaction in life. In this passage, Jesus compares his people with sheep—it’s a metaphor he uses frequently when he talks about God’s children. He explains that the sheep are safe within the boundaries of the sheepfold and that the shepherd is the gate, the literal opening in the wall of the pen, by which they can come and go freely. The sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice and follow him to safety.
“Our kids need to decide for themselves,” some parents say, but the Bible tells us that this type of thinking places us on dangerous ground. What if our children choose to follow the thief? It is our job to protect our kids while they are under our care, to serve as under-shepherds in a way, and to show them the path to true joy. Obviously, later in life our children will have to make that choice for themselves—children can’t rely on their parents’ faith for their ultimate salvation. While they are young and living under our roof, however, we must make it a priority to show our children that life is most satisfying when lived within the safe boundaries of the Good Shepherd.
Are you making it your number one priority as a parent to point your child toward life in Jesus? Remember that what your child needs most as he or she grows toward adulthood is not financial security; it’s spiritual security.
We’ve got to help our children catch our family purpose, our why. After all, we are not here simply to take up space in the world, but we are here to make a difference for eternity. This means that our every interaction—be it with friends, neighbors, coworkers, even strangers—has eternal significance. Intentionally thinking through our family’s purpose should give us a view that’s bigger than what’s right in front of us. Knowing our purpose will reorient our thinking to focus on bringing glory to the Savior who longs to be with us forever. No longer are we simply getting through the day. Having a vision for our family helps us remind our children of what’s ultimately most important in this life.
Shelly Wildman is a writer, speaker, and the author of First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship. She is a former writing professor, but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian, have been married for 33 years and live in Wheaton, IL.
You can find First Ask Why here. (affiliate link)